Seminar — Tom Winnifrith: An Albanian Odyssey

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Book Launching and Live Conversation

On 15 January 2021, the Albanian Institute held an online Book Launching and Live Conversation with James Pettifer, Lala Meredith-Vula, and Roland Gjoni on the life and work of Tom J. Winnifrith. Prof. Winnifrith taught for almost thirty years at the University of Warwick. He had particular interest in the Vlach minority and in Albania and is the author of several books on the Balkans including Perspectives on Albania (1992), Shattered Eagles, Balkan Fragments (1995) and Badlands/Borderlands: A History of Northern Epirus/Southern Albania (2003).

The Albanian Institute brought together Prof. James Pettifer and Lala Meredith Vula to speak on the life and work of Prof. Winnifrith and Roland Gjoni to lead the discussions on the newly published book “Nobody’s Kingdom: A History of Northern Albania”.  Nobody’s Kingdom: A History of Northern Albania was posthumously published by Signal Books in November 2020, with a Foreword by James Pettifer.  The book traces the history of this ruggedly beautiful region, frequently disturbed by both invaders and internal strife yet retaining a distinct national identity and character. From its origins in the ancient kingdom of Illyria and the Roman province of Illyricum, through Byzantine and Ottoman rule, the granting of Albanian independence in 1912, the rise and fall of communism to its current fragile democracy, Northern Albania can be seen as a cultural crossroads – especially remarkable given its mountainous and difficult landscape.

James Pettifer of Oxford University is a well-known author of extensive works on the nineteenth and twentieth century Balkans and the Albanian national question.  As a friend and colleague of Tom, he spoke about research interests on Vlachs, Albanians and Balkans and the genesis of Winnifrith’s last book on Northern Albania.  He explained Tom’s research trajectory initially focused on the Vlach community and language and later transitioning into the Albanian history and current affairs on which Tom published four books in the last twenty years.

Lala Meredith-Vula, an artist and professor of art at De Montfort University, UK and a nationally and internationally acclaimed photographer.  She has held many solo shows in UK, Germany, Italy and Albania and is currently working on a book of her Haystack series supported by the Graham Foundation, Chicago. Lala Vula spoke about her experience as a travel companion and interpreter during Tom’s numerous trips to the Balkans.  She also presented a short photo session with pictures from various research trips to Albania and borderlands of Albania, Macedonia and Greece starting from 1993-1994.  

Roland Gjoni a legal and political scholar and Newman Fellow on Constitutional Futures at University College Dublin gave a summary of the book and led discussion addressing various chronological and thematic questions of Tom’s work on Northern Albania including:  

  • Serbian invasions during Nemanjić rule and their legacy in Northern Albania.
  • Pre-Ottoman religious make up of Northern Albania and the timing and causes of conversions into Islamic faith:
  • Ottoman rule in Northern Albania, the limits of its influence and its legacy.
  • Northern Albania’s special links with Kosovo historically and in the present times
  • Northern Albania’s uneasy relations with Zog’s regime;
  • The causes and methods of communist repression in Northern Albania during Hoxha’s rule;
  • Present and future of Albania, Kosovo and Albanian neighbourhood in the Balkans.
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