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From Travel Writing to Anthropology and Political Activism: A Biography of Mary Edith Durham, an Early Ethnographer of Southeastern Europe

Anne Friederike Delouis

Université d’Orléans, France

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Delouis, Anne Friederike, 2022. “From Travel Writing to Anthropology and Political Activism: A Biography of Mary Edith Durham, an Early Ethnographer of Southeastern Europe”, in Bérose - Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l'anthropologie, Paris.

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Résumé : Mary Edith Durham (1863-1944) mérite d’être reconnue comme l’une des toutes premières ethnographes du Sud-Est de l’Europe, aux talents multiples. Formée aux arts visuels, Durham a d’abord visité le Monténégro et les pays limitrophes pour en représenter des paysages et des scènes pittoresques. Elle a rapidement conçu un vif intérêt pour les traditions et les pratiques culturelles de diverses sociétés, et a publié plusieurs récits de voyage. On peut qualifier sa méthode ethnographique d’« itinérante » : au lieu de s’établir longuement auprès d’une même communauté, elle a voyagé de village en village, constituant ainsi une base de comparaison et de généralisation. Ses centres d’intérêt concernent tout autant la parenté, la religion que les traditions orales, les pratiques médicales que les conflits interethniques. Elle a pris des centaines de photographies, enregistré des chants traditionnels et collecté un grand nombre d’objets. Au début du XXe siècle cette activité de collecte attire l’attention d’anthropologues établis qui l’invitent à rejoindre le Royal Anthropological Institute, dont elle finira par devenir la première femme vice-présidente. Aujourd’hui encore, Durham est considérée comme une autorité sur la société et la vie politique de l’Albanie du début du XXe siècle. Présente sur place pendant les guerres balkaniques, elle a organisé une aide humanitaire, mettant souvent sa propre sécurité et sa santé en danger. Anthropologue autodidacte, elle s’est abstenue de prendre position dans les débats théoriques de sa discipline d’adoption. En revanche, elle a affirmé des opinions politiques tranchées sur la géopolitique du Sud-Est et a défendu farouchement les causes qu’elle soutenait.

Mary Edith Durham (1863–1944), still widely referred to as an authority on the anthropology of Albania, ventured into her profession – and her different field sites – almost by accident. Trained as a painter at the Royal Academy of Arts in the 1880s, M. Edith Durham created a number of book illustrations on commission (notably for the volume on amphibians and reptiles of the Cambridge Natural History, 1899) and exhibited some paintings at the Royal Academy and other museums, but had no work that amounted to a full-time occupation. As the eldest unmarried sibling in the family, without a real career, [1] she was expected to provide care for her ailing mother. When this situation began to take a toll on Edith Durham’s mental health, her physician recommended a drastic change of scenery during the summer months. Durham, then 37 years old, chose a cruise to the Eastern Mediterranean, a relatively affordable destination at that time, and eventually disembarked in Montenegro in September 1900. What was initially planned as a sketching and leisure trip turned into a lifelong interest in the Balkan region, in-depth study of different ethnic groups over a number of years, and eventually a passionate commitment to the cause of Albanian independence.

M.E. Durham displaying an item from her own collection of Balkan costume
Photographed by Marubbi, 1912

Without any formal instruction in research methods, Durham was a keen observer, curious about the people she met, and determined to pursue her quest for knowledge under all circumstances, even if it implied putting her safety and health at risk. On one of her first trips to Southeastern Europe, she suddenly understood that her research was akin to that of an ethnographer. She recalls the scene in her first book :

I explained that I wished only to note things characteristically Servian, such as the costumes of the peasants, the houses, and so forth. ‘In short,’ said a gentleman, ‘you are making geo-ethnographical studies.’ This struck me as a remarkably luminous idea ; I should never have thought of it myself. I said I was, and everyone was very pleased. (Durham 1904 : 186)

In the coming decades, Durham authored seven, often best-selling books, and more than a dozen articles in Folk-Lore, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs. She was elected a fellow of the RAI in 1908 and served on its council, and as its first woman vice-president (Myres 1945). Durham’s solid reputation in anthropological circles was based on extensive empirical research rather than her contributions to theory.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Southeastern Europe was not an obvious choice for an endeavour resembling ethnographic fieldwork. A large portion of the Balkan peninsula, at that time also termed ‘Turkey in Europe’, or the ‘Near East’ from a West and Central European perspective, was part of the Ottoman Empire, which struggled to maintain political or even administrative control over its European territories. Most states – Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria – had achieved autonomy or independence only recently, and their political institutions were still in flux. Local revolts would break out periodically, sometimes instigated or at least promoted by outside powers. Political tension culminated in the 1912–1913 Balkan Wars, followed by the First World War and its aftermath.

During her consecutive stays in these troubled times, Edith Durham discovered a region with contested borders and ill-defined territories in a quasi-colonial situation, striving for self-rule yet remaining under the continuous influence of the larger European powers. In such circumstances, any ethnography would necessarily be entangled in the main regional and geopolitical issues of the day. It is characteristic of Durham’s work that rather than ignoring broader historical contexts and silencing political considerations, she wholeheartedly embraced the complex and changing situatedness of her research. Thus, while the present article appraises Durham’s contributions to anthropology, exploring her fieldwork methodology, the findings she published, and the theoretical frameworks she was steeped in, it will necessarily also deal with her political engagements, inseparable from the former.

Edith Durham in the Field

In the decade and a half between 1900 and 1914, Edith Durham visited and stayed in today’s Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and above all Albania. During the first years, Durham’s main difficulty lay in carving out the necessary time to get away from her family obligations. At first, she negotiated a leave of absence for two months per year, starting in 1900 until her mother died in 1906.

In 1903, Durham chanced upon an additional opportunity to go into the field : she joined a British relief operation that came to the aid of refugees in Macedonia, after a local uprising that was brutally suppressed by the Ottoman authorities. [2] On another occasion, in April 1904, she accompanied an itinerant vendor for the British and Foreign Bible Society who sold Albanian-language devotional literature in the mountain villages. [3]

Each time, Durham astutely used the few options that were available to a woman in her situation. Consequently, though, she was not always free to choose the sites or to determine the length of her stays.

