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Doctoral student in history presents research in Serbia

Date: Feb. 15, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photo: By Dottie Stover
Archive: Research News

You may never have heard of Petar II Petrovic Njegos, but he's a big name in Serbia. In fact, he appears on the currency there -- the new 20 dinari note. And he's making a name for a UC graduate student who is focusing her dissertation research on him.

Njegos was a poet whose work is as significant to the former Yugoslavia as Shakespeare is to the English-speaking world. He was also a ruler of Montenegro in the 19th century. UC doctoral student Natasha Margulis makes this Serbian muse the focus of her work, despite the fact she has no family connections to the Balkan region.

Natasha Margulis

The 1990 Madeira High School graduate, who is earning her doctorate in history, is quickly gaining recognition as a non-Serbian expert on Njegos. She recently returned from giving a presentation in Novi Stad, Serbia. She had been invited to speak at the Azbukum Centre for Serbian Language and Culture last year, but postponed her trip until late January. U.S. Department of State warnings about traveling to the region remain in place, but the ouster of Slobodan Milosovec and the new Kostunica government finally spurred her to go ahead with her trip.

She presented research on British, French and German travelers to Montenegro during the years of 1830 to 1850 and their impressions of Njegos. Surprisingly, her presentation drew scores of people. Serbian television and print media even reported on her work.

"I was very welcomed by the academic community," she said. "And I was pleased about that, because my topic was something that has emotional attachment for Yugoslavia."

Njegos was a symbol of solidarity and unity used by the communists, who held the state of Yugoslavia together for decades. "His work was recently banned by the Bosnians, who are rejecting the Yugoslavian influence. It's a very emotional thing, and I wasn't sure if they would like a foreigner addressing the topic," she admitted.

She presented her talk in English, although she is gaining fluency in Serbo-Croatian. She has to. Nearly all research materials available on Njegos are written in that language.

In Novi Sad, Margulis was struck by the hopefulness for the future she saw in the Serbs she met and the speed with which the city seems to be recovering from war's devastation. Three bridges, the TV station and electrical plant all damaged by bombing are back in order. "Phone lines are still not quite up to par," she added.

Margulis plans to finish her dissertation in 2003. She holds an undergraduate degree from Miami University of Oxford and a master's degree in history from UC.

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