pdfVolume 7 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Ethnic Levels and Ethnonyms in Shifting Context: Ethnic Terminology in Hunza (Pakistan)

László Koppány Csáji

University of Pécs (Hungary), Department of Ethnography and Cultural Anthropology

This paper constitutes an attempt to unravel the complexity of ethnic levels and ethnonyms, and to outline the roles of “origin,” “language,” “locality,” and “social solidarity” in the ethnic identities of the Hunza, using the methods of anthropological studies on ethnicity, discourse analysis and cognitive semantics. The former kingdom of Hunza (now in the Pakistani controlled Kashmir). It is not obvious what one can call the ethnic level in Hunza. Ethnonyms do not have set definitions. There are overlapping categories of ethnic and quasi-ethnic perspectives. The notion that an ethnic group is based on a strict unit of origin, language, and territory seems to be false. Ethnic levels appear in constantly changing registers of personal knowledge, which only partially overlap. However, the discourse in which the inhabitants of Hunza express and experience their ethnic perceptions is an existing communicational frame, even if it contains relatively fluid and constantly changing elements of narratives, experiences, emotions, and values. The notion of Hunzakuts is seemingly a politonym, but it is also a local unit. The Burusho, Dom, Xik, Shina etc. are seemingly language based endonyms, but kinship, cultural relations, historical coexistence, administrative frames, language, and religiosity can all influence these ethnic perspectives. I delineated the essence of my explanation in a table, showing the complexity of ethnonyms used in social interactions. A native speaker has all these concepts in his or her mind, and in any particular situation, the relevant meanings are called forth. Ethnic identity is a set of different attachments, as frames of a person’s ethnic perceptions and behavior. Ethnicity is a kind of knowledge: participating in a discourse, sharing more or less common narratives, emotions, experiences, and values. Ethnicity is also a recognition: placing someone in the social environment, and it is also the foundation for meaningful and relevant relations. Finally, ethnicity is a practical tool of communication: ethnic perceptions and categories appear in conversation nearly always for a particular purpose.

Keywords: Hunza, Burushaski, Shina, Bericho, Wakhi, Pakistan, ethnicity, ethnonym, discourse analysis, cognitive semantics, nationalism


When I arrived in the northern areas of Pakistan, I met a Wakhi-speaking man (a driver) in Gilgit, who introduced himself as a Hunzakuts (as an ethnic identity). He took me to Hunza, where I conducted anthropological fieldwork. My Hunzakuts hosts always mentioned him as an (ethnically) Wakhi driver, while my hosts referred to themselves sometimes as Burusho and other times as Hunzakuts. The driver took me to Sost (a town in Upper-Hunza), where his family told me they were Xiks, which was translated to English as Tajik.1 The outwardly confusing usage of the terms Burusho, Xik, Tajik, Hunzakuts, and Wahki focused my attention on the study of ethnic identity in Hunza. I realized that the categorization is much more complex than it seems at first, and the terms used in different situations depend on who refers whom, and what the particular context of the conversation is.

In recent decades, ethnicity studies have been dealing with questions like: are there definite categories (ethnonyms) of ethnic groups referring to members with existing collective “identities” (primordialism); or is the ethnic perspective rather a discourse, recalling patterns, emotions, and narratives from a constantly changing knowledge register (constructivism)? This paper is based on anthropological fieldwork,2 and it constitutes an attempt to outline the roles of “origin,” “language,” “locality,” and “social solidarity” in the ethnic identities of the Hunza. I use methods borrowed from anthropological studies on ethnicity, including discourse analysis and cognitive semantics. I focus both on endonyms and exonyms, but I also consider the historical background and the current political context, since the former kingdom of Hunza now belongs to the Pakistani controlled territory of Kashmir.3

Theoretical Frame and Methodology

The study of ethnicity became one of the most important fields of social anthropological studies with the release of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ famous essay, published as a small booklet, Race and History (1952). According to Lévi-Strauss, ethnicity and even ethnocentric attitudes are natural phenomena of humankind, as cultural diversity requires distinctions and categorization.4 He argues that ethnicity is an instinctive response to recognition of cultural diversity. The book Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, edited by Frederik Barth and published in 1969, became another milestone. In his introduction, Hunza stresses that ethnic differences are emphasized (symbolically expressed and verbalized) at the boundaries of the ethnic groups, so ethnicity is based on social interaction.5 He argues that ethnic patterns and cultural reactions are based on interactions between social groups. Later, Rogers Brubaker wrote his famous work Ethnicity Without Groups,6 in which he reflects on the idea of Fredrik Barth, adding new aspects to the study of ethnicity and adopting a critical approach to “groupism.” Brubaker states that ethnic identity is not an objective, substantial frame into which one is born. According to his concept, “ethnic perception” is called forth by situations, so ethnicities are “not things in the world but perspectives on the world.”7 Brubaker contends that ethnicity is, rather, a discursive and fluid phenomenon, and its narratives and values depend on the personal emotions and the given situation in which it emerges.

We can distinguish the phenomenon of “ethnicity” from “nationalism,” although Anthony D. Smith emphasizes that the division is relative.8 Whether it had roots in the past or not, nationalism is a modern phenomenon, claiming legal self-determination (autonomy) for the presumed community: the nation. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Rangers suggested that national frames are invented cultural constructions.9 Clifford Geertz claimed that nationalism is one of the modern ideologies, and it penetrates society as a political endeavor.10 Benedict Anderson used the term “imagined community” for a nation, identifying it as a constructed frame of modern political ideology.11 Brubaker emphasizes that ethnicity and nationalism should be approached not as some primordial form of identity or attachment, but rather “in terms of practical categories, cultural idioms, cognitive schemas, discursive frames, organizational routines, institutional forms, political projects, and contingent events.”12 Unlike nationalism, ethnicity is based on an instinctive ability to realize differences between social groups, based mostly on kinship or other discursive social units. This is why ethnicity can be built on several cognitive categories which mix origins (kinship), religious community, and legal and other distinctions (like language, locality etc.). Ethnicity can be described in a much more complex way, since (despite the one-level kind of nationalism, which claims only one unit, the nation, as a legitimate identity) ethnic terminology can use controversial and overlapping emic terms.

As a cultural and social anthropologist, I conduct fieldwork involving long-term participant observation among the social groups which I study, and I learn their languages to the extent that I am able during the given time frame of the research projects. For the present case study, I conducted my fieldwork in Hunza from June 2001 until September 2001, but I returned to the region in 2005, and since then I have remained in email communication with some of my friends there, so I frequently share information with my local informants (I must thank them for all the nuances to which they have drawn my attention). I extended my studies with interviews and I have also drawn on the scholarship on Hunza and the languages spoken there.

Throughout this paper, I often use the local Burushaski language emic terms for social and cultural phenomena, and for this reason, I use the orthography of Stephen R. Willson,13 which differs from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), but may be read more easily by non-linguists and used for later studies about Hunza. When a particular emic term is not taken from the Burushaski language, I note this.

Site and Setting: Hunza

As a geographical territory, Hunza is located at the border between China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It is formed by Hunza, the only river which cuts across the Karakorum mountains in the Pakistani-controlled area of Kashmir. The former kingdom, also known as Hunza, was mostly on the right (north and west) side of the river.14 However, in some of the southern and northern parts of Hunza, the territory contains the opposite side of the bank. On the left (south and east) side of the Hunza River lies the former kingdom of Nagér (also called Nagyr or Nagar in some of the secondary literature). As the neighboring community of Hunzakuts, the Nagér residents are called Nagérkuts.15 Their folklore heritage is very similar to that of the Hunzakuts, and most of them also speak the Burushaski language (like another community in Yasin valley,16 far to the west, in the Hindu Raj mountains).17 They also call themselves Burusho. According to the 1998 Pakistani census, 46,665 persons lived in Hunza and 51,387 people in Nagér.

Most of the inhabited territory of the Hunza basin is below 3,000 meters, but around Hunza there are 33 peaks rising to altitudes of more than 7,300 meters.18 Only the high grasslands, which are used to feed cows, yaks, horses, buffalos, and goats in summertime, are higher, between 3,300 and 4,200 meters high. The famous Karakoram Highway,19 which links China and Pakistan, was the first road to reach the region in 1978. It crossed the Chinese border in 1982, and it was opened to foreigners in 1986.20 Until then, the area was accessible only through very high passes which were unsuitable for motor vehicles. Due to the mountainous landscape, in a wider sense the Hunza region is divided into many smaller valleys. The Chapursan Valley borders Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor, the Boiber Valley is located on the Chinese border, and the Shimshal Valley, which extends towards Baltistan, is near the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan, in the middle of the disputed Kashmir area.

In Burushaski, Hunzakuts (or in some dialects Húnzukuts) is both a singular and plural term for the inhabitants of Hunza.21 The Hunza society is based horizontally and territorially on khans,14 or local communities centered around fortified villages. While there are several khans, the first established khans are at the center of the Hunza society: Baltit (Karimabad), Altit, and Ganesh, which altogether (including all the cultivated land but excluding the summer pastures) comprises less than 30 square kilometers. The Hunza Kingdom extended its borders to the north and to the south, along the Hunza River in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,22 so today Hunza constitutes a much larger territory than before.23 Hunza society is built on the kinship system (as descent groups) and the khan system (as local groups). The region was traditionally divided among the khans (fortified hilltop towns and the surrounding territories). Before the twentieth century, Hunzakuts were not allowed to settle out of a khan. In the twentieth century, villages were established around the khans, since under British rule raids by the Nagérkuts were no longer a danger.24

There are many works about the Hunzakuts’ culture, their irrigation system, customs, shamanistic worldview and rituals, history, and language(s). Hunza receives an average of 130 millimeters of rain per year,25 so it is necessary to construct and maintain water-channels from the rivers of the Karakorum glaciers for agriculture.26 This centuries-old irrigation system brings the water supply and makes agriculture possible. As natives of the former kingdom, Hunzakuts are proud of their culture and of the fact that they are able to survive and cultivate their traditions in a highland mountain-desert environment. The concept of “one thousand years of independence” is also an element of the “Hunza-brand,”27 and it is given particular emphasis when this “brand” is presented to tourists, who began to come to the region from all over the world since the Karakorum Highway made the area more accessible.28

The Role of Language, Locality, and Social Structures as the Foundations of Ethnic Levels in Hunza

It is not obvious how one might recognize “the” ethnic level in Hunza, if one were to insist on looking for a one-level model. As a consequence, “the” ethnic terms are also uncertain. Several more or less overlapping local, linguistic, social, and religious categorization can be observed, seemingly with contradictions. In the secondary literature on ethnos and ethnicity, the most common named potential principles are29 language, locality, “origin” (descendance), and social solidarity. I demonstrate in the following that these principles of criteria yield recognitions of different sets of people. Inhabitants of Hunza certainly use terms based on locality or language or political order etc., but the “groups” to which they seek to refer do not overlap. Furthermore, the same word can refer to different people depending on context.

In some situations, Burusho seems a widely used we/they distinction, i.e. someone is referring to linguistic difference, although whether this word in the given situation means the Burushaski speakers in Hunza, Nagar, Yasin, or simply all of them depends on the context in which it is being used.

Locality is another foundation of ethnic categorization. The former kingdoms of Nagér and Hunza form the most important local frames of ethnic identities, but I have heard inhabitants of Hunza refer to Hunzakuts as their common local identity many times, and I participated in a conversation in Ganesh, in which a Burusho man said “the Hunzakuts’ musicians are the Bericho people, who are from the South.” Even if Bericho are usually regarded as a part of the Hunzakuts, in this context Hunzakuts referred to Burusho (and opposed to Bericho), so Burusho people sometimes use the word Hunzakuts to mean “Burusho speakers of Hunza.” Wakhi people, most of whom live in “Upper Hunza” (the territory north of Karimabad), rarely refer to themselves as Hunzakuts, but when they are out of Hunza (e.g. in Gilgit) they identify themselves as Hunzakuts in their interactions with Shina speaking locals.

Hunzakuts never supposed that they had common origin, even if the image of the “thousand-year-old Hunza kingdom” is a core part of the narrative of Hunza identity. On the one hand, they refer to this as a shared element of the cultural history of the Hunzakuts, but on the other, everyone knows that the origins of Hunza society are very diverse. The people(s) of Hunza often give expression to their pride in their cultural and linguistic diversity (“multi-colored unit”), particularly in interactions with foreigners and as part of political events, and this multicultural frame is also part of the “Hunza identity” and semantic frame.30 The increasingly important indigenous discourse31 does not exclude the narratives of “later waves.” I have heard many times that the “Burusho people are indigenous in Hunza,” but on some occasions I also heard that “the highest status of Burusho people is the Diramiting phratry (the Tharákuts and Waziírkuts clans), who came from Gilgit” and became the ruling class. The Bericho, a subgroup of the Hunzakuts, are a conspicuously collecting frame, into which any occupational group or family to settle in Hunza was integrated, so I heard many times that the “Bericho are from all around the Indian subcontinent or from even more distant regions.”

In order to further a more nuanced understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of the ethnic terminology in use in Hunza, I identify the following elements as potential distinguishing features among different groups (which could be characterized as “ethnic” groups):religions, spoken languages, political frames, descent groups, social stratification and solidarity, and territorial/local subgroups of Hunza. Each of these elements has some impact on the ethnic perspective, but none of them could be chosen as “the” ethnic level.


Hunza is widely characterized, both in Hunza and by people living beyond its bounds, as “an Ismaili territory.” Hunzakuts identity is strongly connected with Ismaili Islam32 in many situations. The tourist brand of Hunza is also built on “Ismailism.” All inhabitants of Hunza, Nagér and Yasin adopted Islam several centuries ago. The peoples of Hunza were converted in the sixteenth century,33 but they retained many of their earlier beliefs. Most Hunzakuts converted to (or were converted from) Ismaili Islam from their former Shia faith at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, the population is predominantly Ismaili in Hunza and Yasin, but a strong minority (around 10-15 percent) is Shiite/Shia (Shía)34 and a very small minority (1-2%) is Sunni.35 The Shia (Shi’ite) minority live in religious endogamy and often in local units in Ganish, Dorkhan, Garelt, and parts of Aliabad and Murtazabad. Once, a Shia Hunzakuts told me that they are the “proper” Hunzakuts “who did not leave their faith.” He meant that other Hunzakuts converted from their Shia faith to Ismaili Islam. Endogamy functions as a survival strategy: this is how they try to keep their religious identity relatively untouched by the majority of Ismailis.

Most Shia people live in the southern parts of Hunza and some in Central Hunza (in Ganesh). Most of the Shias in Hunza self-identify as members of the Shina people (see below), except those who live in Central Hunza. Shinas live in the neighboring territories (in Nagér and Gilgit) as well, where they form a majority. Burusho people are predominantly Shias in Nagér,36 which is on the opposite side of the Hunza River. There are very few Sunnite Muslims (Sunni) here, and they are (or are regarded as) “newcomers,” who came from places in the south of Pakistan. In a Hunzakuts’ cognitive semantic frame,37 “Sunni Muslim” means nearly the same as Punjabi or Pakistani outlander in Hunza, or at least these notions are strongly connected. I have heard people say “he is a Sunni,” as a reference to a person’s outlander inhabitant status. I have also heard Ismaili and Shia people share many jokes and rumors, laughing at each other’s habits, customs and values, and this has strengthened my conviction that religious identity works very much like ethnic identity in this region38.