Once she succeeded in leaving the UK, Durham had to fend with local gatekeepers in the Balkans. Consuls would provide introduction letters and diplomatic protection ; Durham famously evaded the attention of the British consul on several occasions, went on trips to remote parts of Montenegro and in the tribal areas of northern Albania, and thus forged her reputation as an intrepid traveller. On the territory of the Ottoman Empire, a police escort (zaptieh) was usually required and had to be paid. In 1906, Durham had to abort the project of carrying out research in Bosnia because it turned out impossible to shake off the gendarmes imposed by the Austrian consulate who accompanied her to each village : ‘You cannot get a native to tell you folk-tales while you draw the interior of his hut, if a policeman is waiting till it is done. Nor can you live with a family and see its habits’, she concluded (1920 : 150). [4]

Durham often moved from village to village, her paradigm being to explore ‘unknown’ territory and cover a wide area in order to get to know as much of the selected region as possible, comparing different nations, tribes or groups in her endeavour to get an overall picture of the complex ethnic, religious and political situation of Southeastern Europe.

This mainly itinerant type of research influenced the choice of interlocutors who would inform her about local conditions. In Albania, Durham travelled in the company of Marko Shantoya, an Albanian guide, whose explanations and reactions to events she would regularly record and who thus became her trusted main informant. When Durham arrived at a village, priests and male heads of family were usually her first point of entry. Still, when she stayed for several weeks, she also had the opportunity to listen to and observe other villagers.

There was one major limitation : one might assume that as a woman Durham had privileged access to female social spheres. However, in virtually all villages, Durham was received as an honoured guest and therefore assigned a place among the men. As Durham recalled wryly about her time in Albania :

It was decided I was far too important to feed with the harem. I was to rank as a man and feed with the chiefs. But to satisfy their sense of fitness I was helped last of all, even after my horse-boy, and so honour was satisfied. (Durham 1923g : 84)

Consequently, Durham rarely caught a glimpse of spaces that were exclusively occupied by women in the very gendered societies she explored. Her classification as an honorary man was universally accepted, including by local women who avoided contact with her, [5] and it would seem, by Durham herself. [6]

Although she often changed her ethnographic locations, Edith Durham was aware that more extended stays were necessary to make meaningful observations and gain reliable knowledge :

It is, as all of you know who have tried it, by no means easy to get peasants to talk about their customs. The only thing to do is to live with them and pick up information from day to day. In Montenegro I used to live for weeks at a time in a native house, an old-style one, built before Western European influence. […] The inhabitants were suitably primitive. (Durham 1917 : 435)

Durham learnt Serbian and Albanian and could increasingly dispense with interpreters in the regions she was most interested in. [7] Arguably, she compensated for the sometimes missing depth of her ethnography (measured by today’s standards) by casting her net wide : she not only observed village communities but also the local gatekeepers who tried to regulate her access to remoter regions, i.e. the diplomatic community and European expatriates, bishops of different faiths and other dignitaries, including members of the royal families. She compared the official discourse of authority figures with their actual behaviour, and noted how members of the public reacted towards them. Durham visibly made the most of the different kinds of situations she entered into. For example, during relief work in Macedonia, she studied people’s attitudes towards their bodies, concerning personal hygiene habits and fear of vaccination, among other aspects.

Another way of taking advantage of her itinerant, multi-locale way of conducting research was to establish systematic comparisons : Durham often singled out case studies that she would present to informants in different places to solicit their opinions. She then had a sound basis for generalisation. A case in point was the controversial honour killing of an eight-year-old boy that she witnessed in one village and discussed in several other settlements in order to understand whether it was deemed acceptable or not. On other occasions, being the only literate person, she would read out newspaper reports about judgements given in law courts and then listen to the villagers’ conversations (Durham 1917 : 435). In Montenegro, she also shared a rare collection of 19th-century law cases with villagers :

Armed with Vuk [Vrčević]’s little books I hastened back to my hut on the mountains, and the nightly readings now excited amazing interest. The tales were eagerly discussed, and every point of detail and custom corroborated by the old people, who declared it was ‘just like life.’ (Durham 1917:440)

Reactions to the story of an ancient feud helped Durham to assess how realistic and representative the written accounts were, and to better understand the logic of self-administered justice, as in this example :

The village audience to whom I read this thought it very unjust, but probably true ; added to that, perhaps, it saved bloodshed in the long run, as there would have been a blood-feud between the families of the youth and maiden, and many men might have been shot (ibid.).

Through testing her hypotheses with different groups in different places, Durham eschewed the pitfalls of localism and could assert her observations with a certain authority.

In addition to taking abundant notes, Durham documented her fieldwork visually, with both sketches and photographs. At first, consistent with the travel narrative genre, Durham drew and painted the picturesque : landscapes, monuments, and people in traditional costume. Moving from her initial role of a mere traveller and explorer towards an ethnographical stance, Durham increasingly replaced decorative drawings and landscape photographs with documentary illustrations such as maps and schemes of rural settlement structures.

While sketching, and later photographing, Durham recorded people’s reactions to being represented in this way. About an experience an Albanian village called Vraka, she noted the following :

I began to draw the room. The woman snatched up the baby and drove other children away. ‘You may write the house,’ she said, ‘but not the children.’ (Durham 1983:17).

Villagers considered that drawing and writing were essentially the same recording technique, and visibly tried to protect their children against it. On another occasion, Durham took a picture of a ‘sworn virgin’, i.e. an Albanian woman who had chosen to remain celibate and dress and behave like a man ; [8] Durham observed that she was highly amused at being photographed and that her male comrades ‘chaffed her about her “beauty”’, which revealed local attitudes towards the then still rare practice of portrait photography, and, more importantly, the complex gender status of these persons.

Miss Durham on horseback engaged in relief work
Photographed by D. Loch, 1913.

Durham often mentioned a Kodak camera in her writings. Her pictures are among the earliest taken in mountain Albania. Most of Durham’s field photographs (negatives, prints, lantern slides) are now in the archives of the RAI, the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, and the British Museum.

One of Durham’s primary activities in the field was to collect bits of information and objects, without necessarily having a research question in mind : she noted down jokes and tales, copied tattoo and embroidery patterns in her drawing pad, recorded songs with the help of a phonograph and collected small artefacts such as amulets, charms and textile items. [9] Objects that Durham brought back from the Balkans are preserved in the Bankfield Museum at Halifax, Yorkshire (garments, other textiles), the Horniman Museum, London (tools, swords, loom models, amulets), the British Museum (some musical instruments, pottery, belts, wooden tools), the Pitt Rivers Museum (an extensive collection of jewellery, coins, weapons, musical instruments, tools and domestic utensils), and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), Cambridge (jewellery, charms, and ornaments). [10] The British Library National Sound Archive Phonograph holds 25 wax cylinders with song recordings that Durham made in Albania and Montenegro and donated initially to the Frazer collection at Cambridge (Clayton 1996 : 69, 80, 87-88).

