Guardians of the Nation
Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria
Harvard University Press 2006
What if much of what we think we know about nationalism and the spread of the national identity over the course of the nineteenth century were wrong? This view is so widely accepted and ingrained in how we talk about the relationship between modernization and national identity that a different account is hard to imagine. Yet Pieter Judson has made a convincing case in Guardians of the Nation: Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria (Harvard University Press, 2006) that national conflict was not inexorably spreading from urban areas to the countryside. Indeed, he shows that villagers in mixed areas stubbornly resisted nationalist efforts to make them declare themselves once and for all as Germans, Czechs, Slovenes, or Italians depending on the region. The fact that we have thought otherwise stands as a triumph of nationalist propaganda, when nationalists began turning their attention to the countryside in 1880s, and made schoolhouses, rural demographic decline, and nationally oriented tourism a keystone of their efforts to make national identity of people’s lives. In so doing Judson offers a valuable corrective and shows how enduring historical narratives are not always right because they are accurate. I had a wonderful tim speaking with him and learning more about what really was going on when nationalists focused their attention on ethnically mixed rural areas.