The project analyzes gender and sexual diversity in the Western Balkans right before the intense modernization of the 20th century. By examining written historical sources, the project sheds a new light on the life and everyday practices of regional gender non-binary people (tobelijas) or same-sex-loving individuals (male pobratimi and female posestrime). Both phenomena were extensively written about in early South Slavic ethnographies without references to their sexuality, sex, or gender. Due to the inability to obtain oral sources, and the ideological framework through which early researchers rendered their subjects heterosexual or invisible, the project establishes a two-tier hypothesis supported by two sets of archival sources. Without engaging the modes of early modern knowledge production in written sources, it is not possible to explore the existence and everyday practices of gender non-binary or same-sex-loving individuals before modernization. By using a contemporary theoretical framework from gender and queer studies, historical anthropology, and postcolonial studies, the project will analyze early Slavic ethnographic materials to identify cases of tobelijas and pobratimi/posestrime. The cases will be further explored using regional archives to reconstruct the everyday realities of individuals. In addition to disseminating project results via channels that reach specific disciplines, communication will target the societies researched (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia) to shed light on local traditions in which queer individuals were visible and respected community members. Training through research will provide the research fellow with experience in advanced analysis of written sources (provided by the host institution), with a two-way transfer in handwritten text recognition (HTR) to the researcher and scaling up optical character recognition techniques (OCR) for the host institution.
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