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Guardians of the Nation

Guardians of the Nation

Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria

Pieter M. Judson

ISBN 9780674023253

Publication date: 01/01/2007

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.


  • 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.

    —Alison Frank, Harvard University


  • 2007, Winner of the Barbara Jelavich Book Prize


  • Pieter M. Judson is Professor of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century History at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

Book Details

  • 332 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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