There is a rivalry between the Shia and Ismaili people in Hunza, and they form endogamous communities, with rare examples of intermarriage. However, I have only once heard someone say that “Ganish people are not ‘typical’ Hunzakuts, since they are Shia.” This shows the strong connection between religious and ethnic identities and the stereotypes based on these identities.

The Five Languages Spoken in the Geographical Hunza Region

Burushaski (or as it is also called, Misháaski, which means “our way/speech”) is the main (official) language, spoken by virtually everyone who lives in Hunza, whether as the mother tongue or as a second language. Burushaski is said not to be related to any other language in the world.39 Some linguists have tried to demonstrate parallels between Burushaski and some Paleo-Siberian languages (e.g. Ket).40 With a very rough estimation, there are between 30,000 and 40,000 native speakers (Burusho) of Burushaski in Hunza.

Shina (it is an endonym; in Burushaski it is henaá) is a Dardic language, related to Khowar, Kalash, Kashmiri, and Kohistani languages. These languages belong to the Indo-European language family.41 Shina speakers form the vast majority in Gilgit, Chilas, the lower Ghizar valley, Haramosh, Diamir, and the Ishkoman region (to the south and west of Hunza). They numbered 2,084,673 according to the 2004 Pakistani census (and nearly 200,000 in India). Shina has many dialects in and around Hunza, such as Astir, Gilgiti, and Kohistani.42 As a Shina diaspora, between 12,000 and 15,000 Shinas live in Hunza. They belong to the Yeshkun, Kamin, and Shin subgroups, and they speak different Shina dialects. Sometimes, Dom (in Burushaski Bericho) is also mentioned as a fourth Shina community. Shins have the highest status among them. Most Shinas are Shia Muslims, but in some villages they are Ismaili (especially to the west of Gilgit, so a bit far from Hunza). The Shina converted to Islam during in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Until then, most of them were Hindu (and some were Buddhists).43 I have a Shina friend who sometimes introduces himself as Hunzakuts and sometimes as Shina, depending on the circumstances and audience, and I have the impression that these ethnic identities have never been in contradiction.


The Wakhi (in some works: Waqhi) language is related to Tajik and Sarakol (both are in the Pamiri language group, which belongs to the Iranian Branch of the Indo-European language family). They came to Hunza from the north (from Wakhan) and were mostly pastors (herding cows, goats and yaks). Wakhi is an exonym. In Burushaski, the term used is Guitso (beside Wakhi) and the language is called Guíchiski. The Wakhi people are known as Guyits/Guicho or (depending on the territory in which they live in Hunza) Gujali (the Farsi word Wakhani is also in use, alongside the English term Wakhi). The endonym for the people is X̌ik (or Xik zik, and in some sources Khik, Zik or Xik), and the term Xikwar is used as a designation for their native language. The suffix -wor/war refers to the language. It comes from the name of the Amudarja (Oxus) River, which is Waxša in Wakhi. Most of the Wakhi live in Gujal/Gojal, which was occupied by Hunza in the eighteenth century, and Wakhis migrated there later (to preserve their Shia faith in the face of Sunni expansion in Badakshan). They form the majority of the population in Gojal, with between 8,000 and 9,000 people. Wakhis belong to Ismaili Islam in Hunza. They sometimes refer to themselves as Pamiri or Tajik. The Wakhi language is considered as a dialect of Tajik in Tajikistan, and they are counted among the Tajik minorities abroad. Today, Wakhis are settled farmers, who plant grain and vegetables (and potatoes beginning in the 1970s), but some of them continue to practice transhumance (a form of pastoralism that involves moving livestock by a specialized group, from one grazing area to another according to a seasonal cycle; among the Wakhi, this work is done mostly by women).

The Bericho, or in their own language Dom,44 people speak Doma, Domáaki, or Dumaki Beriski (in Burushaski Beriski). Domaaki is a Dardic language45 spoken only in Hunza. It is spoken mostly by the villagers of Berishal (Moominabad) and some in Dorkhal (near Baltit). They number roughly 700, living in approximately 100 households (half of which are in Moominabad, while the others are in other villages).46 The Bericho people are Ismaili Muslims.47 They do not claim a common origin unique to their group. There is evidence that musicians, blacksmiths, and craftsmen who wanted to settle in Hunza in the past were integrated into the Bericho community,48 formed a new lineage, and adopted the Domaki language (in addition to Burushaski as the main regional language). The Bericho own and rent out most of the tractors for plowing nowadays. The current clans of Doms are Majun, Dishil, Ashur, Bak, Gulbeg, and Mishkin).49 Given the similarities between the lifestyles and cultures of the Bericho and Burusho peoples today, many Hunzakuts sometimes call the BerichoBurusho.”50


In addition to the four native languages, there are three other important languages which Hunzakuts learn in schools as languages of interaction with non-Hunzakuts:

Urdu is spoken by the Pakistani administration and today is learned by all Hunzakuts in elementary school. It has been the lingua franca in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir since the 1970s.

As a “traditional” lingua franca in the region, Farsi (Persian) was taught in schools until 1974, and since then, it has remained an educational language for secondary school pupils. Urdu is taught in elementary and secondary school.

Beginning in the 1980s, many Hunzakuts began to learn and use English, parallel to growth in the tourist industry.

Most Hunzakuts speak at least three languages (including their mother tongue). Illiteracy is also very low, since there were schools for children (teaching Farsi) long before the British Empire came to the region in the nineteenth century. Arabic was also used for religious purposes, but it was spoken by only a few people (the religious and cultural elite) in Hunza.


There were three political frames for Burushaski-speaking people: one is Hunza, another is Nagér, and the third is Yasin (to the west). All the three territories were independent kingdoms in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Hunza and Nagér kingdoms were rivals, and each launched raids against the other.51 The inhabitants of the two areas usually consider themselves enemies even today. There were several small kingdoms in the region: Gilgit, Ishkoman, Yasin, the kingdoms of Baltistan (Shigar, Kapalu, Shkardu etc.), the Chinese administration in Tashkurgan, etc. Foreign sources also called the kingdom of Hunza Biltum, Khajuna, and Kunjut.52

Hunza was in a politically fragmented space until Kashmir’s Sikh maharaja tried to occupy more and more territories of the Karakorum and Hindukush in the nineteenth century, though he failed to do so in Hunza and Nagér. I have heard many narratives (as oral history) about the cruelty of the Sikh army, but it is hard to distinguish between the narratives recently constructed as part of Pakistani propaganda for the Kashmir war (ongoing since 1947) and the real legends (folk narratives), the origins of which lie in the nineteenth century.

After 1892, as a result of the period of the Great Game,53 Hunza and Nagér became semi-independent princely states of the British Empire, and they remained in this status until 1947, when they were integrated into Pakistan. The tham (emic term for king) was from the Ayasho family, but the dynasty lost power in 1974 according to administrative reforms introduced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Today, efforts are being made to strengthen a new political frame: “Pakistan,” which is not widely accepted by the peoples of Hunza as their “real” nation. I have frequently heard the contention that “Hunza, Nagér and Gilgit are occupied territories, and not «natural» parts of Pakistan”. Hunzakuts often demonstrate their independence by listening to music on Indian radio channels, by stressing that although the homeland of polo (a traditional equestrian game in Hunza) is the northern areas of Pakistan, Hunzakuts or members of the Gilgit people are not allowed to play on the national team. I have often heard characterizations of the Sunni majority and the Urdu-speaking administration as the “new colonialists.” So the construction of a Pakistani nation so far has not met with much success in Hunza, even if the schools teach the official “nationalized” education and narratives. Most of the Hunzakuts resist this effort as part of “Sunni propaganda of Pakistan.” Religion, political semi-integration, different cultural roots cause mostly passive resistance to the Pakistani nation-ideology in Hunza. Despite this, I have heard of Hunzakuts introducing themselves in Europe as Pakistani people. Certainly this must have been motivated in part by a consideration of communicative rationality, i.e. an awareness that Hunza is not widely known outside of Pakistan, so they identify themselves abroad as Pakistanis or Hunzakuts from Pakistan.

Hunza and Nagér always found themselves in a fluid political field in recent centuries, and they tried quite successfully to maintain their independence. Just to mention the closest neighborhood in the south, there were the many Baltistani states and Gilgit kingdom. To the west, there was Ishkoman and Ghizar, and further west there was Yasin. In the north, there was the Wakhan part of Badakshan and Tashkurgan, and to the east Little Tibet (Ladakh and Zanskar). The Shina people came from the direction of Gilgit, Wakhis from the north, from Wakhan, and the origins of the Bericho people (according to the oral history) lie somewhere in Baltistan (they were given as a wedding dowry to the thám of Hunza long ago).54


Hunzakuts have a patrilineal kinship system. Burusho of the former kingdom of Hunza is traditionally divided into lineages, clans and phratries,55 as a kinship categorization.

The smallest group above the family is qhaanadáan, which means “lineage.” Lineage is a unilineal kinship group, in which the members trace their descent from a person (e.g. from a great-grandfather). Lineages form a changeable set, and sometimes have special names, but they are specifically based on their founder.

The clan (guí, plural: guénts) contains two or more lineages. A synonymous term is jót qabiilá, which means “small phratry.” Members of a clan cannot easily trace their common ancestor, but they often refer to him as the founder. Clans have names, like Tharákuts, Béegkuts, Mamétkuts, Haríkuts, Faráat, Béegkuts etc. Clans are stabile parts of the kinship system, and exist for many generations.

The term roóm (in some dialects ruúm, but it is also often called qabiila), means phratry. David Lockhart Robertson Lorimer, the noted linguist who undertook research in the late 1920s and 1930s which has since become a mainstay of the secondary literature, identified the Burushaski term ruúm as “tribe.”56 However, recently cultural anthropologists have agreed that this definition is not accurate.57 Summer pastures are shared between the phratries (and not the local units of the khans58). Phratries have special names, like Dirámiting, Buróong, Barátaling, Qhúrukuts etc.59

Bericho, Shina and Wakhi peoples have different kinship systems and social structures, but they are unimportant from the perspective of my inquiry.


In addition to the lineage and phratry system, I outline social stratification according to status and solidarity. According to social status, the Hunzakuts’ society is divided vertically into three main levels.

The highest status is the Ayasho family, which belongs to the Tharákuts clan, and, together with the Waziírkuts, forms the Diramiting phratry.60 They have the highest status.61

The second group is the Burusho people, who are often regarded as the so-called “folk”: the native, Burushaski speaking inhabitants of Hunza. According to oral history narratives, they are the indigenous people of the region, and the Diramiting phratry are the conquering rulers of Hunza. The Burusho people are in the middle of the social hierarchy.

The third group is divided into three communities, each of which speaks its own language: Shina, Wakhi and (in the lowest status62), the Bericho.

Since the mid-1970s, the Pakistani administration, and later (since the 1980s), the slowly established tourist industry began bringing more and more people from Pakistan to Hunza, but these people still form only a slight minority of the society. They are considered outlanders, who are not Hunzakuts. As an form of opposition to the Pakistani administration and politics, Hunzakuts still resist sharing the nation concept of Pakistan. Many times, Hunzakuts have told me that “Pakistanis do not consider us equal citizens, as evidenced by the fact that Pakistanis do not let us play on the national Pakistani polo or soccer teams”. However, as noted earlier in this article, Hunzakuts often identify themselves as Pakistani when they are outside Pakistan63.

Ethnicity Emerging in Context

In the preceding section I outlined the main social units and groups in Hunza. In this one, I draw on this and give examples of in-situ conversations in which people use the relevant terms. Basically, I seek to show that one must always consider the context of the given situation. Whether a conversation takes place inside or outside Hunza is one important element, and it is similarly important to take into consideration who is using the exact terms, to whom he or she is referring, and the audience to or with whom he or she is speaking. Contextualization is essential if interpretation is going to be adequate, so I give some examples of the everyday use of the ethnic terminology.

Before beginning to outline the ethnic levels and ethnonyms in Hunza, I must stress that people do not always act from their “ethnic perspective.”64 In some respects, Hunzakuts have a lifestyle (agriculture, working on the irrigation system, animal husbandry) which is very similar to the lifestyles of other Shia and Ismaili peoples in the region of the Karakorum and Hindukush. They have many distinctive customs, some of which can be easily recognized, but cultural differences cannot be equated with ethnicity. As culture is never homogeneous and always changing (as it is a cognition), it can be considered a kind of discourse. Several social, religious, and other orientations (e.g. school, avocation or special interest-based groups) can give frames for different discourse spaces and lead to the emergence of more or less overlapping systems of “culture.” Which is ethnicity, if ethnic roots do not trace the same directions whether according to cultural, kinship (origin), religious, or territorial (local) identities?

As it is theoretically based on the notion of origin, language, and cultural or political coexistence, ethnicity emerges only in some situations, when one or more of these values are affected. On other occasions, religious or social identity provides the foundation of their actual perspective. Kinship can also have an important role, even today. However, ethnic perspective cannot be easily divided from religious, social, local, and kinship cognition. It is the ideology of nationalism, which tries to give a one-level frame of a particular ethnic level, tending to exclude multi-ethnic identities and rule over religious, political, and cultural identities. In Hunza, this “nationalistic turn” has not yet taken place, since Pakistani nationalism has been failed to control ethnic cognitions.65

It was surprising to me that I found a complex terminology for “ethnicity” in the Burushaski language. In the Burusaski language, the word qáum means “ethnic group,” but it can refer to two different categories: (1.) “a traditionally formed community with a common geography, culture, and history,” and (2) “a group of people speaking the same language and living in a similar kinship system.”66 In the case of Hunza, the first term is Hunzakuts qáum, the second (language-based) term is Burusho qáum. Inhabitants of the former kingdom of Nagér (Nagérkuts/Nagarkuts) also belong to the Burusho qáum, but certainly do not belong to the Hunzakuts qáum.

Theoretically, it would be easy to distinguish these meanings of qáum, but sometimes the words Hunzakuts and Burusho mean something different, and some Hunzakuts use other terms for the qáum to which they want to. The speakers of a language do not automatically refer to one qáum, as people normally speak three or more languages (Hunza is a multi-lingual territory), and sometimes they speak Burushaski better than their mother tongue.

Native speakers of the same language can be intermixed according to political frames: if the word Burusho is mentioned in Hunza, people will not automatically think about Nagér and Yasin Burusho people as well. Mostly, the word refers only to the Burusho people in Hunza. In some contexts, the word Burusho even excludes the Burushaski speaking elite and means only the Burushaski speaking Burusho folk in Hunza.

If the word Burusho is mentioned outside Hunza, it often refers to Hunza’s, Nagér’s, and Yasin’s Burushaski speakers, but not exclusively. Sometimes it means simply “those who speak Burushaski,” and sometimes, depending on the context is so the conversation can refer to Burusho in Hunza without drawing any distinctions. Other times, they extend it with the Hunza’s reference adjective: “Hunzakts Burusho.”

The word Hunzakuts is similarly complex. It usually refers to a territorial frame (a local unit of people), but sometimes Hunzakuts means only Burushaski speaking people in Hunza, e.g. when it is mentioned by a Wakhi to another Wakhi outside Hunza.

