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"What the Heart Unites, the Sea Shall Not Divide": Claiming Overseas Czechs for the Nation

  • Author(s): Dean, Michael W.
  • Advisor(s): Connelly, John
  • et al.

This is a study of nation-building, liberal politics, and overseas migration among a small people in a supranational empire. By 1914 around one million Czechs (from a nation of six million) permanently resided outside the Bohemian Lands. About half of these expatriates settled in the United States. In feuilletons, travel narratives, brochures, works of scholarship, theatrical plays, popular fiction, and above all in journalism, patriotic Czechs grappled with the question of mass emigration. What did it mean for the existence of a small people in a supranational empire that one of every six co-nationals lived outside the homeland? When confronting this question, leaders of the Czech national movement reacted with ambivalence. As self-proclaimed liberals they lacked a language with which to oppose the free movement of labor. But as nationalists they worried over the loss of Czech hands and hearts. Ambivalence was at the core of the emigration question; a discourse that developed from an appeal to the emigrant's sense of patriotism to a systematic critique of the Habsburg state and the call for State Rights. This dissertation examines the first decades of mass labor migration from Bohemia and the emergence of the Czech national movement between 1848 and 1873. It argues that Czech liberals adapted a vocabulary of European expansion in order to justify their claim to State Rights within the Habsburg Empire and their leadership role within the national movement. Mass emigration made this possible; the presence of co-nationals in distant lands enabled national leaders to portray their nation as a carrier of civilization to backward parts of the world. By the period's end this project of overseas nation-building had adopted ethnic, even racial overtones. The image of Czech national expansion (a surprising formulation for a stateless and landlocked people) was projected as far afield as the American West and the Russian Far East, and national activists worked to transform Bohemian emigrants into Czech colonists.

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