Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Andrei-Dan Sorescu

Dr Andrei-Dan Sorescu is a Visiting Research Fellow in 2023-24.

Andrei Sorescu is an early career researcher (PhD UCL SSEES ’19) specializing in nineteenth-century European intellectual and cultural history, with an emphasis on Romania in a transnational setting. He has published on the history of concepts, the intellectual history of international law, the impact of subversive objects on nation-building, on antisemitism and citizenship, and on historicising self-comparison as a practice. He has previously held postdoctoral positions at the New Europe College Institute for Advanced Study, Bucharest, and at the University of Bucharest Research Institute (ICUB).  At present, he is a member of research projects covering the long nineteenth century, funded by UEFISCDI (the Romanian higher education funding agency) and the European Research Council at the New Europe College, examining the entanglement between colonialism, infrastructure, and corruption (https://nec.ro/programs/cancor/) – and the transnational history of defining 'corruption' as a concept and practice in Central and South-Eastern Europe (https://nec.ro/programs/erc-grants/). He has completed the manuscript of his first monograph, which explores the importance of how, in nineteenth-century Romania, imagining the lives, virtues, and futures of kin-folk beyond the borders of a rump state generated a complex array of not only cultural representations, but politicised practices of comparison.

Project description: “The Descendants of Trajan’s Colonists”: Thinking Colonially in Nineteenth Century Romania

The present project is part of my broader work towards completing my second monograph, which aims to explore the surprising centrality of the colonial as a key concept in nineteenth-century Romania, demonstrating the omnipresence of colonial anxieties in a country itself not formally colonised, but also of how past, present, and future alike were imagined in colonial and racial terms. In an age of global imperial expansion, historical actors in Romania saw themselves as part of a colonial continuum: both as part of a temporal sequence, but also, nestled between expansionist empires that carried out internal colonisation in their borderlands, as part of a geographical continuum of potential colonial encroachment.

At the IAS, I aim to explore two interconnected themes: the first is the historical construction of Romanian ethnic origin as not simply “Latin”, but specifically framed as descent from “the colonists of Emperor Trajan”. I aim to tease out the implications this held for imagining a sense of rootedness for a nascent nation-state, and how settlerness could be recast as indigeneity. This will be discussed through the lenses of literary representations of Roman conquest and colonisation, framed as either the wholesale extermination, or, by the mid-nineteenth century, the assimilation of native Dacian tribes. As a corpus, these texts employed the shared, gendered topos of equating military conquest with the sexual conquest of Dacia by Roman males, a stand-in on the micro-level of romantic plot for the birth of the Romanian nation as a process of métissage and ultimate assimilation of the colonised by the colonisers.

The second theme I wish to explore is that of how this Roman colonial legacy was invoked, starting with the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as a source of cultural and political legitimation for Romania’s own colonial projects in the multi-ethnic province of Dobruja. Annexed from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, at the end of the last of the Russo-Turkish wars, this multi-ethnic province provided a newly-independent Romania with the occasion to demonstrate its capability of bringing “civilisation” to the “Orient” in more than merely declarative terms. Much as with Algeria under French rule – a comparison which also found resonance with contemporaries – the Roman past of the Dobruja and its (at times) monumental archaeological remains were taken as tangible proof of how Romanian rule was a natural historical continuation. Drawing upon global networks of imperial knowledge, Romanian statesmen debated the internal colonisation of the Dobruja by considering precedents such as the United States’ westward expansion, and encouraged the settlement of ethnic Romanians, yet also considered – if mostly in theory – the immigration of Latin “kin-folk”, such as Italians, on racial grounds