In the case of Shinas and Wakhis, ethnic considerations are even more complex, as they both have neighboring territories in which they form majorities, thus their presence points out the origins of Hunnza. Shinas in Gilgit and Wakhis in the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan have their own “original homeland.” In most of the conversations I have observed, they consciously stressed their Shina or Wakhi identity, and very rarely mentioned Hunzakuts identity, even if – theoretically – the Hunza regional identity covers all of them as well, and they can also refer to themselves as “Hunzakuts,” especially when they refer to it towards non-Wakhi or non-Shina outsiders. And they are quite proud of both their Hunzakuts and Shina or Wakhi identity. On other occasions, they can simply identify themselves as Shina or Wakhi, within the Shina or Wakhi speaking communities in the northern areas, if they want to stress their community with other Shinas or Wakhis or they want to refer to their language.

The case of the Berichos is a bit different, as they do not have a “homeland,” and they consider themselves traditional Hunzakuts without being a part of the Hunza kinship system. They had semi-slave status until the twentieth century, so they had communal emotions because they were an integrated part of Hunza, occupying a niche of occupations (blacksmith, musician, tractor-owners etc.). I have never heard them saying that they were Burusho, but they referred to themselves as Hunzakuts many times, at least when they were out of Hunza (e.g. in Gilgit).

An ethnonym can refer to a political frame, a language community, or a political and linguistic frame. Ethnic levels are often different when seen from the outside (exonyms) and when seen from the inside (endonyms), so one must also briefly analyze the terms used by people who describe or name these groups from the outside. Non-Hunzakuts often refer to Hunzakuts with the term Hunzas in English or similar terms in other languages.

The admixture of ethnic levels outside Hunza is more confusing. To simplify, Wakhis belong to a Wakhi ethnic group, Shinas to a Shina ethnic group, and so on. But then where do the Burusho or the Hunzakuts belong? How can we consider the Ismaili institutions, which reach towards political and language frames and cause strict endogamy, stricter than the language or even the phratry system? In practice, it is preferable for a Shina woman to marry a Shia Burusho man than to marry an Ismaili Shina. Religious frames can be more important in the case of ethnocentric expressions as well. I have heard many jokes told by Shia Muslims about their Ismaili neighbors, even when they shared the same language. These jokes contained stereotypes, concerning for instance ethnocentric attitudes and behavior. Many cultural patterns are shared by religious groups, but not by linguistic or local ones. A Burusho who is Shia can have many customs and rules in common with a Shia person in Gilgit, more than she/he might with her/his Ismaili neighbors in Hunza. So one cannot forget the region’s cultural and religious diversity when attempting to analyze or interpret these terms.

Levels of Ethnicity and the Relativity of Ethnonyms

In the previous sections I outlined the linguistic and social diversity of Hunza and the local categories which also influence ethnic cognitions. In this one, I summarize the Hunzakuts’ ethnic terminology in a table. The lines of the table list the native language groups and also some geographical and political frames. Each line starts with the subject who is referring to someone (named in the columns). Terms (written in the following columns) show a set of possible emic words for the ethnic or linguistic group (to whom the speakers refer).

hunza in Pakistan map

To avoid misunderstanding, I have used changes in formatting. Words with normal characters refer to peoples; words in italics are terms for languages spoken by the people in question; the most common words are written with bold letters. As a reduced matrix67 of endonyms and exonyms, the table is based on linguistic differences in Hunza. It is extended with the categories of Pakistani and Nagérkuts as important complementary categories of the locality, but even so, the table is a simplification, since it cannot adequately emphasize the role of locality. This is why I explained the considerations above, to demonstrate that the table can be interpreted only according to the complexity of the social structure of Hunza. The several “synonymous” words in a heading all have different semantic frames and relevance.

hunza vizrajz telepulesek es a kornyeke

I only use English words in the table if I have heard them used in a native conversation, they were explained in ethnographic interviews, or I have data about their usage from written sources. The table demonstrates the multi-dimension of endonyms, exonyms, and politonyms. The variety of ethnonyms in each headings shows that the terms can be used in a given situation according to their relevance. The areal linguistic interactions are also easy to recognize (e.g. from the frequent loan-words).


The notion that an ethnic group is based on a strict unit of origin, language, and territory seems to be false. Ethnic levels appear in constantly changing registers of personal knowledge, which only partially overlap. However, the discourse in which the inhabitants of Hunza express and experience their ethnic perceptions is an existing communicational frame, even if it contains relatively fluid and constantly changing elements of narratives, experiences, emotions, and values. This dialectic set of cognitions explains the very complex ethnic terminology of Hunza.

It is not obvious what one can call the ethnic level in Hunza. Ethnonyms do not have set definitions, and in different situations only the context can help us understanding who a term is being used to designate. There are overlapping categories of ethnic and quasi-ethnic perspectives. I have analyzed the role of language, locality, descendant, and social structure. The first consequence is that, on the basis of these principles, very different groups of people share common ethnic identities.

I explained that the notion of Hunzakuts is seemingly a politonym, but it is also a local unit. The Burusho, Dom, Xik, Shina etc. are seemingly language based endonyms, but kinship, cultural relations, historical coexistence, administrative frames, language, and religiosity can all influence these ethnic perspectives (although none of them can be considered as “the sole and only” ethnic level). I showed that the term Burusho, for example, can mean all Burushaski speakers, but sometimes it means the folk of Hunza (opposed to the Diramiting elite) and sometimes it means Burushaski speakers of Hunza. It is also used, in other contexts, to refer to the distant Burushaski speaking populations of Nagér and Yasin, and there are cases in which it is simplified to the Ismaili Muslims of Hunza and Yasin. A native speaker has all these concepts in his o rher mind, and in any particular situation, the relevant meanings are called forth. The context can be interpreted with the tools of the cognitive semantics.

There are institutions (such as clans and phratries, Ismaili religious community, and local settlement frames like khanats), into which someone is born, so there are groups which allocate ethnic perspectives. Ethnic identity is far from being incidental. It is, rather, a set of different attachments, as frames of a person’s ethnic perceptions and behavior. Ethnicity is a kind of knowledge: participating in a discourse, sharing more or less common narratives, emotions, experiences, and values. Ethnicity is also a recognition: placing someone in the social environment (according to linguistic, local and other difference), and it is also the foundation for meaningful and relevant relations. Finally, ethnicity is a practical tool of communication: ethnic perceptions and categories appear in conversation nearly always for a particular purpose.

The question of which languages are used in the family is also not incidental, and neither is the question of the society to which someone belongs. These factors can sometimes be changed (by moving out of Hunza, emigration, intermarriage etc.), but there must be a reason for this change. It seems insufficient to consider ethnicity “merely” a changeable discourse, although the ethnic perspective is indeed a constantly changing (and never homogeneous) register of knowledge.

Ethnic identity in Hunza contains the concept of the former Hunza kingdom (the “thousand years of independence”), but it does not suppose or imply any common origin. Inhabitants of Hunza recognize the role of native languages, local communities, and social coexistence. Social and religious differences can lead to expressions of identity that are similar to or part of ethnic perceptions. Inhabitants of Hunza certainly recognize differences in language, and they use several words for the linguistic groups. Despite the linguistic diversity and the current political power of the nation-state ideology of modern Pakistan, Hunzakuts identity survived the collapse of the former kingdom’s administration in 1974. The semantic frame of the word Hunzakuts has certainly undergone a transformation since 1974, and the role of locality has increased. Social solidarity remained an important part of it.

I delineated the essence of my explanation in a table, showing the complexity of ethnonyms used in social interactions. In addition to their (etic) vocabulary meanings, the ethnic terminology (as a set of emic categories) catalyzes other notions, narratives, and emotions. Each word has a cognitive semantical frame, which calls forth emotions, narratives, and values in the given situation by the exact actors.68

After briefly outlining the complexity of the ethnonym-system in Hunza, according to which terms can be recalled on the basis of the given circumstances, I demonstrated the complexity of ethnic levels and perceptions (Table I.). As the diversity and overlapping nature of ethnic perceptions, ethnic discourses, and semantic frames suggests, there is no single, exclusive level of ethnonyms in Hunza. Finally, I emphasize that cognition of “ethnic categories” is not omnipotent. There are considerations in which the national (Pakistan), ecological (social status), religious, or the political attachments seems more relevant than the ethnic ones.


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London–New York: Verso, 1983.

Barth, Fredrik. “Introduction” and “Pathan Identity and its Maintenance.” In Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference, edited by Fredrik Barth, 9–38, 117–34. London: Allen&Unwin, 1969.

Berger, Hermann. Yasin-Burushaski (Werchikwar): Grammatik, Texte, Wörterbuch. Neu­indische Studien series 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1974.

Biddulph, John. Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh. Graz: Akademische, 1971.

Brubaker, Rogers. “Ethnicity Without Groups.” Arch. Europ. Sociol. 43, no. 2 (2002): 163–89.

Brubaker, Rogers. Ethnicity Without Groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Csáji, László Koppány. “Flying with the Vanishing Fairies: Typology of the Shamanistic Traditions of the Hunza.” Anthropology of Consciousness 22, no. 2 (2011): 159–87.

Csáji László Koppány. “Etnográfia a föld alatt? Mivel járulhat hozzá a szociál- és kulturális antropológia a régészet etnicitásolvasataihoz és a társadalomtudományokkal közös diskurzushoz?” [Ethnography underground? How can social and cultural anthropology contribute to readings of ethnicity in archeology and discourse shared with the social sciences?]. Századvég 73, no. 3 (2014): 69–99.

Croft, William, and D. Alan Cruse. Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Dani, Ahmed Hassan. History of Northern Areas of Pakistan. Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 2001.

Fillmore, Charles. Frames and the Semantics of Understanding. Quaderni di Semantica 6, no. 2 (1985): 222–54.

Flowerday, Julie. “Change over Time: Hunza in Treble Vision.” Karakoram in Transition – The Hunza Valley, edited by Hermann Kreutzmann. Erlangen–Nurnberg: Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat / Oxford University Press, 2006.

Frembgen, Jürgen Wasim. “Ökonomischer Wandel in Nager (Nordpakistan). Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 110, no. 2 (1985): 281–86, 111, no. 1(1986): 14.

Geertz, Clifford. “After the Revolution: The Fate of Nationalism in the New States.” In idem. Interpretation of Cultures, 87–125. New York: Basic, 1973.

Grimes, Barbara. “Isolates.” Frawley. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, edited by William, J. Frawley, 317. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Klimov G. А., and A. I. Edelmann. Jazik Burushaski. Moscow: Nauk, 1970.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Race and History. Paris: UNESCO, 1952.

Lorimer, David. The Burusaski Language. 3 vols. Oslo: I.S.K., 1935–1938.

Lorimer, David. The Dumaki Language. Nijmegen: Dekker and van de Vegt, 1939.

Mock, John, and Kimberly O’Neil. Trekking in the Karakoram and Hindukush. Hawthorn: Lonely Planet, 1996.

Morgenstierne, Georg. Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages. 4 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1929.

Ray, John J., and Dianne Doratis. “Religiocentrism & Ethnocentrism: Catholic and Protestant in Australian Schools.” Sociological Analysis 32, no. 3 (1972): 170–79.

Schmid, Anna. “The Dom of Hunza (Northern Areas of Pakistan).” In Disappearing Peoples? Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Minorities in South and Central Asia, edited by Barbara Brower, and Barbara Rose Johntson, 107–27. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Schmid, Anna. Die Dom zwischen socialer Ohnmacht und kultureller Macht: Eine Minderheit im Spannungsfeld eines interethnischen Relationengefechts. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1997.

Sidky, Homayun. “Shamans and Mountain Spirits in Hunza.” Asian Folklore Studies 53 (1994): 67–96.

Sidky, Homayun. Irrigation and State Formation in Hunza: The Anthropology of Hydraulic Kingdom. Lanham: University Press of America, 1996.

Sidky, Homayun. Hunza, an Ethnographic Outline. Jaipur: ABD Publishers, 2004.

Smith, Anthony D. “The Ethnic Revival in the Modern World.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Staley, John. “Economy and Society in the High Mountains of Pakistan.” Modern Asian Studies 3, no. 3 (1969): 225–43.

Tikkanen, Bertil. “On Burushaski and Other Ancient Substrata in Northwestern South Asia.” Studia Orientalia 64 (1988): 303–25.

Toporov, V. N. “About the Phonological Typology of Burushaski.” Studies in General and Oriental Linguistics, edited by Roman Jacobson and Shigeo Kawamoto, 632–47. Tokyo: TEC Co., 1970.

Willson, Stephen R. A Look at Hunza Culture. Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies, 1999.

1 I used English as the lingua franca of the Indian subcontinent, and I learned some Burushaski, which is the main language used in Hunza. Sometimes I hired interpreters, especially when I travelled to remote villages. See the description of the Wakhi language below.

2 My first fieldwork lasted for three months in 2001. I then returned to the wider region in 2005 for a short period of study. Since then, I have remained in touch with my friends in Hunza using the internet.

3 As a disputed part of Kashmir, it was claimed by India in 1947.

4 Lévi-Strauss, Race, 11.

5 Barth, Introduction, 12.

6 Brubaker, Ethnicity Without Groups.

7 Brubaker, Ethnicity 174–75.

8 Smith, Ethnic.

9 Hobsbawm and Rangers, Invented (The “cultural” nation-construction often refers to the narratives of origin and/or language; while the “political” nations rely more on legal and ecological frames.)

10 Geertz, After.

11 Anderson, Imagined.

12 Brubaker, Ethnicity, 167.

13 Willson, Look, 3–7.

14 Dani, History.

15 The suffix -kuts means “person/people” (and is both the singular and plural form).

16 Berger, Yasin-Burushaski.

17 Frembgem, Ökonomische.

18 Willson, Look, 16.

19 Often mentioned as “the eighth wonder of the World” in northern areas of Pakistan.

20 Sidky, Shamans, 94, Willson, Look, 1, Flowerday, Hunza.

21 Some sources (e.g. Sidky, Shamans, Frembgen, Ökonomischer etc.) use the singular form as Hunzakut.

22 Dani, History.

23 Csáji, “Flying,” 161.

24 Willson, Look, 17, 194.

25 Sidky, Irrigation, 34.

26 Staley, Economy; Sidky, Irrigation.

27 Flowerday, Hunza. This brand is not only a representation for outsiders, but also constitutes part of the Hunzakuts identity.

28 The peak of tourism was in the 1990s and early 2000s, when many restaurants, hotels, and shops were opened.

29 Many earlier works suppose an imagined unity of locality and language, complemented with an imagined common origin. This kind of expectation would not work in the case of Hunza.

30 See Fillmore, Frame.

31 Parallel to worldwide recognitions of so-called “indigenous knowledge.”

32 Opposed to the Nagérkuts’ supposed Shia identity.

33 Willson, Look, 147–48.

34 Although Ismaili is part of the Shia way of Islam, Ismaili is called the “seveners” and Shia is called the “twelvers.” Ismaili is further divided, and followers of Aga Khan are one of its subgroups (see Willson, Look, 185). Shia Islam is dominant in Gilgit, Haramosh, Ishkoman, and Baltistan, although in Baltistan the Nur Bakhshiya (Noorbakshia) sect of Shia is also present in Shigar and Hushe (Mock and O’Neil, Tracking, 27).

35 Willson, Look, 200.

36 Frembgen, Ökonomischer.

37 Croft and Cruse, Cognitive.

38 It was observed long ago that religiocentrism is a phenomenon similar to ethnocetrism (Ray and Doratis, Religiocentrism.).