It is through her collecting activities that Durham came to the attention of established anthropologists. At the Balkan States Exhibition at Earl’s Court, London, in 1907, Durham served as a commissioner for the exhibits from Montenegro. She wrote a nine-page presentation of the country for the exhibition catalogue (Durham and Plamenatz 1907) and curated the content of 26 display cases with Montenegrin manuscripts, musical instruments, silver filigree jewellery, wooden tools and domestic utensils, samples of agricultural produce, arms, and embroidered costumes, many of which were offered for sale. Edward Westermarck, freshly appointed to a chair of sociology at the University of London, was interested in the exhibits. The curator H. S. Harrison bought items for the Horniman Museum. William Ridgeway, professor of archaeology and soon-to-be director of the RAI, asked if Durham could procure more objects for the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge (Blackwood 1945 : 23). Durham took great care to write exhaustive notes about the museum items she had collected, often providing a wealth of historical, geographical, economic, social and cultural context for the objects, including the conditions in which they were obtained or purchased (Hill 2000, Blackwood 1945 : 23). [11] But also in other ways collecting artefacts paved the way for Durham to orient her writings towards anthropology, as will be discussed in the next section.

Durham as an Anthropological Author

Although starting to publish late, at 41 years of age, Edith Durham was an extraordinarily prolific and often incisive writer. Among the seven books she published, some are accounts of her ‘tours’ in the Balkan and organised mainly by country or region (Serbia in 1904, Macedonia in 1905, Albania in 1909 and 1914). Others look back on her experience (Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle, 1920) or try to analyse the origins of the First World War (The Serajevo Crime, 1925).

In their form and style, Durham’s first four books are close to traditional travel writing. The author has an eye for the picturesque, describes the magnificent scenery, blazing colours, and vivid traditional dress. The chapters are structured according to the different geographical stations of her trips. They usually open with her first impressions of a new place, and end when she decides to move elsewhere. Durham includes dramatic as well as amusing scenes. She is the undisputed protagonist of her own story ; the reader sees her interacting with people, learns how she adapts to the field, and is presumably invited to identify with her reactions to the astonishing sight and events she experienced.

From 1907 onwards, when several British anthropologists became aware of Durham’s collecting and research activities in the Balkans, other publication outlets became available to her and the focus of her written work began to shift. Durham was invited to join the Royal Anthropological Institute and published in its journal. ‘It was anthropology I wanted, not plots’, as she recognised at that time (recalled in Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle, 1920 : 179). A final book, Some tribal origins, laws and customs of the Balkans (1928), summarises this more scholarly work. While based on the same material, it lacks the immediacy and personal feel of the earlier books.

Paradoxically, the mixture or juxtaposition of genres – travelogues and scholarly papers – makes it possible to get a fuller picture of the ethnographer’s stance. In her less academically streamlined and polished writings, Durham reveals rather freely her emotional reactions and sometimes disparaging opinions about her informants. She went as far as to openly display her sympathy and antipathy for entire population groups. In Macedonia in particular, she did not shy back from giving a candid account of her disdain for the victims of the 1903 uprising as well as her local collaborators in a makeshift hospital. [12] Conversely, the genuine friendship she developed towards her Albanian guide and companion, as well as the pleasure she experienced in lengthy discussions and verbal jousts in mountain Albania, also shine through her writings.

Starting out as a travel writer might have sharpened Durham’s taste for the spectacular, such as blood feuds and head-hunting, topics she frequently came back to. [13] Recently, anthropologists have deplored the enduring ‘primitivism’ (Bardhoshi 2017), the focus on the ‘savage’ and the ‘heroic’ (Doja 2014 : 325) of 20th-century anthropological accounts of Albanian society. With High Albania (1908), Durham certainly contributed to shaping the stereotypes as well as the research orientations of later generations.

On closer reading, however, the book reveals a more differentiated picture. To educate her readers, Durham often used two techniques she had honed in her earlier travel writing. One consisted of holding a mirror up to the British public, letting ‘natives’ express their opinions about what struck them as odd in Western Europe. One of the earliest instances can be found in The Burden of the Balkans. When Durham and her Vlach interlocutors discuss the notion of ‘honour’ near Elbasan (Albania), a man exposed the following viewpoint to her :

‘You think in England you are civilized, and can teach us,’ said someone passionately to me. ‘I tell you there is no one here that would commit crimes such as are found in London. There you can find men who live by selling the honour of women. This has been printed in your own newspapers. You have no feeling of honour. […]’. It all depends on the point of view. (Durham 1905 : 336-337)

In one of the first chapters of High Albania, Durham exhorts her readers : ‘And lest you that read this book should cry out at the “customs of savages,” I would remind you that we play the same game on a much larger scale and call it war’ (1985 : 41). Later she ‘remembered that many of the tribes of my own land believe in planchette and table-turning – consult palmists and globe-gazers, are ‘Christian Scientists’ and ‘High Thoughters’ – and reflected that all the training of all the schools had but little removed a large mass of the British public from the intellectual standpoint of High Albania, whereas for open-handed generosity and hospitality the Albanian ranks incomparably higher’ (1985:192). On several occasions, Durham thus reverses the ethnographer’s gaze ; these remarks on her society of origin contain the potential for a critique of modernity. [14] A dichotomy between ‘virtue’ and ‘vice’ might be a literary topos in travel writing about Albania since Byron’s visit at Ali Pacha’s court in Ioannina (Gargano 2015 : 23, 51). Durham diverged – and thus disconcerted some of her readers – with her complex portrayals of Albanians and other ethnic groups of the region : prone to exert violence to an extent and with a nonchalance that would shock British readers ; yet governed by highly codified moral standards.

Secondly, she would invite her readers to follow her learning curve by proxy, by first sharing her surprise at some seemingly irrational behaviour before leading gently to the insight that the astonishing remarks and reactions of Albanian villagers were perfectly logical, once one looked at them from the perspective of the people concerned. The following vignette from a 1909 article in the Journal of the RAI is a case in point :

The old mother of Stevo was not told of his death, but sent on a visit to her married daughter, that she might not see the funeral preparations till all was ready. I was horrified at this, but was told that if she knew she would begin to cry at once, and that as she was very old she would then be too exhausted to wail in public on the proper day. (Durham 1909 : 92)

Memorable anecdotes of this kind abound in Durham’s anthropological writings. While they are undeniably efficient in bringing a point across, these series of short, surprising observations strung together reveal that Durham often found it difficult to cast aside her travel-writing mode and to adopt a more scholarly stance. In these instances, she seems to aim for entertainment rather than striving to explore some social conundrum in depth.

