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Origins of the Czech National Renascence

Origins of the Czech National Renascence

Hugh LeCaine Agnew
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    Origins of the Czech National Renascence
    Book Description:

    With the fall of socialism in Europe, the former East bloc nations experienced a rebirth of nationalism as they struggled to make the difficult transition to a market-based economy and self-governance. The dissolution of Czechoslovakia, in particular, underscored the power of ethnic identity and ancestral loyalties.Hugh Agnew develops the argument that Czechoslovakia's celebrated national revival of the mid-eighteenth century has its intellectual roots in the Enlightenment and defined the nation's character and future development. He describes how intellectuals in eighteenth-century Bohemia and Moravia--the "patriotic intelligentsia"--used their discovery of pre-seventeenth-century history and literature to revive the antiquated Czech vernacular and cultivate a popular ethnic consciousness. Agnew also traces the significance of the intellectual influences of the wider Slavic world whereby Czech intellectuals redefined their ethnic and cultural heritage.Origins of the Czech National Renascence contributes to a renewed interpretation of a crucial period in Czech history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-9052-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    The Czech national renascence of the nineteenth century is one of those historical themes to which Czechs return again and again in their search for meaning in their past. In the aftermath of the revolution of 1989, as so many times before, the problems of national identity and the historical heritage were again being actively debated. Some observers have pointed out, however, the danger of refighting old battles over the meaning of Czech history with the findings and attitudes of an earlier generation.¹ This danger threatens if one simply expunges the historical work of the communist period from the argument...

  2. 1 The Presence of the Past
    (pp. 19-50)

    Historians like to believe that their craft is not only rewarding, but also important. In this they are no doubt like any other professionals, but it is not owing to such considerations alone that this discussion of the origins of the Czech national renascence begins by considering the changes taking place in the craft of history in eighteenth-century Bohemia. These changes, in particular the rise of the critical method in history, were closely related to other developments that together helped lay the ideological foundation for the national movement of the nineteenth century.

    The year 1761 provides a convenient watershed, for...

  3. 2 “Our Natural Language”
    (pp. 51-92)

    The rise of critical method in history stimulated and reinforced a growing concern for the condition of the Czech language. This concern was linked with historical inquiry through philology, one of the most important of the auxiliary sciences for the critical method. If, as Pelcl wrote, documents were “the soul of history,”¹ then the language in which they were written, its history, grammar, and present condition, were necessarily subjects of interest. The contrast between the Czech of their documents and the Czech of their own day, both in its social status and functional roles, was all too clear to the...

  4. 3 Reclaiming the Czechs’ Literary Birthright
    (pp. 93-127)

    History and language met and flowed together in literary history. What was for the historian an important document was for the philologist frequently a monument of Czech literature as well, and thus a priceless source for the study of the development of the language. And for the patriotic intellectuals whose defenses of the language asserted the right of Czech to equal consideration with other European languages, these monuments of the past were concrete proof that at one time, at least, the Czech language had fulfilled all the functions of a fully developed literary language. Thus, as was happening with Czech...

  5. 4 Toward a National Cultural Life
    (pp. 128-170)

    If the budding patriots who asserted so boldly and so frequently that Czech was not the debased peasants’ jargon that its detractors claimed it to be were not to be merely whistling in the dark, some tangible proof of their assertions was needed. History could show that in the past a Czech culture and independent state organization had flourished in Bohemia; the golden age of the sixteenth century might bear comparison with the literary and linguistic accomplishments of other nations at that time—but what about now? Unless Czech culture could be seen to be growing and developing, some of...

  6. 5 Národ a Lid—Nation and People
    (pp. 171-199)

    One result of the developments outlined in previous chapters was that gradually, the primary meaning assigned to the concept of nation changed in an interesting way. During most of the eighteenth century it was basically political, denoting the group that enjoyed political rights, however circumscribed: namely, the nobility. This meaning Originally chimed well with the scholarly, historical, almost backward-looking concerns of the patriotic intelligentsia; yet the historical, philological, and literary researches of these scholars helped stimulate and complemented other activities, leading to attempts to claim equal status for Czech with German, and to create a modem cultural life in Czech....

  7. 6 “The Glorious, Widespread Slavic Nation”
    (pp. 200-248)

    The Czechs were a Slavic people: of that fact the patriotic intellectuals had no doubt, and frequently expressed their consciousness of this Slavic heritage in their works. The precise meaning of this Slavic consciousness to Czech nationalism, however, has long been the subject of discussion, scholarly and otherwise.¹ A tradition of belonging to a larger Slavic whole had existed in various forms in Czech history, stretching back through the “baroque Slavism” of such as Bohuslav Balbín and Tomáš Pešina z Čechorodu, to the Hussite period and even farther. Conditions in the later eighteenth century, however, increasingly favored more contacts among...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 249-256)

    As the new century neared the end of its first decade, the feeling grew among patriots that a generation was coming to a close. Most of the prominent scholars whose activities we have followed were gone from the scene: Pelcl, Procházka, Tomsa, Kramerius, Durych, Voigt and others were dead. Their loss was keenly felt. To those who survived them, it seemed that “the handful of sincere patriots is disappearing slowly, one by one, and when the Germans have devoured everything, there will not even be anyone left to say a prayer over their ashes.”¹ Yet this changing of the guard...

  9. Abbreviations Used in Notes
    (pp. 259-260)