39 Lorimer, Burushaski; Toporov, Phonological; Berger, Yasin-Burushaski; Willson, Look.

40 Edelmann, Jazik Burushaski; Toporov, Phonological.

41 Whether the Dardic languages form a real group is a subject of dispute, as is the question of whether they belong to the Indo-Arya language branch or a transitory branch between the Indo-Arya and Iranian branches. See Morgenstierne, Indo-Iranian.

42 Mock and O’Neil, Trekking, 28, 37.

43 Biddulph, Tribes, 114.

44 Lorimer, Dumaki.

45 Willson, Look, 200.

46 Shmid, Dom, 107.

47 Willson, Look.

48 Shmid, Dom, 109.

49 Ibid., 34.

50 Willson, Look, 201.

51 Dani, History.

52 Grimes, Isolates 317.

53 The colonial confrontation of Russia and the British Empire in the nineteenth century.

54 Willson, Look, 200.

55 Sidky, Hunza.

56 Lorimer, Burushaski, 304.

57 Sidky, Irrigation; Willson, Look, Csáji, Flying.

58 Fortified hilltop towns and their surrounding villages.

59 Willson, Look, 193.

60 Ibid., 192–93, see also Staley, Economy; Sidky, Irrigation.

61 Tikkanen, Burushaski.

62 On the Indian subcontinent, musicians and blacksmiths are often considered of a very low status.

63 It has – according to the social linguistics – pragmatic reasons: to identify themselves with well-known categories (Csáji, Tündérek.).

64 Brubaker, Ethnicity.

65 The ethnos-model is also not useful for this analysis, given the many kinds of fragmentations (see Csáji, Etnográfia).

66 Willson, Look, 11.

67 The table does not show the religious and local segmentations (except in the case of Nagér), some of which I have already explained. Some lexemes of the Bériski, Shina, Urdu, and Wakhi languages may be missing, given the lack of data, but my main goal was to demonstrate the multi-dimensional nature of this set of ethnic terminology in Hunza.

68 Everyone has a different discourse horizon, so the meanings never overlap entirely.


Map 1. Hunza in the Northern Areas of Pakistan (disputed area)


Map 2. Hunza Valley and its surroundings

Who is

naming whom?


(in Hunza)






(Burusho in Nagér)



(in Hunza)







Buru / Bru




(Werchikvar/ Wirchikwor2)






(for Shinas in Hunza)



(for Shinas in Nagér)








Xikwor/Xikwar Wakhani







Berishal sís






Panjabi (often

extended to all Pakistanis)


Paki (English




Buru / Bru











Xikwor, Xikwar Wakhani









Nagér/Nagyr Burushaski




Panjabi (often

extended to













Xik zik

Zik, Khik



















Buru, Bru,









Hunzakuts /




Xikwor, Xikwar Wakhani









Nagér/Nagyr Burushaski




Panjabi (often

extended to all




(Burusho in Nagér)




Werchikvar/ Wirchikwor (for Yasin-Burusho)

Buru / Bru





(for Shinas in Hunza)



(for Shinas in Nagér)




Xikwor/Xikwar Wakhani











Werchikvar/ Wirchikwor (for Yasin-Burusho)

Buru / Bru










Nagérkuts Nagarkuts






Dom Bericho











1 The words Biltum, Khajuna, and Kanjut/Kunjut sometimes appear in Burushaski conversations with a connotation concerning their historical roots.

2 Werchikvor/Werchikvar refers to the Burushaski dialect spoken in Yasin.


Table I. Endonyms and exonyms in and around Hunza

pdfVolume 7 Issue 2 CONTENTS

State-Building, Imperial Science, and Bourgeois Careers in the Habsburg Monarchy in the 1848 Generation: The Cases of Karl Czoernig (1804–1889) and Carl Alexander von Hügel (1795/96–1870)

Wolfgang Göderle
University of Graz
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The article situates itself in the broader context of the transition between the Ancien Régime and the revolutionary year 1848 by exploring the new social spaces opening up for a middle-class in the making from the 1820s onward. It focuses on two representatives of this new class, Karl von Czoernig and Carl Alexander von Hügel, both of whom managed to climb the social ladder between c. 1820 and 1870. Men like Czoernig and Hügel were involved with the events of 1848 in manifold ways. Czoernig, for instance, was a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, while Hügel helped Metternich escape the country and flee to England. Yet in the wider perspective, it was not a few turbulent days in 1848 that made a difference in the lives of the members of the larger emerging middle-class to which these two men belonged. The revolution(s) had another effect on both men’s lives: Hügel made a reappearance as an imperial diplomat and started a second career with a distinctly conservative flavor. The top-ranking civil servant Czoernig, in contrast, ruined his professional career in the long run, although the consequences of his participation in the events of 1848 were not felt until the early 1860s, when dusk fell on neo-absolutist liberalism. This article examines a panorama of new options and opportunities for members of the well-educated bourgeois in an era of transition, and it suggests some conclusions concerning the strategies put to use by the emerging middle-class.

Keywords: Habsburg Monarchy, civil service, middle-class, bourgeoisie, social history, nineteenth century

Who were the men of 1848 in Central Europe?* Was there even such a thing as a generation of 1848? If one seeks answers to these questions, one must dig deeper into the institutional and personal continuities that link the first and second halves of the nineteenth century in the Habsburg Empire. An understanding of these continuities sheds light on processes of state-building and the rise of a bourgeois middle class, the worldviews of which were claiming ground in imperial notions of the modern state.1

The following article proceeds on the assumption that there actually was a generation of 1848, made up roughly of men born between c. 1795 and 1810 who shared a certain horizon of education, experiences, and relationships both with one another and with the state and its institutions. This generation included not only those directly involved with the manifold events in the revolutionary year, but also men whose lives were in many ways affected. Members of the generation of 1848 were not necessarily in favor of more political participation or liberalism. Some, indeed, were strictly opposed, and some were more or less indifferent. Yet (and this is the decisive point) their lives and life choices were affected by the changes that led to and were ushered in by the revolutions, and they all had to deal with 1848 in one way or another. This article relates this generation of 1848 to three aspects that have increasingly received scholarly attention in recent years: (a) the question of networks in an asserted “world of empires” and the (b) production of scientific knowledge, in large part by members of an emerging middle class, specifically in the (c) context of state-building processes.2

This text summarizes the current state of research in an ongoing project which seeks to reconstruct and analyze a collective biography of Central European civil servants between c. 1820 and c. 1870. The endeavor aims to produce a thorough investigation of the personal, professional, and educational backgrounds of these individuals, the process of social change in which they participated, and the manifold networks of which they were a part.3 Here, I will present two men who were active in what was then known as the “Austrian Empire.” Their cases shed light on larger imperial practices and the mid-century construction of imperial spaces.4 At first glance, Czoernig and von Hügel had little in common, apart from the fact that both served the Habsburg Empire at one point or another; however, I argue that together these two men’s careers offer illustrative examples of the field of professional choices, options, and chances to rise in the social hierarchy for members of the middle class in the empire. To a certain extent, their lives complement each other and cover a broader range of the array of bourgeois, or, to a growing extent, middle class backgrounds in the first half of the nineteenth century.5

Christopher Clark characterizes the decade after 1848 as a “European Revolution in Government.”6 I argue that the emerging middle classes in Central Europe and beyond acted as catalyzers in the setup and flow of this process.7 They provided synchronization and know-how transfer across European states and empires, they built and maintained crucial formations of administrative and scientific knowledge, and they laid the foundation stones for what was to become the “modern state” of the 1850s.

Science and the Modern State

The past few years have seen a certain reassessment of the first half of the nineteenth century in Central Europe, although the pre-March decades have received relatively little scholarly attention compared to works on the second half of the eighteenth or the nineteenth centuries.8 A number of studies, however, highlight subtle lines of continuity, showing the elements of the late eighteenth century on which the generation of 1848 could build.9 The rank smell of reactionary rule and philistine Biedermeier is slowly coming off the period between 1815 and 1848 and giving way to a more differentiated and balanced assessment.10

I argue that emerging middle classes in Central Europe and beyond were laying the groundwork for the rebuilding of the political, economic, social, and cultural arena after 1848 during most of the first half of the nineteenth century, gradually replacing older elites in what has been coined the “imperial intermediaries” by Burbank and Cooper.11 Preeminent members of this bourgeoisie were smoothly blending the ambition of the well-educated social riser with the eloquence, manners, and social instinct of older aristocratic elites, whose etiquette and networking habits and skills they were simulating masterfully. The services of these men, whose skills and competences concerning the systematic production and management of knowledge contributed crucially to the shaping of modernity, soon would become indispensable, not only in imperial administrations.

Several aspects of this process deserve attention. First, I direct the scope of my study toward the term “transimperialism,” and I avoid the use of the term “transnational” outside a nationalized context. By using this term, I embrace what has recently been argued by Bernhard Schär, who contends that imperial rule in the nineteenth century created social spaces between European empires, spaces which existed inside and outside Europe, extending across national and imperial borders.12 Transimperial networks allowed for the mobility of members of certain social classes, yet, essentially, they also provided for the circulation of (scientific) knowledge. I relate the study of such networks to the processes of state building by showing how they contributed to the shaping of a new political and administrative arena in Central Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century, an arena which continued to exist well after 1848.13

Second, I scrutinize how new manners of the production and distribution of knowledge and novel concepts of how (scientific) knowledge could be used allowed for the social and political participation and rise of a large group of (relative) newcomers.14 The bourgeois experts that made up a considerable part of European state bureaucracies by the middle of the nineteenth century in many cases represent this type of the homo novus; yet at the same time, they formed the nucleus of a social middle class in the making, which created a new social space for people coming from below as well as for déclassés from the former gentry and lower aristocracy. The major resource of people joining this milieu was their education, professional training, and development of practical and theoretical knowledge, which was frequently important to state administration.15 Yet the “bourgeois world” shared a common set of ideas, values, and ambitious goals across many (though certainly not all) social delimitations and imperial and state borders.16 I argue that not only the bourgeoisie but the entire middle class in the making transcended key processes of state-building in Europe and successfully affected the renegotiation of political participation among established and new stakeholders in the middle of the nineteenth century.

And third, I analyze how connections across empires and a new class of imperial bureaucrats worked to build the modern state and how they made the modern state work for them. How was the unprecedented shift in political representation and participation which took place in the second half of the nineteenth century, when rulers had to accept parliaments and constitutional rights, related to this?17 Clearly, this shift has to be interpreted in the wider context of a long-term historical process, which started in the late eighteenth century and transformed the entire knowledge base, upon which states operated. During this process, civil servants, members of the lower aristocracy, military land surveyors, bourgeois intellectuals, and skilled workers all over Europe exchanged theoretical and practical knowledge in many different fields, including cartography, statistics, and economy, and acquired a deeper understanding of the fundamental and general problems modern statehood had to tackle.18

This article reconstructs the lives, achievements, failures, and encounters of two representatives of this loose group of essentially middle-class bureaucrats: Karl Freiherr Czoernig-Czernhausen (1804–89) and Carl Alexander Freiherr von Hügel (1795–1870). Both men originated from middle-class backgrounds and spent at least parts of their respective professional careers in the civil (and in the case of Hügel also in the military) service. Both men contributed considerably to creating the scientific discourse of their time in more than one field. And both, Czoernig and Hügel, were known as “literates” as well: they wrote and published books addressing a wider audience. Finally, both men were politically active and well established in the leading class of the Habsburg Empire.

Czoernig was 44 years old in 1848, Hügel was in his early fifties, either 52 or 53 years old, his precise date of birth cannot be determined. In 1848 Czoernig served in the Frankfurt Parliament, while Hügel was helping Metternich to escape from Vienna and to flee to England.19 Neither man has yet received an extensive biography.20 Yet there is a considerable literature on both of them: Czoernig’s life as a top-ranking civil servant in the pre-March era and during neo-absolutism has particularly attracted the attention of historians interested in Central European statistics in the 1840s and 1850s. Hügel’s life has gained the interest of historians of science as a traveler and collector. Other aspects in the lives of these two men have attracted less interest: Hügel’s career as an officer in the service of the Austrian army as well as his activities in the diplomatic service go unnoticed by most historical research. The same applies to Czoernig, whose work as a politician and author has been overshadowed by the role he played in statistics. Only his work as a linguist earned some attention.21

I argue that it requires a broader and more balanced approach towards the lives and activities of persons such as Czoernig and Hügel to better assess and analyze their work and impact in the context of the first half of the nineteenth century. By reading these two figures primarily as scientists and somehow secondarily as civil servant and officer respectively traveler, the more global dimension of their activities is inevitably missed. It can be observed quite frequently that early nineteenth-century characters with a similarly rich portfolio of professional and non-professional activities are categorized and, therefore, analyzed and interpreted exclusively in the context of one category. Yet, it appears quite striking that many public characters of this generation engaged in a surprisingly broad range of activities, which makes it extremely difficult to place them in a single ‘professional’ denomination.22 There were authors working in the civil service, military officers publishing maps in their spare time, and traveling scientists, who later ended up in the diplomatic field.23 Such ‘careers’ were the norm rather than an exception, which prompts the question why this was so. Clearly, the normative categories and logics of the later nineteenth century, when (professional) fields such as politics, civil service, literature and science were more clearly delimited do not fit well for the analysis and description of the first half of the nineteenth century.

Taking this into consideration, I suggest opening up the analytical framework used to describe and analyze bourgeois agency in Central Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Taking the lives of Karl Czoernig and Carl Alexander von Hügel as illustrative examples, I identify the connections between the different fields of activity in which they engaged in order to come to a broader assessment of the significance of these connections. I start with the observation that the boundaries between different fields in the production and use of knowledge (science, literature, politics, military) were relatively permeable and these fields were overlapping in the period before 1848, which made it possible for agents such as Czoernig and Hügel to move between different arenas and build connections and networks in a Latourian sense. This appears to be a key characteristic of this epoch, yet its consequences have not been given adequate attention in recent scholarship.24

When Czoernig was nominated to serve as head of administrative statistics in the Department of Administrative Statistics (Direktion der administrativen Statistik) in 1841, for example, the procedure was not overtly formalized, and Czoernig’s formal qualifications were not discussed.25 Czoernig was already a well-known and respected authority in terms of the production, administration and distribution of state and public knowledge, yet he was not an academic statistician in the pure sense of the word. On the other hand, at the time, the sphere of work of the position to which he was appointed was not very clearly defined if judged by later standards. 43 years later, on the other hand, when Theodor Inama-Sternegg took charge of more or less the same office, it was of utmost importance that he primarily fulfill the formal scientific qualifications for the job.26 In his case, Inama-Sternegg was a trained statistician, at least to the extent to which one could study statistics in the 1870s and 1880s, but, more importantly, his work was recognized and appreciated by an international yet at the same time still transimperial scientific community of statisticians. Inama-Sternegg’s predecessor, however, had been an experienced and trustworthy high-ranking civil servant, who had served in this position for little more than two years. Before him, Adolf Ficker, a student and protégé of Czoernig’s who had even fewer formal qualifications than Czoernig himself, had been in charge of the office.

The point is that both Czoernig and Ficker could oversee a critical office in charge of state statistics for extended periods of time. Both were experienced men and had enjoyed generalist’s educations: They had undergone a complete course of universalist secondary school education and had also been trained in legal studies. As late as the 1870s, jurists and historians socialized in state administration could well lead statistical offices, even those of the Habsburg Empire, which at the time were among such leading institutions worldwide. Both Czoernig and Ficker played important roles in the most important international board of scientific statistics at the time, the International Statistical Congress. Not only were they renowned and respected experts, they exercised considerable agency and power in the definition and execution of statistical standards. Yet, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that both Czoernig and Ficker followed broad agendas, which went far beyond statistics. Czoernig found the time to write the two most important books on the condition and development of the Habsburg state in the 1850s and Ficker devoted substantial efforts and energy to the development of census statistics that would exclude any reference to language or ethnic belonging.