The anecdotal or uncomplete character of Durham’s accounts appears in many titles she chose for her articles : ‘Some Montenegrin Manners and Customs’ (1909), ‘Some South Slav Customs’ (1917), ‘Some Balkan Remedies for Disease’ (1923f), ‘Some Balkan Taboos’ (1923g), etc. Several papers resemble a collection of raw field notes, classified geographically and thematically. For instance, a 1923 article in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, ‘Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans’ is structured by country and by belief, as if it came straight out of a notebook (Montenegro : Ghosts – Vampires – Witches ; Bosnia : Vampires – Witches ; Albania).

Gathering facts and publishing them in short articles without further analysis was not uncommon in early 20th-century anthropological publications : in Folk-Lore, a journal in which Rivers, Hocart, Westermarck, Haddon, and Malinowski published at the time, ‘Correspondence’ was a regular rubric, as was ‘Collectanea’. Both contain short texts with isolated ethnographic observations from a specific area. Typical titles include ‘Stray notes on Japanese Folklore’ (1901), ‘Holiday Gleanings’ (1902), ‘Specimens of Somali Tales’ (1904), ‘Sundry Notes from West Somerset and Devon’ (1908), ‘Folklore scraps from Greece and Asia Minor’ (1912), all pointing to the patchiness of the evidence gathered. Thus, to take one example among several, Edith Durham’s 1915 article on the Yule log in Montenegro was not unusual with its limited scope and lack of analysis. However, unlike other authors, Durham rarely developed the ambition to write a comprehensive monograph or contribute to theoretical debates.

One year before her death, Durham candidly revealed the extent to which she had considered herself to be at the margins of anthropology :

Looking back I see I was silly not to get more information from [Charles G.] Seligman and others but I always felt such a painfully amateur outsider. When I first joined the [Royal] Anthrop[ological Institute] I did not even dare ask if I may borrow library books (quoted in Blackwood 1945:23).

It would seem that even after coming in contact with established anthropologists and archaeologists, Durham saw herself as an auxiliary and purveyor of material from the field rather than a researcher in her own right :

Sir W[illiam] Ridg[e]way came – and asked me to lecture at the Fitzwilliam. He took me in hand and commissioned me to buy amulets for him and used to send me questions to find the answers to, re tribes, marriage, funerals etc. I used to tell him I would hunt the hares if he would cook them (ibid.). [15]

Similarly, two of her earlier articles were originally letters with observations that she had sent to James G. Frazer, who deemed them interesting enough to be published (Durham 1912, 1915). [16]

Lacking formal training and affiliation to a university or a museum, and having little scientific legitimacy in her own eyes, Durham did not seem to rate her own work highly as a contribution to anthropology. It is all the more remarkable that she covered a vast range of themes, in particular concerning Northern Albanian society, which had not been described in any anthropological or other scientific literature. Durham explored kinship (terminology, family and clan structure, gender practices, among other aspects), religion (syncretism, beliefs in witchcraft, vampires and other supernatural beings), art, medical practices and bodily practices, the economy (subsistence farming, trade), and politics (proto-nationalist movements, customary law, conflicts and their resolution). Durham thus provided all the necessary material for a quite complete anthropological account of early 20th-century mountain Albania and, to a lesser extent, Montenegro, but did not present it in a form that would gain her proper recognition as an anthropologist. On her death, one of the many obituaries published in Man sums up this seeming paradox :

Although she can hardly be described as a ’systematic’ anthropologist in the academic sense, her books are replete with the raw materials, the stuff and matter of ethnology and folklore, and are a mine of information of great value to these sciences. As an authority in her own field she probably had no rival. (Braunholtz 1945 : 22)

The value of Durham’s contributions is borne out by the fact that up to the present day, her work continues to be quoted as unchallenged evidence by anthropologists working on Albania. Her ‘account of the northern Albanians is perhaps the most important anthropological source we have relating to these people’ (Whitaker 1981:148) ; she is said to rank ‘among the best ethnographers of tribal Albania’ (Shryock 1988 : 113), quoted by Pistrick (1985 : 80), de Waal (1993:9), Doja (1995 : 655), and Winterberger (2017 : 238), to take some examples. [17] A collection of Durham’s publications was translated into German in 1995. Durham’s High Albania was re-edited in 1985 and translated into Italian in 2016 (Durham 1995, 2016).

Durham and Anthropological Theory

Durham did not place her anthropological writings explicitly in a particular line of thought. However, several basic, probably unquestioned, and sometimes contradictory concepts inform her texts. It is evident that – at least at first – she subscribed to an elementary form of evolutionism, with Southeast Europeans occupying a low place on the evolutionary scale.

After her first encounters, Durham described the people she met in Montenegro as ‘savages’. She often spoke of them as ‘children’, called their manners and customs ‘primitive’, fitting for ‘savagery’ or a ‘barbaric age’, and still having to pass through several stages of development. Over time, the ‘savage’ and ‘child’ tropes became ever more positive, as an uncorrupted counterpart to ‘civilisation’. With more ethnographic insight, Durham progressively reached a vantage point from which she could even voice an implicit critique of evolutionism. For instance, she contended that blood feuds in mountain Albania were not necessarily remnants of a barbaric past. Killings were highly regulated rather than anarchic ; they had the function of dealing with intertribal conflict and administering a certain form of justice in the absence of a government. The honour code people adhered to had the ultimate objective of controlling rather than provoking blood feuds. [18]

Looking at Southeastern Europe through a more or less evolutionary lens implied a specific vision of time as well. Durham saw history as an important heuristic tool. Reflecting on the possibilities and limits of ethnography, five years into her career as an explorer of and expert on the Balkan region, she set out a sort of perspectivist epistemology, stating that nobody could fully adopt the point of view of another person or another nation :

it would be necessary to see things not only from his window, but to see them with his eyes […], and this is impossible. It is doubtful indeed whether one race ever will understand another. It has certainly never done so yet. (1905 : 4)

Seventeen years before Malinowski’s incitement to ‘grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realise his vision of his world’, Durham was sceptical about the very feasibility of the undertaking. Despite her long-term exposure to the field and her mastery of local languages, Durham was acutely aware of her otherness. She even took care to remind her interlocutors of her British citizenship, which served as a means to attract respectful attention, and as a protection in potentially dangerous situations. In that way, Durham, a self-taught fieldworker from the Edwardian era, provides an interesting illustration for later debates about Malinowskian fieldwork : is it even possible to distance oneself from a colonial situation, or to disentangle one’s research from blatant power asymmetries between the country of origin and the chosen field site (Barth 2005 : 51) ? Durham ventured that although complete identification was impossible, one could at least try to understand how an informant had reached that particular vantage point. The means to that aim was historical study : ‘the story of the past that has set him at that particular window and coloured his view is more easily arrived at, and explains many things’ (1905 : 4).

