Historian’s memoirs of Yugoslavian childhood focus of talk

Historian Larry Wolff, editor of Wayne Vucinich's Memoirs of My Childhood in Yugoslavia, will discuss the book at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, in Oak West Lounge in Tresidder Union.

Vucinich, who died in 2005 at the age of 91, was a history professor at Stanford.

The talk, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the Stanford Historical Society and the Department of History. Copies of the book, which has just been published by the Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship (SPOSS), will be on sale for $30 at the event. (Regularly priced at $35, the book also can be purchased by calling SPOSS in Palo Alto at 853-0111.) A book signing and reception will follow.

Norman Naimark, the Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor in Eastern European Studies at Stanford, will introduce Wolff, a history professor at New York University. Both Naimark and Wolff are former students of Vucinich, who was a founding father of Russian and East European studies after World War II and a mentor to thousands of young historians during his five decades at Stanford.

Vucinich was instrumental in founding and securing permanent funding for the Center for Russian and East European Studies, which he directed from 1972 to 1985. Vucinich also was curator of the Russian and East European Collections at the Hoover Institution from 1974 to 1977, and developed and edited the book series Studies of Nationalities in the USSR. From 1981 to 1982, he was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, which established the Vucinich Book Prize in his honor in 1982.

According to Wolff, the posthumously published memoir tells the story of how Vucinich was orphaned as a child in Butte, Mont., as a result of the 1918 flu pandemic and sent to live with his extended family—peasants, shepherds and small town storekeepers—in the traditional mountain society of Bileca Rudine, within Herzegovina.

"His story offers a child's perspective on the nature of the Serbian extended family and the loyalties it commanded; on time-honored South Slavic customs and venerable rituals, preserved but soon to be eroded by institutional change; on the tensions and complexities of society in Herzegovina as it faced the first intimations of modernity; on what it meant to be a Yugoslav in the nation's first decade since its founding after World War I; and on the movement of immigrant populations between America and Eastern Europe," Wolff wrote about the book. "Wayne Vucinich's book offers a striking synthesis of scholarly expertise and personal memory, in its detailed account of the world that shaped his values, emotions and ideals—a world of traditional society that is now lost except in memory."