In the 1870s, this began to change as professional and academic training in statistics became an increasingly compulsory prerequisite for work in the field. Whereas Czoernig and later to a lesser extent Ficker enjoyed the liberty of occupying themselves with a large number of different fields of interest, this became less and less possible in the 1870s. Scientific gatekeepers were put in place to assure that states’ statistical knowledge met certain requirements of objectivity.27 States which failed to comply with this standard risked losing recognition as “modern” states.28

Thus, the nomination of Theodor Inama-Sternegg marked the end of an era in the production of state knowledge. He took office as a statistical scientist, his only secondary occupation being his activity as a university teacher at the department of statistics at the University of Vienna. Inama-Sternegg kept his distance from the state, despite being a high ranking civil servant. He put science first, and his understanding of his role and profession might well be considered symptomatic for a process of crystallization (or in the terminology of Max Weber, professionalization) which had begun in the 1840s and came to an end in the 1880s, when clear borders between different fields of knowledge-related activities (politics, science, literature, civil service) were established. Men like Czoernig and von Hügel not only could and did switch among fields which were far from being clearly delimitated in the era between 1830 and 1860, they were also able to make strategic use of their mobility and agility to act competently in different yet in most cases adjacent or associated fields. Unlike Inama-Sternegg, they did not need to keep ostentatious distance from the state, which gave them authority. Only decades later, in the 1880s, did proximity to the state pose a potential threat to a scientist’s reputation as independent and objective.

Czoernig and von Hügel not only moved between different fields of knowledge and knowledge production. They also circulated among different regional and imperial affiliations. Both men seized opportunities to engage on different levels of the state (in the case of von Hügel, also in different imperial spheres) and oscillate around the states’ inner domains at changing distances. As will be shown, Czoernig proved a highly capable administrator on the provincial level in Lombardy and Trieste as well as on the Central State level in Vienna. Hügel meanwhile proved an officer of great value between Scandinavia and Sicily, and he later continued his career with the Habsburg Empire as an ambassador in Florence and Brussels, after having traveled to South Asia and Oceania, under the protection and to the profit of the British Empire.

Karl Freiherr Czoernig-Czernhausen

Czoernig was born into a bourgeois family in Tschernhausen (today Černousy in the Czech Republic) in northwestern Bohemia in 1804, the son of an administrator of an estate of the family Clam-Gallas.29 His mother was the daughter of a textile manufacturer. After completing grammar school, Czoernig studied law (to be more precise law, governance, and public policy, or Rechts- und Staatswissenschaften) at the universities of Prague and Vienna. Central European scholarship and examination regulations in the early nineteenth century considered law a very broad matter and therefore obliged students to study a comprehensive curriculum, which included many aspects of contemporary political economy and political science.30 Czoernig was an excellent student, with a keen interest in all sorts of statistics, statistical reasoning, and representation of data. Supposedly, while he was still a student at law school, his academic teacher Joseph Ritter von Kudler considered him a “future Dupin of Austria.”31

Having completed his studies, Czoernig joined the civil service in Trieste in 1828. While pursuing his professional career, he started publishing what was then categorized as literature in the widest sense of the word. His Topographisch-historisch-statistische Beschreibung von Reichenberg. Nebst einem Anhange: Die Beschreibung von Gablonz enthaltend successfully combined different forms of knowledge. Czoernig delved into topography, moved on to history, added an extensive chapter on trade and the professions, and finished with “the circumstances and the movement of the population” of the Bohemian town of Reichenberg/Liberec, which was near where he was born and raised. The study was comprehensive, comprising more than 200 pages, yet it was just the first in a long line of similar publications to come. It appeared in 1829. Two years later, in 1831, Czoernig moved from Trieste to Milan, where he integrated well into the intellectual life of the Lombardian capital and soon became the secretary of Governor Count Hartig.32

Czoernig spent almost ten years in Milan, not only as a relatively high-ranking member of the administration, but also as a very productive author, scholar, topographer, and statistician. In sheer numbers, his output was impressive; it included further works on the topography and trade of parts of northern Italy, including again statistical inquiries, but also travelogues and analyses of political events. Czoernig’s work was based to a high degree on original data which he himself had gathered, and it reflects in parts an enormous degree of independent research.33 His social fabric included politicians, scholars, and members of the Lombardian bourgeoisie. Czoernig mastered Italian to a remarkable degree, and the extent to which he was able to integrate into the contemporary intellectual life of Milan has lately been assessed as extremely high.34

In 1841, Czoernig moved to Vienna, where he became head of the Department of Administrative Statistics, then a part of the Court of Auditors (k.k. General Rechnungs-Directorium). At age 36, he had collected a number of distinctions and memberships. He had become a 2nd class Knight of the Ducal Order of St. Louis of Lucca, an Honorary Member of the Milan Brera Academy and the Athenians of Bergamo and Brescia, but also of the Austrian Lloyd, which at the time was a relatively young shipping company (founded only in 1833), but which would soon become a global player. He was a corresponding member of the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences, the Patriotic Economic Society of Bohemia, and the Imperial and Royal Moravian-Silesian Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Nature, and Regional Studies. He was also a full member of the Patriotic Association for the Encouragement of Industriousness in Bohemia and the Lower Austrian Trade Association.35 This list might be considered proof of Czoernig’s sociality, yet at the same time it demonstrates the extent of his range of different activities and interests and the social, political, economic, scientific, and artistic network, stretched from northern Italy across the Lower Austrian heartlands of the Habsburg Empire to Bohemia, Silesia, and Moravia.

As an administrative statistician, Czoernig started from the beginning. His academic training did not particularly qualify him for the job, yet he had an advantage over better-qualified academics, who might have represented competition for him.36 Czoernig had practical experience and had shown a considerable degree of creativity when it comes to using numbers and numerical descriptions of the social world. He developed a close relationship with his superior Karl Friedrich Kübeck Freiherr von Kübau, which turned out to be useful in the years to come, as Kübeck was able to increase Czoernig’s scope of action. Over the course of the 1840s, Czoernig was busy with the re-dimensioning and reorganization of the Department of Administrative Statistics, which grew considerably in the years leading up to 1848. After 1843, for a time he wrote less, but Czoernig explored new fields of activity and further expanded his network. He became involved with the Capitalien- und Rentenversicherungsanstalt (capital and pension insurance institution), the Vienna-Gloggnitz-Railway, and in particular the administration of the Donau-Dampfschifffahrts-Gesellschaft (Danube Steamship Company), which had begun to flourish at the time.37 He also started to climb the ranks of state administration, and by 1846 he had been promoted Hofrath.

In 1848, his Bohemian electoral district nominated him to serve as its representative in the Frankfurt Parliament, although he had not applied for the position. In Frankfurt, he took a moderate conservative stance when he joined the Café Milani fraction. His fellow parliamentarians mandated him to voice their position in a memorandum, which he did before withdrawing from the Parliament and returning to Vienna, where new tasks awaited him. In the course of the reorganization of the state administration in the wake of 1848, his entire department became part of the newly founded Ministerium für Handel, Gewerbe und öffentliche Bauten (Ministry of Trade, Commerce, and Public Buildings). Moving the Department of Administrative Statistics from the Court of Auditors into a Ministry brought Czoernig much closer to the central domains of the modern state. He was promoted to Sections-Chef (head of a department) and thus became a high-ranking civil servant, and he soon had to assume further duties in the ministry. In 1850, he was sent to Trieste, where he worked until 1852 on the construction of a new institution, the Central-Seebehörde (Central Sea Authority). He was also in charge of the Zolldepartment (Customs Department) and the Bauarchiv (building archive). The latter function included responsibility for the further development of the railway and canal network, but also for historical monuments.

Little is known at the moment about how Czoernig managed to deal with the sheer number of duties he had to fulfill, although his overall performance seems to have been more than satisfactory. Waltraud Heindl’s work Gehorsame Rebellen offers some information that is helpful here. She shows convincingly that civil servants in the Habsburg Empire toward the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth were hardly overworked. It is remarkable that the situation in the protestant lands of Central Germany seems to have been quite the contrary at the time.38 Even if one assumes that the situation of civil servants working for the Zentralstellen had not deteriorated significantly by the late 1840s and the early 1850s, Czoernig clearly must have had outstanding organizational skills and must have been quite effective in managing the tasks that he had assumed. In addition to the broad range of activities and duties that he had to deal with in the early 1850s, he was still in charge of the Department of Administrative Statistics. Its composition and the way in which it functioned provide some insight into how Czoernig actually worked. He had been successful in establishing and enlarging the department, which had been founded in 1829 with only a handful of clerks borrowed from the Court of Auditors.39

By the early 1850s, Czoernig had at least two well-qualified and trustworthy men in his department who could take charge of larger tasks and act on their own initiative: Adolph Ficker and Gustav Adolph Schimmer. In 1855, Czoernig published his Ethnographie der österreichischen Monarchie (Ethnography of the Austrian Monarchy) in three volumes, a project he had been working on for fourteen years. The most interesting part of the publication consisted of a comprehensive map featuring the results of what at the time was the most detailed and thorough investigation into the languages spoken in the monarchy. Czoernig had not only collaborated closely with the Militärgeographisches Institut (Department of Military Cartography), which by that time was performing the enormous land survey which had been begun by Emperor Francis II/I almost half a century earlier in 1806,40 he had also made vast use of other resources of the military and the administration by querying civil servants and sending officers out on field research missions. It is thus difficult to draw a dividing line between the realms of the private and the professional in the activities in which Czoernig indulged or involved himself, so difficult, indeed, that these two categories perhaps cannot be applied meaningfully in his case. There are a few similar examples, which highlight the degree to which private resources and state resources were put to use in pursuit of a single goal, for instance the Scheda-Karte (Scheda-map).41 Modern statehood in the making provided an enormous testing ground, and the relationship between this new notion of a state under construction and its bourgeois (civil as well as military) servants had to be defined in an uncountable series of steps and encounters.

The character of Czoernig’s Ethnographie reflected the conditions under which it had been produced. Officially a grand piece of private scholarship, it could not have been written without the support provided by the state, as the gathering of the data it presented reflected an enormous effort on the part of the administration’s and the military’s personnel, achieved most likely not only during the service hours of those involved. The result of this effort was a three-volume magisterial work featuring something between private scholarship, science in the widest sense of the word, and official information and data on Imperial Austria.42 A little later, Czoernig published another piece, Oesterreichs Neugestaltung 1848–1858, in which he used statistics that he had not included in his Ethnographie and defined the Habsburg Empire once more as a state, which was inevitably multinational due to its position at a point where three large peoples met, its topography (which matched the different peoples’ respective characters each in particularly favorable ways), and the degree of profit these three tribes (Volksstämme) gained from each other.43 Not only did Czoernig employ a narrative that interwove the long-term historical development of each of the three tribes he had identified as primordial, he also constructed a massive and integrative narration of 1850s Imperial Austria that legitimized Habsburg rule and central administration on two levels. It was cast as natural insofar as topography was involved, and from the perspective of the social moment, Habsburg rule was characterized as harmonious, since the state in its condition at the time represented the fruit of a long, shared history.

Czoernig’s literary work of the 1850s, which combined rulers’ interests with private scholarship and could, at least in parts, stake claim to scientific objectivity by contemporary standards, offers an outstanding example of how the Bürgertum (bourgeoisie) got involved with the state-building project in the 1850s. Men of Czoernig’s class invested substantial efforts and resources into the modern state in the making, though this could mean significant risk. (I will come back to the strategies that were employed to avert risk a little bit later.)

In the mid-1850s, Czoernig reached the peak of his career. At the head of the statistical department of the states’ central administration, he successfully participated in launching a series of International Statistical Congresses, which allowed for the exchange of statistical data and standards among different countries.44 The first congress took place in Brussels in 1853, the second in Paris in 1855, and in 1857, Vienna became the stage of the international gathering of the most important statisticians of the time.45 The Habsburg Empire’s administrative statistics appear to have been at the top in the 1850s. Yet it is quite likely that statistics were not the focus of Czoernig’s attention at the time.46 His position and responsibilities in the Ministry had a far larger scope, though Czoernig seems to have considered the Department of Administrative Statistics a “center of calculation,” which he used as a resource in order to collect and administrate data and build structured knowledge on the different domains with which he was dealing (infrastructure and buildings, but also financial matters).47 In the first half of the 1850s, Czoernig’s role in the making of the modern state was quite impressive. He was in charge of the setup of a railway system and the drafting of a legal framework for the latter, and as noted before, between 1850 and 1852, he worked in Trieste, where he oversaw the development of the Central-Seebehörde. He was also responsible for practically everything that had to do with the material cultural heritage of the Monarchy and its public building infrastructure.48 His duties went beyond the borders of the Kaiserstaat (Imperial Austria), as he had to take over diplomatic missions as well, for instance financial matters which took him to Amsterdam, Paris, and London in 1854.49

As mentioned earlier, Czoernig blended into the Lombardian bourgeoisie of the 1830s smoothly. He seems to have been no less at ease in the milieus of diplomacy and an emerging international scientific scene. A classically educated polyglot, Czoernig shared a broad background of knowledge and common references with other members of a transimperial bourgeois class, which had grown considerably in the first half of the nineteenth century. Men like the Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician, and sociologist Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet and the Prussian historian and statistician Friedrich Wilhelm Schubert had much more in common with people outside their respective state’s borders than they did with any other large group in their own societies. Between 1830 and 1850, members of this class had become more important for modernizing states, and rulers had become increasingly dependent on these creators and administrators of the knowledge central to the conduct of the state. By the early 1850s, men like Czoernig brokered their respective rulers’ interests among themselves, which appears to have opened new room for maneuver for bourgeois civil servants.50

By the late 1850s, Czoernig’s light began to fade, though most probably not because of any mistakes he had made. In 1859, the Ministry of Trade, Commerce, and Public Buildings was disbanded, and as a consequence Czoernig lost most of his responsibilities, except for the Department of Administrative Statistics, which was again attached to the Court of Auditors, which meant this time that statistics was put at a greater distance from the state’s central authorities. To a certain extent, it was cut off from a lot of the information it had processed in the 1850s. Czoernig managed to set up a new board, the k.k. statistische Central-Commission (Imperial and Royal Central Statistical Committee) in 1863, yet his retirement in 1865 raised suspicions that his withdrawal had to do less with his weakened health (this was his claim) and more to do with disappointment concerning his new and reduced role in the civil service.51 He had been one of the faces of “neoabsolutist” rule,52 and in the years leading up to the Compromise of 1867, the bureaucracy developed a tendency to purge itself of high-profiled protagonists of the rigid era of the 1850s, which grew more and more unpopular.53

Czoernig retired to Gorizia, where he spent the remaining 24 years of his life. He intensified his research into the history, linguistics, and archeology of the region, and he began to pursue his literary ambitions again. When Czoernig died in 1889, he left behind an impressively diverse and rich oeuvre, covering roughly half a dozen of what had by the late 1880s become clearly defined scientific disciplines, a number of works which at the time would have been classified belles lettres or literature, and the fruits of a long and successful career in the civil service of the Habsburg Empire. To a certain extent, Czoernig had been made to pay for his strong exposure during the neoabsolutist 1850s, yet when he died at the age of 85, his contemporaries had difficulty fitting the complexity, richness, and diversity of his career into a single narrative. Czoernig was among the last of his kind. Even Ficker, little more than ten years his junior, enjoyed significantly fewer liberties in his career. The bourgeois class of the 1880s was more structured. Its members had clear professional careers, and they recognized the clear boundaries between one’s occupation and one’s private life.