There is no doubt that, contrary to what later became the norm in Malinowskian anthropology, Durham understood the importance of history for social and political analysis. However, Durham’s views about Southeast European temporalities were somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, she portrayed a timeless Albania with ‘eternal’ features, unwritten beliefs that date ‘from the world’s well-springs’ : ‘peoples follow one another, intertangle, rise and fall’, yet the tribes persist with their customs and manners unchanged (1905 : 4). Characteristically, her most read book, High Albania, starts with a chapter on ‘The Land of the Living Past’, a European ‘backwater’ where ‘time has almost stood still’ (1985 : 2). Durham was keen to discover ancient remnants, proofs to the stasis of Southeast European societies : an utterly ‘primitive’ musical instrument that ‘must have existed in Ancient times’, place names already found in the writings of Ancient authors, for example (1923b). On the other hand, and somewhat contradictorily, she located Albania in the European Middle Ages, an era that she associated with tribalism and cruelty. [19]

Yet while she embraced the vision of an immobile society, stuck in a distant past (the Middle Ages, antiquity) or even outside of time, Durham was able to observe change empirically. The practice of taking one’s brother’s or cousin’s widow as a concubine started to be seen as shameful in some places that she visited. Priests and friars worked at diminishing the number of honour killings. Durham saw these developments as social progress and hoped to witness others, particularly concerning nutrition, body hygiene and child-raising practices. Conversely, she rejected other aspects of change, such as the use of modern dress (1985 : 260) or the (undefined) ‘debauchery’ of Montenegrin emigrants returning from the USA. The communities Durham appreciated most appeared to be culturally immobile. For instance, she judged in 1909 that Montenegro was ‘changing rapidly. Too rapidly. […] Up country things have as yet changed very little. The older generation for the most part can neither read nor write ; has marvellous memories, and stores of oral tradition.’ (1909 : 86). Consequently, ‘salvage’ or ‘urgent’ anthropology was one of the motivations for Durham’s collecting activities. [20]

Ultimately, Durham was looking for generalities, stable characteristics, and predictable behaviour, which led her sometimes to make sweeping statements about the physical and psychological features of local population groups. Durham was prone to using facile generalisations, particularly in her earlier writings, using the singular to describe entire groups – ‘the Slav’, ‘the Balkan Christian’, ‘the Turk’, occasionally in a most disparaging way (‘the Slav cannot be trusted’, 1920 : 12). Durham described typical shapes of faces, skin, hair and eye colour, bone structure and other physical feature, detecting two dominant physical types in Albania and trying to interpret their prevalence in different places. Yet she also stressed the fluidity of ethnic identifications ; she reported many cases of families who switched from one group to another, sometimes several times in a row, in the course of some generations. Individuals also adopted different ethnic labels successively during their lifetime.

As in this example, Durham’s ethnographic evidence often challenged her theoretical assumptions. Had she had the opportunity to reflect thoroughly on some of these contradictions – seeming immobility vs. change, supposed savagery vs. rational behaviour, ethnic stereotypes vs. fluid identities – Durham could have made ever more significant contributions not just to the ethnography of Southeastern Europe but also to anthropology as a discipline.

Durham as a Political Activist

Given her insight into regional issues and her prime access to political actors, Durham wrote articles for the Manchester Guardian, the Times, the Pall Mall Gazette, and the Daily Chronicle, commenting on political developments in the Balkan region from 1903. As the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912, she was at first the only British correspondent on the ground.

When one reads Durham’s political articles and books in parallel with the more anthropological ones, it is striking to observe how her stance as an author changes. With the mantle of the political scientist, Durham had an eye for the big picture and delved immediately into analysis, using anecdotes only as illustrations of the points she wanted to bring across.

Durham had strong opinions ; after a brief pro-Serbian phase, she resolutely embraced the case of Albanian independence, playing an intercessory role in local conflicts, giving strategic advice to local leaders, pleading their cause in British newspapers and trying to influence British diplomats and politicians, with letters, conferences, journal articles, and entire books such as The Serajevo Crime. In this decade-long debate, Durham had a formidable opponent in Robert Seton-Watson, the eminent historian and founder of the School of Slavonic Studies in London. Seton-Watson set out to refute Durham whenever possible, savaged The Serajevo Crime in an eight-page book review, [21] discredited her in private correspondence with fellow historians (Tanner 2014 : 222-226), and advised against her being listed in the Dictionary of National Biography (Medewar 1995 : 2-3). During and after the war, Seton-Watson’s pro-Serbian views were much better aligned with British foreign policy aims, while Durham increasingly appeared to be an eccentric maverick. Initially, British diplomatic circles treated her as a trusted source (Medewar 1995 : 143-44) ; yet from 1914 onwards, she became a marginalised voice in policy debates (Michail 2012 : 233). The title of the entry on Durham in the Foreign Office archives reads ‘Durham, Miss M.E. : Inadvisability of Corresponding With’ (Hodgson 2000:26).

The lack of recognition and the periodic scorn Durham endured in Britain was diametrically opposed to her standing in Albania. When she died, King Zog of Albania wrote a tribute in the Times (‘Albanians have never forgotten – and never will forget – this Englishwoman’ – 21 November 1944). As a relentless advocate of Albanian interests, Durham is commemorated in Albania up to the present day. There is an Edith Durham School in Tirana ; several memorials and streets in different Albanian towns are named after her (Tanner 2014 : 250). In the late 1990s, the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo conflict shone a new light on the debate that placed Seton-Watson and Durham, pro-Serbian and pro-Albanian attitudes in opposition, leading to a renewed focus on Durham’s analyses (e.g., Kadaré 1999, Lampe 2011, Conversi 1996). Arguably, her early insight that religious affiliations were often a mere varnish on the underlying, more decisive national and geopolitical factors leading to conflict in Southeastern Europe has stood the test of time.

