February 20, 2014
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v2.1 Reference

Traveler, Scholar, Political Adventurer

A Transylvanian Baron at the Birth of Albanian Independence: The memoirs of Franz Nopcsa

By Franz Nopcsa
Introduction by Robert Elsie

The Austro-Hungarian aristocrat of Transylvanian origin, Baron Franz Nopcsa (1877-1933), was one of the most adventuresome travelers and scholars of Southeast Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century. He was also a paleontologist of renown and a noted geologist of the Balkan Peninsula : many of his assumptions have been confirmed by science.

The Memoirs of this fascinating figure deal mainly with his travels in the Balkans, and specifically in the remote and wild mountains of northern Albania, in the years from 1903 to 1914. They thus cover the period of Ottoman Rule, the Balkan Wars and the outbreak of the First World War. Nopcsa was a keen adventurer who hiked through regions of northern Albania. With time, he became a leading expert in Albanian studies. He was also deeply involved in the politics of the period. In 1913, Nopcsa even offered himself as a candidate for the vacant Albanian throne.

The Introduction also tells of Nopcsa's tragic death: he shot his Albanian secretary and partner before killing himself. The memoirs themselves reveal some references to his homosexuality for those who can read between the lines.


"The book begins with Nopcsa describing his early travels in the Northern Albanian lands which he undertook in 1903, expanding on his impressions of the Albanian people but never losing sight of his scientific interests. The narration proceeds with Nopcsa becoming more and more active on the local political scene. His attempts to establish his influence in the area may be seen as organic to the Austro-Hungarian policy on Albanian aiming at consolidating Vienna's power in the Western Balkans. Useful for those who want to familiarize themselves with Nopcsa as a historical figure and especially with his experiences in Albania, – even though those who read German will likely find it more profitable to read Elsie's first edition of Nopcsa's memoirs (2001). Both versions are valuable primary sources for those interested in the Austro-Hungarian presence in the Balkan Peninsula prior to the First World War."—East Central Europe

"Elsies Übersetzung überzeugt mit einer sachlichen Korrektheit und leitet den Leser durch die Memorien, ohne dabei aufdringlich zu wirken. Fussnoten zu den wichtigsten politischen Akteuren und den zahlreichen albanischen und türkischen Fachbegriffen geben dem Leser ein nützliches Lesewerkzeug an die Hand; präsentiert sich "Traveler, Scholar, Political Adventurer" als wertvoller Beitrag zur gegenwärtigen Albanologie und als überaus lesenwerter Exkurs and die Peripherie Europas."—Südosteuropa Mitteilungen

"Die Edition und Übersetzung eines Teils der Memoiren des Barons Nopcsa ist ein gelungenes Werk. Dieses Urteil hat sowohl formale als auch inhaltliche Gründe. Baron Nopcsas Memoiren liegen in Englisch vor. Robert Elsies Edition und Übersetzung geben Einblick in ein bewegtes Leben und in eine bewegte Region. Elsies Werk kann nur gelobt werden; jenes des Barons hingegen muss mit der gleichen Skepsis betrachtet werden, wie alle Erzählungen in der ersten Person. Auf jeden Fall geben sie detaillierte Einsicht in die nordalbanische Gesellschaft, dem kollabierenden osmanischen Reich, dem komplizierten politischen Spiel und in die Geisteshaltung seines Autors. Und auf jeden Fall sind sie unterhaltsam und lehrreich."—Zeitschrift für Balkanologie

"After he obtained a doctorate at the University of Vienna in 1903, Nopcsa visited Ottoman Albania for the first time. He returned to Albania a few years later and established a household in Shkodra until 1914. During his residence in Albania, he became an expert on Albanian culture, and actively agitated for an independent Albania both in speeches and by smuggling in weapons; he even offered himself as a candidate to the Albanian throne in 1913. Elsie counts 'at least 54 works related specifically to Albania' out of the 191 works 'primarily in the fields of palaeontology, geology, and Albanian studies' that Nopcsa published throughout his career (Elsie includes a very useful bibliography of Nopcsa's published writings following the memoirs). It soon becomes clear even to the casual reader that the academically and politically marginalized Nopcsa, by this time deprived of his title and income as Transylvania became part of Romania after World War I, intended to solidify his image with this work not only as an expert on Albania but also as a hyper-masculine master of conflict resolution"—Hungarian Cultural Studies
Central European University Press

9786155225802 : traveler-scholar-political-adventurer-nopcsa-elsie
252 Pages
$75.00 USD

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