Carl Alexander Anselm Freiherr von Hügel

Whereas Czoernig’s life has been analyzed from different perspectives, things are very different with von Hügel. There is much less literature on the latter. Born either in 1795 or 1796 in Regensburg, he was the son of a diplomat who had entered the service of the Habsburg emperor in January 1794.54 There, Johann Aloys Joseph von Hügel rose quickly and soon became a plenipotentiary. His son, Carl, enjoyed private tutoring and a Catholic education, before he went to law school in Heidelberg in 1810 or 1811. Two years later, he joined the Hussars of the Austrian Army as an officer and fought in the Napoleonic Wars for two years.55 By the invasion of Paris, Carl von Hügel had reached the rank of a captain. He then took part in the Northern Mission and was sent to Sweden. Hügel seized the opportunity and traveled through Scandinavia and Russia between 1817 and 1818. Supposedly in 1819, he joined the 5th Hussar Regiment, which was then in southern Italy, yet he was stationed in Provence and served as Commandant de place in Arles and Tarascon. In 1821, he participated in the expedition to Naples, which secured King Ferdinand his throne, and he then stayed on in Naples as a Military Attaché of the Habsburg Empire from 1821 to 1824, when he returned to Vienna and quit his position with the army.

Not yet 30 years old, Hügel had spent almost fifteen years abroad, traveling in Europe and Russia. The existing information on him is often ambiguous and unclear. His precise year of birth cannot be determined from the information available in the secondary literature, and further data is either incomplete or inconsistent. His father, Johann Aloys Joseph von Hügel, died in 1825. As the younger son, Carl Alexander, seems to have had some financial resources. After finishing his career with the army, he bought a house in Hietzing, a suburb of Vienna at the time in the vicinity of Schönbrunn Castle. He had gardens planted and a park built around his house, which soon became well known. Over the course of the following years, Hügel began to prepare his most famous journey to southeast Asia and Oceania.56 A horticulturalist of a certain reputation, he was able to expand his knowledge in his field of interest over the years between 1825 and 1830. Yet there seems to have been another aspect to his journey which had to do with his private life. He was engaged to Countess Mélanie Zichy Ferraris, who finally chose Prince Clemens Wenzel von Metternich over him, whom she married in 1831.57

Hügel had left the country in 1830, when he departed for England and then continued on to France. He left Toulon in May 1831 aboard the French naval ship D’Assas. Via Greece and Crete, he traveled to Alexandria, where he arrived in June. Hügel visited Cyprus and then Syria, from where he went to Antioch, Homs, and Palmyra. Finally, he moved on to Baalbek and then to Mount Lebanon, where he contracted cholera. His servant died of the disease, but Hügel recovered and traveled to Bombay via Suez and Aden. He arrived there in 1832. He then went south, after having fallen falling ill again, to Deccan, where he saw Goa and Mysore. Via the Malabar Coast he moved on to Ceylon, where he spent another four months. He then went up the southwest coast of India to Pondicherry and Madras. In autumn 1833, he boarded the English ship Alligator, and traveled to the Indian Archipelago and then to Australia. He then returned to India via New Zealand, Manila, Macao, and Canton, arriving in Calcutta. This was the starting point for what is probably the best-known part of his journey. He took off for the Himalaya Mountains, went on to Cashmere, and headed towards Delhi in 1835 via the land of the Sikhs before he arrived in Bombay again. There he spent another year, and then he went back to England via the Cape of Good Hope and Saint Helena. In the course of the six years of his journey, Hügel had accumulated an immense collection of objects, plants, butterflies, further objects of interest to natural history, and diverse artifacts of ethnographic value, a total of over 30,000 pieces, which he then brought back to Vienna.

Many details of this journey merit discussion in greater detail. With regards to the sources on his trip and on his experiences, one can use his four-volume description of the last part of his journey from Calcutta via the Himalayas, Cashmere, and the Punjab to Delhi and Bombay. A second, smaller book project has dealt with his experiences in the Pacific. In India, Hügel was accompanied for most of his trip by a British delegation, but the “government” did not allow anyone to cross the Sutlej river. Thus, the East India Company granted foreign travelers, to whom these regulations did not apply, considerable support.58 In addition to Hügel, this applied to a number of European travelers, among them the French Victor Jacquemont. Hügel traveled in comfort. His expedition consisted of more than 100 people, among them 60 bearers, but also 37 servants, as well as hunters, gardeners, and people responsible for catching and preserving butterflies.59 He ordered supplies of food to be taken for him in tinned cans, and most of his provisions were sent from Europe. Hügel himself went on horseback, lest the terrain not allow twelve bearers to carry him. He had close contacts in and excellent ties to the colonial administration, and he could make good use of them. Hügel not only collected objects, he also gathered and processed information. He drew maps, and he helped the British acquire certain bits of knowledge they could not get themselves. Thus, he participated in the British colonial project, a good example of transimperial bonding, as described by Bernhard Schär in his study Tropenliebe. He also had support from the British with logistics. Without the infrastructure of the colonial administration and the military and naval presence of the British Empire, it would have been much more difficult for Hügel to make his journey.

Hügel returned to Vienna in 1836, and his collection followed a little later. In 1837, Hügel contacted Kaspar von Sternberg, a former minister under Francis and a renowned connoisseur of the Habsburg Empire’s museal scene in the first half of the nineteenth century. Hügel expressed his wish to sell his collection to the Austrian state. His rich collection contained a large number of duplicates, and therefore appears to have been of considerable value to any large contemporary museum. Duplicates offered a good chance to trade objects with other museums. According to Claudia Schweizer, who studied the exchange between Hügel and Sternberg, Hügel was in urgent need of money once he returned from his journey, as he had spent almost all of his resources. According to the letters, his journey cost him roughly 130,000 fl.60 (I will return to the question of financing bourgeois lifestyles again in the conclusion to this essay.) Hügel finally succeeded in selling his collection to the state, and he spent the eleven years between 1836 and 1847 almost entirely in Vienna, where he continued his pursuit of botany and horticulture. He also started work on his four-volume publication on the Cashmere part of his journey, the first volume of which was published in 1840.

Carl von Hügel’s network and connections are more difficult to trace than those of Czoernig, at least before the 1850s, when he took official positions in the Habsburg Empire and his merits and memberships were published in the Schematismus. In the late 1820s, he was only mentioned there as a Knight of the Order of Leopold, a title which he probably inherited from his father. Yet Hügel’s close links to Metternich and the episode with Sternberg surely give reason to assume that his contacts in the so-called First Society were intact.61 Hügel was an important figure in the establishment of the Horticultural Society in Vienna, which not only collected and cultivated plants, but also created a social space in which a large number of prominent figures met and exchanged ideas and specimens.62 He became the president of the k.k. Gartenbau-Gesellschaft, and the proceedings of this society illuminate the social sphere in which he moved. The Horticultural Society included a large number of leading figures from the political and cultural elite of the late 1830s and early 1840s. In 1847, Hügel was appointed ordinary member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna, and he was then soon engaged in Verona to Elizabeth Farquharson, the significantly younger daughter of British General Francis Farquharson.63 Her father had served in the army of the East India Company, and Hügel had known the daughter as a girl. They met again when she accompanied her father on a visit to Hügel’s villa in Vienna.64

Upon the outbreak of the revolution in March, Hügel helped Chancellor Metternich escape from Vienna to Felsberg and, from there, to The Hague and England, where he spent the following winter.65 Back in the Habsburg Empire, he joined the army and was sent to Radetzky’s headquarters in Lombardy. Over the course of the following months, Hügel was first sent to Tuscany, where he participated in the siege of Leghorn, and then to Naples on a diplomatic mission. Later in 1849, Hügel was charged with further diplomatic duties in Florence, where he was consequently appointed Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Grand Ducal Court of Tuscany and where he was to remain for the next few years. In June 1851, he married his fiancée in Florence, and over the course of the next decade they had three children. In 1859, the family returned to Vienna. Hügel was sent to Brussels roughly a year later, in September 1860, where he was to take up the same position he had held in Tuscany in the Belgian Court. He resumed his studies and his scientific work both in Tuscany and in Belgium, and he published several works in these two places. In 1867, he retired to England, where he lived in Torquay until May 1870, when he left England in order to return to the Habsburg Empire. However, he did not make it back. He died in Brussels on the 2nd of June 1870.


The two men discussed in this article, Karl Freiherr von Czoernig and Carl Alexander Freiherr von Hügel, had extraordinary careers in the first half of the nineteenth century, yet neither of these two careers was particularly unusual against the backdrop of the era. As men of bourgeois backgrounds, they were able not only to consolidate their respective social position, but also to advance in the ranks of a society that was undergoing a significant phase of reconstruction. Their lives reflect the processes of empire-building and state-building which were taking place in the first half of the nineteenth century. Albeit Czoernig and Hügel were (and still are) perceived as “Austrian” civil servants, scientists, and travelers, their respective biographies make evident that things were more complicated than this label implies. Not only does one have to bear in mind the question of what “Austrian-ness” meant in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the Kaiserthum Oesterreich (Austrian Empire) had just replaced the Habsburg part of the Holy Roman Empire, but several other questions arise. The similarities between the two men’s lives provide an illustrative outline of what the Habsburg Empire’s bourgeois classes66 looked like in the latter part of the first half of the nineteenth century, at least in what was later to become Cisleithania: Catholics, socialized in the language and German “culture,” with a standardized grammar school and in some cases university education. The distinction between lower aristocracy and bourgeoisie appears to have been less important than the distinction between lower nobility and aristocracy. At least for Czoernig and Hügel, employment in the imperial service does not seem to have been vital. Both seem to have had other financial resources. The situation was quite different for many other social climbers, mainly of lower middle-class backgrounds, who relied mostly on their education as a resource. Given their milieu, which was not petit bourgeois, Czoernig and Hügel were not exceptional. Franz Adlgasser raises the question of the material situation of men of these classes in his opening essay to the edition of the diaries of Franz Freiherr von Andrian-Werburg.67 Andrian-Werburg’s repeated complaints concerning his financial situation notwithstanding, as Adlgasser points out, he enjoyed a large degree of liberty and never actually had had to work. Andrian-Werburg’s precarious independence appears to be something that applied to many members of this class. Although there is yet not enough evidence to form a final opinion on the material circumstances of Czoernig and Hügel, many hints suggest that both men enjoyed a considerable degree of personal liberty. They seem to have been well-funded, and Hügel at least was not dependent on his professional career for money. He had remarkable financial resources of his own, and this allowed him to travel the world for almost six years.68 Moreover, the 1830s and 1840s presented themselves to men like Andrian-Werburg, Czoernig, and Hügel as an age of opportunity. The long list of possible occupations, accessible in theory to Andrian-Werburg (as noted by Adlgasser), gives an idea of the expansion of bourgeois professional horizons in these two decades, given that a certain social capital was on hand.69

Sources on the activities of associations and societies, which were beginning their activities from the 1830s onwards, illustrate how old and new elites mingled in the rule and administration of the Habsburg Empire. Journals depicting the accomplishments of organizations such as the k.k. Gartenbau-Gesellschaft, the kaiserlich-königliche Geographische Gesellschaft, and the Alpenverein shed light on the formation and spread of a new social rhizome, which became the backbone of modern state-formation after 1848. A closer look at these societies and associations not only reveals a new social fabric in the making, it also focuses attention on the role science played in the process, and it gives a sense of the versatility of the protagonists involved. Over the course of the 1830s, it is difficult to link Czoernig to a single professional career. Was he a civil servant, a man of letters, a scientist, or a statistician? Perhaps even a politician? Czoernig was all of this, yet it is likely that he himself never asked the question in the 1830s, as the different occupations could well exist alongside one another. There was no particular need to narrow things down. The situation is a tad less clear with Hügel, yet essentially the circumstances were similar. As a traveler, he did not focus on a single field of knowledge or interest. He collected objects of interest to botanists, ethnologists, historians, orientalists, and geographers. According to Joseph Vogl, literature and science, which were seen as integral parts of a comprehensive understanding of knowledge, only began to part ways after 1800, and this sheds some light on the development one observes in the two courses of life under scrutiny here.70

Science, in addition to being a profession, was the central element of the European bourgeois project of the nineteenth century. At least in the case of Central Europe, some decisive aspects can be identified here. Its promise of truth and its relevance to the vital projects of modernization (land survey, administration, infrastructure, and welfare) fostered hopes in Czoernig, who believed in the public good, and Hügel, who appears to have been more interested in a universal order of things.

And yet another aspect that deserves attention is the notion of “loyalty.” Hügel is a particularly interesting case here. The long-serving officer in the imperial service of Francis II/I gathered highly valued military intelligence for the East India Company, and he returned into the imperial service of Francis Joseph a mere fifteen years later. It appears to be quite evident that Hügel’s sense of obligation towards the emperor had little to do with more recent ideas of the obligation of a citizen of a nation-state to his “nation.” Like the Sarasin cousins in Bernhard C. Schär’s Tropenliebe, Hügel contributed actively yet indirectly to the further expansion of the British Empire by producing and delivering fundamental knowledge on the geographical and political conditions in the Sikh’s territories in the 1830s.71 Neither Czoernig’s nor Hügel’s life can be sufficiently understood against the backdrop of a modern-state-based or nation-state-based narrative. Their bourgeois lives were closely entangled with the emergence of modern statehood in the Habsburg Empire, yet they also tried to keep a certain distance from the state. Moreover, they do appear to have been prepared for alternative scenarios, which would have suited them less. Hügel, for instance, who spent a total of far more than two decades abroad, could easily have arranged for a life outside the Habsburg Empire. Czoernig left the imperial civil service at 61 and retreated to Görz/Gorizia, on the imperial periphery, where he spent another 20 years. Czoernig and Hügel must both be considered politically active men, with certain agendas on their respective minds, representing certain class interests, particularly the strengthening of political representation. Hügel was pushing his agenda less vigorously than Czoernig, who appears to have become a very prominent figure in early neo-absolutism. Wolfram Siemann provided a brilliant analysis of the long-term strategic thinking of early Modern aristocratic families which contained a number of elements that resemble the scripts put to use by Czoernig and Hügel, including strategic networking, distributing risks, and avoiding dependencies.72

The 1830s and 1840s provided ample opportunities to bourgeois social climbers, and Czoernig and Hügel were able to seize them. Both attained a high degree of geographic mobility, soon became members of a transimperial bourgeois class, and quickly climbed the career ladders in the imperial military and civil service. Yet both men had interests beyond their professional obligations, and they pursued them with an intensity that might appear unusually high, only by contemporary standards, but even by the standards of the later nineteenth century. They contributed to the emergence of the modern state in Central Europe on several levels, for instance as people who performed imperial services (of not only one empire), but also as writers, scientists (in the contemporary sense of the word), and diplomats. Acting cautiously, both men proved capable of taking action on the political stage as well, if necessary. They appear thus as two archetypal members of a very specific and quickly growing social strata in nineteenth-century European history, the heterogenic middling classes. Yet the examples of Czoernig and Hügel show that it is time to broaden our analytical framework when it comes to analyses of the activities and the range of options these people had and put to use in what has frequently been called the birth of the modern state.