Another of Durham’s messages that resonates today is her forceful critique of biased and error-prone newspaper reporting about the Balkan region (1905 : 124, 169 ; 1920 : 89). For instance, she made it clear that journalists used the notion of ‘atrocity’ selectively to indict one warring party above others. Drawing on her anthropological findings and also on her political analyses, she also proved that in the Balkan region, religion, language and ethnicity or nationality are separate categories, none of which can be easily reduced to another – a reminder that was still very relevant in the late 20th century.

Durham had initially set out to ‘solve the vexed question of Balkan politics by studying the manners and customs of each district, and so learning to whom each place should really belong’ (letter dated 18 June 1943 ; quoted in Blackwood 1945). For one, this vast programme could not reasonably be carried out in one person’s lifetime. Secondly, Durham came to the conclusion that selective Western sympathies for particular Balkan population groups, such as Bulgarians or Serbs, or for Christian groups to the detriment of Muslims, were profoundly misguided.

Simultaneously, she developed a personal preference for Albania (and increasing antipathies for their regional antagonists). Durham finally crossed the line from scientific enquiry to political engagement. Advocacy for Albanian independence took different shapes. Retrospectively, she stated that her plan was to bring knowledge of Albania to the English, and thus work for its freedom (1920 : 107). This role coincided with the expectations she met on the ground : she was often asked to intercede in London on behalf of different (primarily Albanian) population groups and would indeed write not only newspaper and journal articles but also letters to the UK government. With allies such as the British journalist Henry Nevinson and the Member of Parliament Aubrey Herbert, she helped shape the southern border to Albania’s advantage when the state gained independence in 1912, and lobbied, with others, for Albania’s admission to the League of Nations (1920). [22]

Durham’s engagement went even further. From 1911 onwards, when an Albanian revolt caused a refugee crisis in northern Montenegro, and through the Balkan Wars of 1912–13, she organised humanitarian aid on the ground. Durham used her connections to raise monetary and material donations. [23] Based in Podgorica and later Shkodër, she fabricated shoes and shirts herself, distributed food, clothing, medications and building material, sometimes in cooperation with the Montenegrin Red Cross but more often on her own (Tanner 2014 : 148–156, 162, Medewar 1995 : 60–68). The Struggle for Scutari relates this phase of her activities in Southeastern Europe (Durham 1914).

“Albanian Virgin”
Photograph taken by M. Edith Durham at Rrapsh, Northern Albania (n.d.), reproduced in High Albania (1908) and Some Tribal Origins, Laws and Customs of the Balkans (1928)
© Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (1940.12.106)


The First World War proved to be utterly disruptive for Durham’s endeavours. After leaving the country in 1914, she only returned once to Albania, for a short stay in 1921. While travel restrictions that came in the wake of the war famously helped to provide the necessary conditions for Malinowski’s Melanesian fieldwork experience, it put an end to Durham’s exploration of the region at the epicentre of the same global conflict.

Her work exemplifies the merits and limits of earlier ethnographic practices. Today, many of them may seem superficial, biased or based on false premises. Other elements remain of enduring interest : giving visibility to local interlocutors, including gatekeepers that control access to the field ; [24] paying careful attention to regional power structures and broader geopolitical contexts, as well as to the potential political impact of one’s own work ; and engaging in hands-on advocacy for populations in humanitarian crisis or without full recognition in the global political arena.

Works by M. Edith Durham

Durham, M. Edith. 1904. Through the Lands of the Serb. London : Edward Arnold.

Durham, M. Edith. 1905. The Burden of the Balkans. London : Thomas Nelson & Sons.

Durham, M. Edith. 1906. “The Shade of the Balkans.” Folk-Lore 17 (1) : 111.

Durham, M. Edith, and Pierre Plamenatz. 1907. “Montenegro.” In The Balkan States Exhibition, 1907, Earl’s Court, London, S. W. : Official guide and catalogue, 103–111. London : Gale & Polen.

Durham, M. Edith. 1909. “Some Montenegrin Manners and Customs.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 39 : 85–96.

Durham, M. Edith. 1910. “High Albania and its Customs in 1908.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 40 : 453–72.

Durham, M. Edith. 1912. “Albanian and Montenegrin Folklore.” Folk-Lore 23 (2) : 224–29.

Durham, M. Edith. 1914. The Struggle for Scutari (Turk, Slav and Albanian). London : Edward Arnold.

Durham, M. Edith. 1915. “Burning the Yule Log in Montenegro.” Folk-Lore 26 (2) : 207–08.

Durham, M. Edith. 1917. “Some South Slav Customs as Shown in Serbian Ballads and by Serbian Authors.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 47 : 435–47.

Durham, M. Edith. 1918. “Anthropological Note.” MAN 18 : 96.

Durham, M. Edith. 1920. Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle. London : George Allen & Unwin.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923a. “A Bird Tradition in the West of the Balkan Peninsula.” MAN 23 : 55-61.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923b. “Dardania and Some Balkan Place-Names.” MAN 23 : 39–42.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923c. “Head-Hunting in the Balkans.” MAN 23 : 19–21.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923d. “Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans.” MAN 23 : 189–92.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923e. “Some Balkan Embroidery Patterns.” MAN 23 : 69–72.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923f. “Some Balkan Remedies for Disease.” MAN 23 : 131–35.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923g. “Some Balkan Taboos.” MAN 23 : 83–85.

Durham, M. Edith. 1923h. “The Seclusion of Maidens from the Light of the Sun, and a Further Note on the Bird Tradition in the Balkans.” MAN 23 : 102–3.

Durham, M. Edith. 1924. “The Balkans As a Danger Point.” Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs 3 (3) : 139–44.

Durham, M. Edith. 1925. The Serajevo Crime. London : George Allen & Unwin.

Durham, M. Edith. 1928. Some tribal origins, law, and customs of the Balkans. London : George Allen & Unwin.

Durham, M. Edith. 1985. High Albania. London : Virago Press. First published 1909.

Durham, M. Edith. 1995. Durch das Land der Helden und Hirten. Balkan-Reisen zwischen 1900 und 1908, ed. and trad. by Ingrid Steiner and Dardan Gashi. Wien : Promedia.

