Guardians of the Nation: Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria

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Overview

In the decades leading up to World War I, nationalist activists in imperial Austria labored to transform linguistically mixed rural regions into politically charged language frontiers. They hoped to remake local populations into polarized peoples and their villages into focal points of the political conflict that dominated the Habsburg Empire. But they often found bilingual inhabitants accustomed to cultural mixing who were stubbornly indifferent to identifying with only one group.

Using examples from several regions, including Bohemia and Styria, Pieter Judson traces the struggle to consolidate the loyalty of local populations for nationalist causes. Whether German, Czech, Italian, or Slovene, the nationalists faced similar and unexpected difficulties in their struggle to make nationalism relevant to local concerns and to bind people permanently to one side. Judson examines the various strategies of the nationalist activists, from the founding of minority language schools to the importation of colonists from other regions, from projects to modernize rural economies to the creation of a tourism industry. By 1914, they succeeded in projecting a public perception of nationalist frontiers, but largely failed to nationalize the populations.

Guardians of the Nation offers a provocative challenge to standard accounts of the march of nationalism in modern Europe.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Judson's sophisticated analysis offers a significant modernist contribution to the debate over the historical depth of national consciousness among Europe's peasantry.
— P. G. Wallace

International History Review

Nationalists within the [Austrian] empire did their best to upset and even to destroy the long established cohabitation of diverse groups in such regions where people spoke two or more languages. Judson proves that the undoing of mutual tolerance was not the fault of the locals, who must be regarded more as victims than as perpetrators, but that of outsiders from urban areas who considered the conquest of every schoolhouse, city hall, and farm a major victory for their ‘nationality’. For the nationalists, it was a life-and-death struggle between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between Czechs and Germans, Slovenes and Germans, as well as Italians and Germans...Well equipped in terms of theoretical knowledge and familiarity with the historical literature which reflects assiduous archival research and a fine writing style, Judson has created a first-class study in nationalism.
— Istvan Deak

Alison Frank
A significant contribution to the literature on the Habsburg Empire, its successor states, and German nationalism, Guardians of the Nation provides a useful antidote to misleading interpretations of the Empire as a 'nationalist quagmire.' Judson's lively, engaging, and witty writing makes this book not only a pleasure to read but also easily accessible. His argument, that even in an age of widespread nationalist rhetoric many people continued to be nationally indifferent or ambivalent, will be controversial. But his conclusions are so well documented and convincingly presented that many a skeptic will be forced to rethink how nationalism worked in central Europe and, more importantly, how it did not work.
Gary B. Cohen
A highly original book that shows how nationalist activists worked to bring their vision of well-defined national loyalties and a sharp separation of national groups to the population in linguistically mixed rural districts of Habsburg Central Europe. In clear, vivid language, Pieter Judson shows how nationalist activists tried to create clear-cut linguistic frontiers and national borderlands as political realities where they had not existed before. This impressive contribution will evoke great interest.
Jeremy King
Here is refreshingly readable, responsibly revisionist history. Pieter Judson ranges over the arts, consumer culture, colonization schemes, the Jewish question, village violence, and small-town tragicomedy to make new sense of national conflict­-and national indifference­-within the mental landscape of the imperial Austrian language frontier. Readers interested in nationalism, political rhetoric, or material culture and the history of everyday life will join historians of modern Europe in finding Guardians of the Nation top notch: crystal clear, masterful, imaginative, and wise.
Helmut Walser Smith
Pieter Judson has written a remarkable book that shows how natural non-national identities in the borderlands of Austria-Hungary seemed. He invites us into a world where bilingualism was the norm, not the exception, and where German and Slavic speakers sent their children into each other's homes and schools. This is a major achievement­-fiercely original and brilliantly conceived­-that will revise accepted orthodoxies concerning the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy, the salience of nationalism to the real life of the linguistic borderlands, and the purported ubiquity of national identities.
Larry Wolff
Guardians of the Nation is a brilliant book. Once again, Pieter Judson has compelled us to rethink our most basic historical assumptions about nations, nationality, and nationalism in the Habsburg monarchy. His penetrating and original analysis of the politics of language, the complexity of rural society, and the concept of the 'frontier' makes this book essential reading for every scholar and student of modern European history.
Choice - P. G. Wallace
Judson's sophisticated analysis offers a significant modernist contribution to the debate over the historical depth of national consciousness among Europe's peasantry.
International History Review - Istvan Deak
Nationalists within the [Austrian] empire did their best to upset and even to destroy the long established cohabitation of diverse groups in such regions where people spoke two or more languages. Judson proves that the undoing of mutual tolerance was not the fault of the locals, who must be regarded more as victims than as perpetrators, but that of outsiders from urban areas who considered the conquest of every schoolhouse, city hall, and farm a major victory for their ‘nationality’. For the nationalists, it was a life-and-death struggle between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between Czechs and Germans, Slovenes and Germans, as well as Italians and Germans...Well equipped in terms of theoretical knowledge and familiarity with the historical literature which reflects assiduous archival research and a fine writing style, Judson has created a first-class study in nationalism.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674023253
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 332
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Pieter M. Judson is Professor of History at Swarthmore College.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Note on Language Use

Maps

1. Introduction

2. Constructing an Imagined Frontier: Schoolhouse Fortresses

3. Encounters on the Rural Language Frontier

4. Reluctant Colonists on the Frontier: The Südmark Settlers

5. Tourists to the Frontier: Consumption and National Identity

6. Violence in the Frontier Village

7. Language Frontier and Nation State

Abbreviations

Notes

Index

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