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1 On the historiography see Fillafer and Wallnig, Josephinismus, 31ff; Varga, “Writing Imperial History,” 81ff.

2 Burbank and Cooper, Empires, 17ff.

3 On the perspectives opened up by a rich older tradition of a “Geschichte des Bürgertums” (history of the bourgeoisie) in a particularly German speaking sphere see Osterhammel, Verwandlung, 1079ff.

4 Kaps, Ungleiche Entwicklung, 17ff.

5 On such an approach see Buchen and Rolf, Eliten, though they concentrate on the second half of the nineteenth century. The same applies to Lindström, Empire.

6 Clark, After 1848.

7 López and Weinstein, Middle Class.

8 Brandt, Neoabsolutismus, 24ff.; Judson, Habsburg Empire. See the articles by Brigitte Mazohl in Winkelbauer, Geschichte.

9 Judson, Habsburg Empire, 103ff.

10 Heindl, Rebellen, 134ff.

11 Burbank and Cooper, Empires, 13f.

12 Schär, Tropenliebe, 20f.

13 For an example see Adlgasser, Andrian-Werburg, 3:205ff.

14 On science and empire, see Drayton, Nature’s Government, 170ff.

15 In addition to the works of Waltraud Heindl, see Megner, Beamte; and the series Bürgertum in der Habsburgermonarchie, particularly Stekl et al., Arbeit; Hoffmann, Bürger. Further Kocka and Frevert, Bürgertum; Gall, Bürgertum.

16 Cooper and Stoler, Tensions, 2f.

17 Maier, Leviathan, 29ff; Nellen and Stockinger, Staat.

18 Göderle, Modernisierung durch Vermessung, 166ff.

19 Hugel, Metternich.

20 Rumpler, Czoernig, 833f; Schweizer, Sammlungen, 395f.

21 Goebl, Czoernig, 20.

22 Klemun and Hühnel, Naturforscher, 14f.

23 Göderle, Modernisierung durch Vermessung, 174.

24 Vogl, Poetologie, 14f.

25 See for this example Göderle, Zensus, 170ff.

26 Meanwhile the k. u. k. Statistische Zentralkommission, the Imperial and Royal Central Commission of Statistics, was the key authority in terms of statistics, the Department of Administrative Statistics being part of it.

27 Particularly the transition between truth-to-nature and mechanical objectivity appears to be interesting here: Daston and Galison, Objectivity.

28 Schneider, Wissensproduktion, 223ff.

29 Rumpler, Czoernig, 834.

30 Heindl, Rebellen, 103ff.

31 Wurzbach, Czoernig, 117. This refers to Charles Dupin (1784–1873), a French mathematician, who had earned a reputation for his work in the field of statistical mapping.

32 Goebl, Czoernig, 32.

33 See for instance Czoernig, Reichenberg, XI ff.

34 Goebl, Czoernig, 32.

35 See N.N., Schematismus, 315f.

36 Rumpler, Czoernig, 839.

37 Wurzbach, Czoernig, 118.

38 See Mulsow, Wissen.

39 Ficker, Skizze, 18ff.

40 Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire, Francis I of the Austrian Empire.

41 Meyer, Denkschrift, 38.

42 See Coen, Climate, Chapter 2.

43 Oesterreichs Neugestaltung was published as part of the three-volume Ethnographie and also separately.

44 Randeraad, International Statistical Congress, 50f.

45 See Randeraad, States, 60ff.

46 Ficker, Skizze, 18ff. According to Ficker’s account, the bulk of the office’s work in 1854/55 was dealt with by the regular staff, Czoernig’s role being a strategic one.

47 Latour, Science, 215ff.

48 Wurzbach, Czoernig, 119f.

49 Ibid.

50 Göderle, “Administration,” 66ff.

51 Rumpler, Czoernig, 844–45.

52 Adlgasser, Andrian-Werburg 3:206.

53 Deak, State-building, 131ff.

54 Dorda, Hügel, 730.

55 Schicklgruber, Hügel, 189.

56 Wiesner, Hügel.

57 Reumont, Hügel; Hügel, Hügel, xvi.

58 Bhatti, Indus, 101.

59 Hügel, Kashmir, 1:28ff.

60 Schweizer, Hügel.

61 Wullschleger, Gesinnung, 92f.

62 N.N., Verhandlungen, 3–15.

63 Mückler, Adeliger in Fiji, 182f.

64 Wiesner, Hügel, 10.

65 Hugel, Metternich.

66 I would not speak of a single bourgeois class in the first half of the nineteenth century when there was not much of an imperial public that actually involved members of the middle classes across the entire empire. The bourgeois class of Vienna had little in common with that of Innsbruck and little more with that of Prague by that time, so that I would speak of bourgeois classes or different bourgeois spheres, which coexisted.

67 Adlgasser, Andrian-Werburg 1: 28f.

68 There are very few direct sources on the wealth and income of Hügel and Czoernig. Yet Hügel could afford a villa in imperial Hietzing in the 1820s, and he could also afford to take a six-year journey around the world in the 1830s, which cost him 130,000fl. He led a comfortable life as an independent scholar in the 1830s. Entering first the military and subsequently the diplomatic service in the 1850s certainly did not improve his financial situation. These were activities only members of a well-off (upper) middle class or the aristocracy could afford. Nobody actually knows where his initial wealth came from. Most probably he inherited some or much of it from his father.

As for Czoernig, the situation was similar. He spent most of his professional career in the notoriously ill-paid civil service of the Habsburg Empire, yet when he retired early in the 1860s, he moved to his Görz manor. The risks he took in the 1850s, when he was a gehorsamer Rebell in the best sense of Waltraud Heindl‘s book, suggest that he was prepared to leave imperial service sooner rather than later and that he could have provided for himself and his family. In other words, he had resources, although we do not know precisely where they came from.

69 Ibid.

70 Vogl, Poetologien, 14.

71 Schär, Tropenliebe, 20f.

72 Siemann, Metternich, 31ff.

* I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers, whose detailed and learned feedback helped in many ways to reshape and improve this article. Furthermore, Pieter Judson, who read and revised later versions of the text, was a great help, and his input made a significant contribution to the sharpening of the central argument. And finally, Debbie Coen allowed me to read parts of the manuscript of her next book and to cite from it.

pdfVolume 7 Issue 2 CONTENTS

The Rothschild Consortium and the State Debt
of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy

György Kövér
Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
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The state debts of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy after 1867 consisted of three parts: loans acquired before 1867; loans acquired by the Cisleithanian half of the empire after the Compromise of 1867; and, finally, new state debt generated by the Kingdom of Hungary also after 1867. Between 1873 and 1910, with some exceptions, it was the Rothschild–Creditanstalt–Disconto-Gesellschaft consortium that acted in the role of the state banker in both halves of the dualistic state. The decision in favor of the Rothschilds was based not only on their extensive international network, rapid communications, immense prestige, an enormous amount of capital and a high degree of competitiveness but on the fact that they had long been heavily involved in Austrian financial affairs and in their quasi-monopoly position were able to assess relatively favorable costs. While the international market treated Hungary’s state bonds as the public debt of a sovereign state, it still considered Austria and Hungary to be economically interdependent parts of the same, albeit politically dual, monarchy even as the threat of the dualist state’s dissolution emerged more and more frequently from the turn of the century onwards. After initial hardships, yields on Hungary’s state debt with some lag were able to keep up with the profitability on the again gradually increasing Austrian state debt.

Keywords: Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, State debt, Rothschild–Creditanstalt–Disconto-Gesellschaft consortium, reputation, “empire effect”, “Rothschild effect”

 Empires have written themselves back into history. Such a statement can now be confidently made not only because of the post-colonial turn in writing history or the empire-building aspirations that we currently witness, but also because of the ongoing large-scale reevaluation of the history of past empires. In historiography, the Eastern European empires of the nineteenth century are no longer seen as entities predestined to dissolve, even though this is what was taught to several generations of students after World War I.1 The view that there is, in fact, no diametrical opposition between the ability of the empires to renew themselves and the nation-building processes that emerge within the framework of those empires seems to be gaining an impressive foothold.2 Even those scholars who study the Ottoman Empire, a textbook example of slow, drawn-out erosion, now emphasize the modern nature and the effectiveness of its sweeping imperial reforms.

However, the study of the “empire effect” has generated serious controversy with regard to the five decades leading up to World War I.3 In fact, economists and economic historians analyzing more or less similar data series have arrived at widely diverging conclusions. Of course, there have been differences both in terms of the size of the databases and the econometric methods applied, yet it is difficult to accept that scholars should arrive at diametrically opposed conclusions in evaluating the impact of any given country’s status as a colony in terms of its access to international money markets—in other words, in resolving the issue of whether colonies (without making a distinction between the colonies of white settlers and other types of colonies) were offered more favorable terms than sovereign states when acquiring loans in the London money-market.4 When examining the issue not so much from the perspective of the colonies, but from that of the various sovereign states entering the money markets on very different terms, yet another question arises: did investors in actual fact apply the same criteria in assessing colonies and sovereign states? For in the case of colonies, empirical guarantees proved to be a much more important factor than any financial parameter.5

The shift we see in the historical evaluation of the Habsburg Danubian empire is quite spectacular even though various scholars may not offer converging interpretations or may not necessarily, or fully, consider the quantitative results available in the context of these newly arising questions.6 What’s more, similar inquiries into the key parameters of Austrian and Hungarian government finance have shown that those parameters hardly exerted any “consistent and robust impact on the yields of state bonds.”7


* * *


From the perspective of the empire, the state debts of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy after 1867 consisted of three distinct parts: loans acquired before 1867; loans acquired by the Cisleithanian half of the empire after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867; and, finally, new state debt generated by the Kingdom of Hungary also after 1867. The first of these might, in effect, be called the “common debt” of the Monarchy—then again, this terminology would certainly contradict the official Hungarian position, which claimed that, in the context of public law, such debts were generated without Hungarian consent, therefore Hungary could not be held accountable for their repayment. However, as reflected in the wording of Hungary’s acts on the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarian party, “out of fairness and political considerations,” was willing to contribute to the repayment of such debt to an agreed extent, in fact applying the so-called principle of praecipuum in the actual calculations. In other words, the Hungarian government agreed to make partial interest payments with respect to a principal amount that it never acknowledged as its own debt. Then again, this was not the only public-law absurdity in the Dual Monarchy.

Let us set the Hungarian public-law position aside for the time being and consider the following graph, which plots the Dual Monarchy’s state debt:

Graph 1. Austro-Hungarian State Debt (1867–1913)

Source: Clemens Jobst and Thomas Scheiber, “Austria-Hungary from 1863 to 1914,” in South-Eastern European Monetary and Economic Statistics from the Nineteenth Century to World War II (South-Eastern European Monetary History Network) (Athens, Sofia, Bucharest and Vienna: Bank of Greece, Bulgarian National Bank, National Bank of Romania, Oesterreichische Nationalbank, 2014), 97.

As a result of the reduction of the interest rate and the introduction of the coupon tax in 1868, the pre-1867, so-called “common debt” temporarily decreased. During the period leading up to the war of 1877–78, the “common debt” exceptionally increased once again, more or less reaching earlier levels. However, from this period on, the “common debt” remained practically unchanged, although it would be more accurate to say that it showed a slightly decreasing trend. After the Compromise of 1867, the two state parties—the two halves of the empire, Cisleithania (Austria) and Transleithania (Hungary)—had access to government loans as separate sovereign states. As a result of the situation that emerged after 1868, the Cisleithanian part of the empire had no access to new loans (the London Stock Exchange barred the trading of Austrian loans, and trading in Hungarian state debt had only been possible at a premium payable on top of the Austrian debts to begin with).8 This means that Hungary, entering first to the London Stock Exchange in 1872, had not only to overcome the difficulties of a newcomer, but also to cover the costs of the Austrian coupon tax on foreign bonds.9 The correspondence of the Austrian Minister-President Friedrich Beust and the head of the Paris House of Rothschild banking family, James de Rothschild, precisely reflects the basic structure of the debtor-versus-borrower game situation.10 James de Rothschild expressed his firm critical opinion; however finally—in contrast to the London Stock Exchange—the Paris Bourse did not exclude the Austrian bonds from the quotation list. At the same time the question increased the tensions among the branches of the Rothschild family, especially between Vienna and Paris.11

It is a fact that with the exception of the years immediately leading up to World War I, the state debt of the Austrian Hereditary Lands significantly lagged behind the indebtedness levels of the Kingdom of Hungary. Enjoying limited sovereignty, the Hungarian state made every effort after 1867 to make up for what it had missed out on due to having lost its own war of independence: during the period between 1849 and the Compromise of 1867, Hungary had not been in a position to issue its own sovereign debt. Plotting the rate of Hungarian sovereign debt accumulation in this first stage generates an unusually steep curve practically until the early 1890s, the second half of the 1880s being the only interim period showing some degree of self-restraint. Then, for about two decades around the turn of the century, Hungarian sovereign debt barely increased at all, or only at a very modest rate. In turn, the half decade leading up to World War I brought rapid sovereign debt accumulation both in Cisleithania and in Transleithania, although by this period the Austrian Hereditary Lands were by far in the lead.

Reviewing Austria’s and Hungary’s state debt curves in parallel, it is not a challenge to notice how the two move in close coordination. From the beginning of the 1870s and into the middle of the 1880s, the dynamic of Hungarian sovereign debt accumulation was, as it were, balanced out—one might be tempted to say, supported from the background—by Austria’s own self-restraint and stability. Then in the second half of the 1880s, the slowing rate of Hungarian sovereign debt accumulation was offset by the increasing rate of Austrian sovereign debt accumulation. At the turn of the decade, the dynamics changed again: while Austria’s accumulation of sovereign debt lost its momentum, this was compensated for by the dizzying rate at which Hungary’s own sovereign debt started to increase. Then, from the period following the currency reform, Cisleithania’s sovereign debt accumulation took center stage once again. Of course, one could interpret this contrapuntal game of sovereign debt accumulation rates as a manifestation of the harmonious cooperation between the two state parties involved, although with some understanding of the nature of the relations between Austria and Hungary at the turn of the century, this would be hardly credible. Not discarding this option entirely, the linkage between sovereign debt accumulation dynamics of the two states may well be rooted somewhere else. In observing the turnover of the securities (mostly through focusing on the interests paid), we have seen the two states as the main—almost only—protagonists. However, there was yet another main protagonist in the context of the debts of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, namely, the Rothschild–Creditanstalt–Dictonto-Gesellschaft consortium, the gateway through which the state bonds of the Dual Monarchy gained access to the global international money market. Between 1873 and 1910, with some exceptions, it was this consortium that acted in the role of the state banker in both halves of the dualistic state: it offered short-term bridge loans as well as what were called long-term consolidated government loans. It is therefore a good idea to take a brief look at the behavior of the issuing consortium in relation to the Austrian and Hungarian bonds.

Published sources in financial statistics allow us to rely on fairly accurate data as to where Hungarian state bonds were placed throughout the years.12 The available data is based on the annual interest payments made by Hungary’s Ministry of Finance. Despite the fact that coupons paid in Vienna or Paris do not necessarily belong to Austrian or French investors, this is the data series that literature has tacitly used to illustrate the countries from which the foreign capital financing Hungary’s state debt originated. In fact, it does largely reflect the main trends, but it may be wise to consider that the data series reflects not so much states as, rather, currency zones. Whether the coupons were paid in Paris, Berlin or London was more a function of the agio or disagio of the franc, the mark, or the pound sterling against the Austrian currency (especially before 1892, the year in which the empire adopted the Austro-Hungarian krone as its official currency).