Durham, M. Edith. 2016. Nella Terra del Passato Vivente. La scoperta dell’Albania nell’Europa del primo Novecento, ed. and trad. by Olimpia Gargano. Lecce : Besa.

Other references

Arata, Stephen D. 1990. “The Occidental Tourist : Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies 33 (4) : 621–45.

Bardhoshi, Nebi. 2017. “De l’anthropologie de la vendetta en temps de ‘crise totale.’” Ethnologie française 47 (2) : 331–40.

Barth, Fredrik. “Britain and the Commonwealth.” In One Discipline, Four Ways : British, German, French, and American Anthropology. The Halle Lectures, 1–57. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press.

Blackwood, Beatrice. 1945. “Mary Edith Durham.” MAN 45 : 22–23.

Braunholtz, Hermann J. 1945. “Mary Edith Durham.” MAN 45 : 21–22.

Cadbury, Tabitha. 2009. “Home and Away : What was Folklore at Cambridge ?” Journal of Museum Ethnography 22 : 102–19.

Cassavety, Nicholas J. 1919. “The Question of Epirus.” The Journal of Race Development 9 (3) : 230–246.

Clayton, Martin. 1996. “Ethnographic Wax Cylinders at the British Library National Sound Archive : A Brief History and Description of the Collection.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 5 : 67–92.

Conversi, Daniele. 1996. “Moral Relativism and Equidistance in British Attitudes to the War in the Former Yugoslavia.” In This Time We Knew : Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia, edited by Thomas Cushman and Stjepan G. Meštrović, 244–81. New York : NYU Press.

De Rapper, Gilles. 2000. “Entre masculin et féminin. La vierge jurée, l’héritière et le gendre à la maison”. L’Homme 154/155 : 457–66.

De Waal, Clarissa. 1995. “Decollectivisation and total scarcity in High Albania.” The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 18 (1) : 1–22.

Djajić Horváth, Aleksandra. 2005. Balkan Transgressions : Representing the Figure of the Balkan Man-Woman, 1850s to Today. Ph.D. diss., European University Institute, Italy.

Doja, Albert. 1995. “Le sexe de la naissance. Masculin/féminin dans la société traditionnelle albanaise.” Ethnologie française 25 (4) : 650–67.

Doja, Albert. 2014. “The Beautiful Blue Danube and the Accursed Black Mountain Wreath : German and Austrian Kulturpolitik of Knowledge on Southeast Europe and Albania.” Soziale Welt 65 (3) : 317–43.

Frazer, James G. 1911. The Golden Bough : A Study in Magic and Religion. Part II : Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, 3rd Edition. London : Macmillan.

Gargano, Olimpia. 2015. L’image de l’Albanie à partir des récits de voyage des XIXe et XXe siècles, notamment à travers les œuvres de Mary Edith Durham (High Albania, 1909), Alexandre Degrand (Souvenirs de la Haute-Albanie, 1901), Ugo Ojetti (L’Albania, 1902). Ph.D. thesis, University of Nice, France.

Guy, Nicola. 2012. The Birth of Albania. Ethnic Nationalism, the Great Powers of World War I and the Emergence of Albanian Independence. London : Bloomsbury.

Hill, June. 2000. “Edith Durham as Collector.” In Black Lambs & Grey Falcons : Women Travellers in the Balkans, 2d edition, edited by John B. Allcock and Antonia Young, 32–38. New York, Oxford : Berghahn Books.

Hodgson, John. 2000. “Edith Durham : Traveller and Publicist.” In Black Lambs & Grey Falcons : Women Travellers in the Balkans, 2d edition, edited by John B. Allcock and Antonia Young, 9–31. New York, Oxford : Berghahn Books.

Lampe, John R. 2011. “Yugoslavia Vanishes : The British Turn to the Serbian Question.” Contemporary European History 20 (1) : 81–95.

Kadaré, Ismaïl. 1999. “Écrire une nouvelle histoire des Balkans.” La Revue des Deux Mondes (numéro special, novembre-décembre) : 41–46.

Kuklick, Henrika. 2008. “Introduction.” In A New History of Anthropology, edited by Henrika Kuklick, 1–16. London : Bloomsbury.

Medewar, Christian. 1995. Mary Edith Durham and the Balkans 1900-1914. M.A. Thesis, McGill University, Canada.

Michail, Eugene. 2012. “Western Attitudes to War in the Balkans and the Shifting Meanings of Violence, 1912-91.” Journal of Contemporary History 47 (2) : 219–39.

Myres, John L. 1945. “Mary Edith Durham : 8 Dec., 1863 - 15 Nov., 1944.” MAN 45 : 21.

Pistrick, Eckehard. 2013. “Interreligious Cultural Practice as Lived Reality : The Case of Muslim and Orthodox Shepherds in Middle Albania.” Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 22 (2) : 72–90.

Seton-Watson, Robert W. 1925. “The Serajevo Crime by M. Edith Durham” [book review]. The Slavonic Review 4 (11) : 513–20.

Seton-Watson, Robert W. 1929. “Jugoslavia and Croatia : Address given on January 29th, 1929.” Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs 8 (2) : 117–33.

Shryock, Andrew J. 1988. “Autonomy, Entanglement, and the Feud : Prestige Structures and Gender Values in Highland Albania.” Anthropological Quarterly 61 (3) : 113–18.

Tanner, Marcus. 2014. Albania’s Mountain Queen. Edith Durham and the Balkans. London : I. B. Tauris.

Todorova, Maria. 2009. Imagining the Balkans. Updated Edition. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Whitaker, Ian. 1981. “’A Sack for Carrying Things’ : The Traditional Role of Women in Northern Albanian Society.” Anthropological Quarterly 54 (3) : 146–56.

Winterberger, Georg. 2017. “Das Phänomen der Blutrache : Können gewohnheitsrechtliche Praktiken des Kanun als Selbstjustiz bezeichnet werden ?” Anthropos 112 (1) : 237–43.

Wolff, Larry. 2014. “The Western Representation of Eastern Europe on the Eve of World War I : Mediated Encounters and Intellectual Expertise in Dalmatia, Albania, and Macedonia.” The Journal of Modern History 86 (2) : 381–407.

[1Durham’s social background was that of a relatively affluent, university-educated family with many medical professionals. Her a father was a senior consulting surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, London, for a time president of the Medical Society and vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons. Four of the seven Durham siblings, Arthur, Herbert, Florence and Frances, studied at Cambridge. Edith’s sister Caroline Beatrice Durham married the Cambridge geneticist William Bateson, which made Edith Durham an aunt of Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist (1904–1980).

[2Durham relates her humanitarian work in the wake of the Ilinden uprising in Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle (1920). She supervised the distribution of relief items and worked as manager of a temporary hospital in Ohrid (today’s North Macedonia). This aid mission was funded through the British Balkan Committee and individual donors, mainly from the Liberal Party but also from Church of England circles.

[3Konstantinos Sinas was a much-appreciated travel companion for Durham. Hodgson (2000:17-18) seems to confuse him with the translator of the New Testament into Albanian dialects (Gheg and Tosk), Konstantinos Kristoforidhi (1827–1895). Durham might have met Sinas during the 1903 relief mission in Macedonia, and seized the opportunity to travel to Albania with him. A Times report on the aid work states : ‘At Resna, half-way between Monastir and Okhrida, there is a depot for flour and blankets under the superintendence of an old and trusted Greek servant of the Bible Society’ (29 December 1903, p. 8).

[4Tellingly, Durham dedicated her first three books to her mother (1904), British consuls (‘whose kindly help has never failed me’, 1905), and one of her sisters (1909). Without their permission and support, trips to the field would have been impossible.

[5‘When it was decided that I ranked as a man, mainly, I believe, because I wear my hair short (!), women often would not eat with me, and explained it would be “shameful” and would degrade me’ (Durham 1923g : 84, on Montenegro).

[6Intriguingly, some of Durham’s British contemporaries also described her as ‘a woman of remarkably vigorous, not to say virile, personality’ (in an obituary, Braunholtz 1945:22) or as ‘plucky’ (Cassavety 1919:244, quoting the Manchester Guardian). Other examples are listed by Tanner (2014:154) and Medewar (1995 : 17). One could only speculate as to whether the experience in the field left a mark on her ‘habitus’ in academic and political circles.

[7Durham found it preferable to get by without relying on translation. She considered that an interpreter gave the other party time to think ; translation made interviews less spontaneous and reliable (Durham 1920 : 111).

[8On ‘sworn virgins’, cf. Whitaker 1981 and Shryock 1988, both relying heavily on Durham (1909) ; Doja 1995, de Rapper 2000, Djajić Horváth 2005.

[9Cf. Durham 1920 : 149, among others.

[10Cadbury 2009 on the MAA, Hill 2000 on the Bankfield.

[11‘With her notes on each piece, the collection is in itself an epitome of the complicated history and ethnology of the Balkans’, remarked her contemporary Beatrice Blackwood (1945).

[12‘It requires a week’s hard labour to drive the glimmer of a new idea into a “Macedonian”’ (1905 : 108) ; ‘They seemed to have the intelligence of tortoises’ (p. 151) ; ‘Their slow-wittedness and inability to grasp a new idea is almost incredible’ (p. 162).

[13Head-hunting and nose-cutting are dealt with in Durham 1917, 1923c, 1928.

[14At the turn of the century, the ‘Occidentalist’ Southeast European studying and visiting Britain became a literary trope (Arata 1990), but arguably with a more threatening undertone than Durham’s real-life informants.

[15More than half of the Albanian items collected by Durham are still credited to Ridgeway in the MAA online catalogue.

[16In the third edition of The Golden Bough, Frazer duly incorporated information that Durham had sent him, i.e. a reference to an Albanian who refused to have his picture taken (in the chapter on ‘The soul as a shadow and a reflection’, Frazer 1911 : 100).

[17Arguably, Durham’s continuing presence as a reference in anthropological research on Albania may be due to a general tendency to exoticise parts of the country, to portray it as archaic and primitive (Doja 2014 : 330, Bardhoshi 2017). However, many authors quoting Durham attempt to put her work into its historical context rather than assuming that she described ‘essential’ traits of the societies observed.

[18In High Albania, Durham concludes that, while encouraging revenge killings, customary law actually regulates violence (1985 : 33). It would be wrong to state that Durham subscribed to a simplistic vision of ‘Balkan violence’ and willingly became a proponent of ‘anti-Balkan sentiments’ (Michail 2012 ; cf. also Todorova 2009 : 5–6, 15). Although deeply pacifist, Durham strived to understand and explain the internal logic of the blood feud. She generally condemned excessive violence perpetrated by any party in the Balkan Wars (see for example her indictment of Montenegrin atrocities, Medewar 1995 : 104). Of course, one cannot exclude the possibility that Durham’s works, and her anti-Serbian tirades in particular, were read in a way that buttressed ‘Balkanism’ (as described by Maria Todorova), but it certainly was not Durham’s primary intention to encourage such stereotypical and generalising interpretations.

[19This view was not particularly original ; in 1901, the French consul Alexandre Degrand also judged that Albania was ‘crystallised in the savagery of the Middle Ages, so to speak’ (quoted in Gargano 2015 : 50).

[20The explanatory notes she wrote for museum items frequently contained observations about their increasing rarity (examples in Hill 2000).

[21‘At first sight, readers unfamiliar with the subject may be impressed with the documenté appearance of the book ; but closer examination will soon show that it is always uncritical in the highest degree, often draws deductions quite unwarranted by the facts quoted, and sometimes advances charges of the gravest character without a shadow of real proof. […] She has no inkling of what is meant by historical evidence’ (Seton-Watson 1925 : 513, 520). Seton-Watson was about to publish his own take on the First World War, A Study on the Origins of the Great War (1926), with diametrically opposite conclusions to Durham’s as far as Serbia’s responsibility was concerned. The two antagonists continued to cross swords in public. For instance, Durham was in the audience when Seton-Watson gave an address on ‘Jugoslavia and Croatia’ at Chatham House in January 1929 and raised several questions (Seton-Watson 1929).

[22On the attachment of Northern Epirus to Albania, cf. Tanner 2014 : 176 ; Guy 2012 : 165-178. About foreign spokesmanship for Southeast European nations before the First World War, and the cultural asymmetry that made it both possible and to some extent necessary, cf. Wolff 2014.

[23When more money was needed, Durham appealed to the general public through letters sent to newspapers. For instance, an appeal for funds was published in the Times on 5 March 1913 : ‘All and any assistance will be most gratefully received and distributed without regard to religious differences’.

[24For contrary tendencies in the Malinowskian tradition, cf. Kuklick 2008.