Graph 2. The Territorial Distribution of Holders of Hungarian State Securities as Reflected in the Place of Coupon Payment (1868–1914)

Sources: Fellner, Die Zahlungsbilanz Ungarns, Statement III; Fellner, “Das Volkseinkommen Österreich und Ungarn,” Table VII.

The graph clearly indicates how in the initial stage, during the 1870s, the Viennese money market played a relatively modest role in financing the Hungarian state debt. The proportion of Austrian bond holders started to increase from the 1880s and peaked during the first half of the 1890s; during this same period, the proportion of Hungarian investors stagnated and even decreased. The turn of the century ushered in a new era when investors from abroad (i.e., from outside the Dual Monarchy) and the Hungarian capital market jointly absorbed the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian state debt.

The Monarchy’s state bond market consciously took advantage of the fragmentation of the international capital market. It issued state bonds denominated either in gold or in gold currencies specifically for the international money markets, while its securities denominated in the Austrian bank currency were issued mostly for resident investors. It is possible to track the journey of the various securities one by one from their placement all the way to their payment, but this would go far beyond the limitations of this article. For this very reason, we will now focus primarily on trends in the issue and interest payment of the so-called Austrian and Hungarian four-percent gold rentes and the Austrian and Hungarian five-percent paper rentes especially with regard to the period when the monarchy implemented its currency reform and launched its rente conversion program.

Both the Austrian and Hungarian four-percent gold rentes were denominated in gold forints; accordingly, they were linked to the money markets of the gold currency countries through the gold forint exchange rate (the official exchange rates being 100 gold forints = 250 francs = 200 marks = 10 pounds sterling). Bond issues were strictly tailored to the needs and possibilities of the international capital market. The Austrian Hereditary Lands issued such denominations from 1876, with Hungary following suit in 1880. Already in 1876, partly because of the earlier unification and interest rate reduction, the Cisleithanian lands could reenter the international capital market offering four-percent rentes; in turn, Hungary’s financial situation at the time only allowed the issue of six-percent gold rentes, and it was only at the beginning of the 1880s that Hungary, too, could switch to four-percent gold rentes.

From 1876 until the end of the 1880s, Austria acquired loans in the amount of 340,850,000 gold forints by issuing gold rentes; during the decade of the 1880s, Hungary’s total sovereign debt denominated in this type of security amounted to 592,000,000 gold forints. During the 1880s, both state parties also issued five-percent paper rentes to cover their capital requirements, primarily targeting domestic investors looking for opportunities to place their savings. During the 1880s, the Austrian state issued five-percent paper rentes in a total nominal value of 238,877,100 forints, while the Hungarian state’s bond issues amounted to a total nominal value of 358,487,000 forints.13 As can be seen from these figures, the Hungarian party’s capital needs were significantly higher in the case of both types of rente bonds. In the case of paper rente, at the time of the first issue, both governments made attempts to contract other consortia (in Vienna, Julian Dunajewski contacted the Länderbank group, while in Pest Gyula Szapáry entered negotiations with a consortium led by the Union-bank of Vienna), but eventually both found their way back to the consortium belonging to the Rothschilds, whom they inevitably needed anyway when it came to the issuance of gold rentes. This clearly shows how closely interrelated the various rentes were, not only in terms of the issuing government (Austria or Hungary), but also in terms of their denomination (gold forints versus paper forints).

Already during the second half of the 1870s, Austrian four-percent gold rente prices and Hungarian six-percent gold rente prices were closely interrelated. In a letter written to the management of Creditanstalt and discussing, among other things, the issue of the second tranche, Adolph von Hansemann, general manager of Berlin-based Disconto-Gesellschaft, went as far as making the following—quite straightforward—statement: “as soon as the Austrian gold rente appreciates to 61 percent [. . .] time will have come to issue the Hungarian gold rente.”14

From the time of its very birth, the Hungarian four-percent gold rente was in the limelight of both the domestic and international press. A wide range of factors were put forward in an effort to explain the success of the May 1881 issue of the rente, the improvement in Hungary’s finances being evidently one of the more reasonable explanations. At the same time, many were quick to comment that while the finances of Hungary were in fact improving, its deficit levels remained unchanged, “without much of a guarantee for the country’s political future.” The fact of the matter is that subscribers “put their confidence in the Messrs. Rothschild rather than in Hungary, and, generally speaking have no intention to hold what may be allotted them, but hope to sell at a premium.”15 Even those voicing their indignation or bewilderment about this state of the affairs had to come to grips with the fact that Austrian and Hungarian securities were valued differently, even though the difference in their valuation decreased somewhat over time.16 Even in the very last stage of converting six-percent rentes into four-percent rentes, press commentaries always tried to offer some sort of a rational explanation with respect to the price-level differences between Austrian and Hungarian securities, even though they could only guess the probability of any given future development.17



Average Price



4% Austrian

4% Hungarian

4% Austrian

4% Hungarian






















































































* Profits calculated according to the annual average of the gold agio.

** First issued on December 22, 1876.


Table 1. A. The Annual Average Price and Profitability of Austrian and Hungarian Gold Rentes



Average Price

Profitability (Yields)


5% Austrian

5% Hungarian

5% Austrian

5% Hungarian






























































Table 1. B. The Annual Average Price and Profitability of Austrian and Hungarian Paper Rentes

* After the decision concerning bond conversion(s).

Sources: Statistische Tabellen zur Währungs-Frage der Österreich-Ungarischen Monarchie, 306; Tabellen zur Währungs-Statistik (Vienna, 1893), 253; A valuta-ügyre vonatkozó statisztikai adatok, 115.

Economic history literature has also dedicated a lot of attention to the question of the price difference between Austrian and Hungarian state securities (and the moderation of such difference around the time of the currency reform) through the work of authors such as John Komlos, Marc Flandreau, and, most recently, Michael Pammer.18 The quantitative analysis carried out has helped discard many factors that had been given serious consideration earlier, when the discourse on these issues had been still mostly based on guesswork. However, some archival sources, such as, first and foremost, the correspondence between the banking and finance houses of the Rothschilds still offer further opportunities. In addition to highlighting the asymmetrical nature of the relationship between the Rothschild consortium and the Austrian and Hungarian governments, they also reflect the conflict and rivalry characterizing the internal life of the consortium. As a typical episode manifesting such rivalry, we might mention the apprehensions of the Rothschilds of Vienna about how the Berlin banks and especially A. Hansemann, general manager of Disconto-Gesellschaft, aspired to gain a leading role in the transactions; they were of the opinion that in issues of currency regulation and gold procurement, London and Vienna should be granted exclusive leadership. At the same time, they had no doubts about the fact that, when it comes to loan negotiations, the finance ministers of Austria and Hungary would favor the Rothschild consortium over any other financial group.19 In a much broader sense than it was originally used by Flandreau and Flores we could speak about a “Rothschild effect.”20

Throughout the period, the primary target of Austrian gold rente issues was increasingly Germany (by 1898, Germany’s total share reached 60 percent). The French money market played a significant role initially, but its share gradually dwindled away, with German investors moving in to take over;21 Belgium and Switzerland, in turn, never held significant amounts. In the meantime, the proportion of Austrian bondholders increased from one-fifth to one-fourth. During the 1890s, Austrian capital carved out a dynamically increasing share for itself among Hungarian four-percent gold rente holders; here, it was the Austrians who took over the role of the quickly retreating French bondholders. It may be worth mentioning that there was no change in the proportion of Hungarian gold rentes held by Germans, British, or Hungarians during the period. Consequently, taking a look at changes in the placement of Austrian and Hungarian four-percent gold rentes in parallel, we can conclude that while French bond holders pulled out of the bond markets of both governments, those who entered these markets in their place were primarily German investors in the case of Austria and Austrian investors in the case of Hungary. In other words, the increase in the share of Austrian investors in Hungary was mostly made possible by the placement of Austrian securities in Germany (the crowding-out effect).

A look at where Hungarian five-percent paper rente coupon payments were made around the turn of the 1880s and 1890s also offers interesting lessons. It may be worth adding that in the case of this type of security, the Hungarian finance minister placed special emphasis on making sure that the largest possible portion of the securities were held by Hungarian investors. Not even the banks’ archives allow us to reconstruct the sale of paper rentes in a fully detailed fashion, but it seems to be beyond any doubt that sales in Hungary showed a declining trend. In 1882, as much as 45 percent to 47 percent of the securities were sold in Hungary; by 1887, the rate dropped to less than 30 percent, with sales in Austria ramping up to over 60 percent.22 All this occurred despite the fact that the Hungarian member of the consortium, the General Credit Bank of Hungary, increased its own share from ten percent in 1882 to eleven percent in 1887. When negotiations started about the 14th issue in 1887, and the minutes of Credit Bank’s board of directors meeting recorded the fixed-price takeover of a package of five-percent paper rentes in a total nominal value of 23,000,000 forints, the following comment was made nearly routinely: “Our participation is eleven percent, although we transfer two percent of the entire transaction to financial institutions with whom we are closely affiliated.”23 On the day of closing the transaction, the head of the Vienna Rothschilds sent off first a telegram and then a detailed letter to his cousins in Paris informing them about the terms of the deal: a package of Hungarian paper rentes in a total nominal value of 23 million forints was to be taken over at a fixed price of 85¾ (the quoted daily price being 88¾). He did not believe that a public subscription would be necessary; however, the bonds became available over the counter (Schalterwege) in Vienna, Pest, and Berlin the very same day. Negotiations with the Austrian finance minister also started the very same week.24 The option for the next tranche arising from the contracts was formulated by Creditanstalt’s board of directors in even greater unison under the brief title Consortien für Oesterreichische und Ungarische Papierrente.25

However, financial statistics on coupon payment suggest that Hungary held on to its share of 44 percent to 46 percent in 1886 as well as in 1890, and that, in fact, the proportion of Hungarian investors increased to 63 percent by 1892 (while the proportion of Austrian investors dropped to less than one-third just before the conversion of the paper rentes). The scarce statistical data we have on the coupon payment of Austrian paper rentes seems to indicate that all payments were made in Austria, even though this is somewhat difficult to believe in the light of the aforesaid. What may have happened at most is that certain old views lingered on within the system of financial statistics, treating the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a unified entity in this respect.26

As far as the Austrian gold rente strategy of the Vienna Rothschilds is concerned, the stock book itemizes, at best, certain occasional purchase or sale transactions related to high or increasing price levels or designed to influence price levels on an ad hoc basis. In the long run, they expected Hungarian gold rente prices to increase. They gradually increased their stock in this type of bond as prices rose, and when price levels peaked, they sold off an overwhelming part of the stock of bonds they had held. Also noteworthy is to what extent their expectations depended on international arbitrage; this link is clearly demonstrated not only by the fact that they kept bonds on deposit with Bleichröder but also by their speculation on the Berlin parity.

In terms of strategy, the strongest similarities are seen between Hungarian gold rentes and Hungarian paper rentes, even though in the case of the latter, expectations focused not on selling the paper rentes, but specifically on their conversion into krone rentes. However, the price difference between Austrian and Hungarian state bond issues never entirely disappeared even after transition to the krone.27

It seems especially worthy of our attention that the prices of the Austrian and Hungarian state bond issues remained interlinked even after the Rothschild consortium lost its monopolistic position in Cisleithania as far as Austrian state bonds were concerned.28 One way to interpret this is that the influence that the Rothschild consortium retained on Hungarian state bonds even after Albert’s death provided additional safeguards against any major diversion from the internationally accepted terms. It would therefore appear that while the international market treated Hungary’s state bonds as the public debt of a sovereign state29 (there seems to exist no other worthwhile explanation as to why the price difference, moderating at times but always reappearing, persisted), it still considered Austria and Hungary to be economically interdependent parts of the same, albeit politically dual, monarchy even as the threat of the dualist state’s dissolution emerged more and more frequently from the turn of the century onwards. The influence wielded by the Rothschild consortium certainly played a supporting role in ensuring that neither of the constituent states of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy went bankrupt.


* * *


Customarily, there are a number of relative indicators in use to measure the rate of the sovereign debt of Austria and Hungary: the sovereign debt expressed in absolute terms is taken in relation to the size of the population (public debt per capita) or to the rate of GDP growth (on the basis of Max Schulze’s data),30 while Marc Flandreau analyzed interest burden data in the light of government revenues.31

This latter method of calculation has its own difficulties. For one, in order to establish the actual amount of interests paid, the contribution paid by both Austria and Hungary towards their “common debt” must also be considered. It must also be mentioned that Austria and Hungary followed very different practical standards when recording the revenues and expenditures of state companies for the purposes of public finance accounting.32


Graph 5 a-b. Austrian and Hungarian Debt Service and Government Revenues (1875–1912)
in Millions of Forints

Source: Flandreau, “The Logic of Compromise,” 31.


In the Austrian Hereditary Lands—which bore the brunt of paying back the “common state debt”—the debt-service ratio fluctuated by around one-fourth during the 1870s and all the way through the 1890s. It was only successfully decreased to a level lower than one-fifth around the turn of the century. By 1912, right before World War I, it was under 15 percent. Referencing Graph 1 once again, this was obviously only possible due to the fact that government revenues increased much more dynamically than the country’s debt service, and as Table 3 allows us to conclude, there was no deterioration in the terms of issue of state bonds. During the 1870s and the 1880s, Hungary’s debt-service ratio hovered around one-third, and it was only pushed under the critical threshold of 30 percent around 1890. However, the debt burden slowly but surely grew in both halves of the empire. In Hungary, annual government revenue levels varied wildly around the turn of the century, primarily because of poor crops and years of economic crisis. Consequently, the relative burden of the country’s debt service was never lower than one-fifth until after 1906, although by 1912—just as in Austria—it was lower than the 15-percent threshold. Thus, during the 1890s—after an ominous start, in the wake of its currency reform and debt conversions—the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy finally broke out of the zone (a debt service ratio of over 25 percent) that was typical of heavily indebted states.33 And this is where the Rothschild consortium’s role in debt consolidation merits more of our attention among other factors pertaining to the international money market.

The credit that a state can obtain on the international money market depends on several factors. Recent economic, economic-history and even international political-science analyses have placed particular significance on the role that the reputation of an indebted country plays in determining its creditworthiness. The reputation of a country is based not only on its past, that is, whether it has previously taken out loans, whether it has repaid loans promptly or has perhaps become insolvent (or asked for rescheduling of its debt), but on the estimation of whether under exceptional circumstances (natural catastrophe, war, economic crisis, etc.) it will prove capable and inclined to maintain its solvency. It is important to be familiar with the motives of the creditors (bankers and investors) in each given situation: the information they possess when evaluating requests for credit; the network of connections and amount of capital that capital-market players have at their disposal, the degree to which they are committed to participating in the transaction (are they trying to cut their losses as the result of endangered previous engagements, are they going after their money?). The standing of an indebted country in the international money-market hierarchy determines its position—its degree of access to the primary market centers (which in the nineteenth century were London and Paris).

The Austrian Empire had the reputation as a bad debtor already before the Compromise of 1867. The decision of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1868 to unify and convert the banknotes in which its debt was denominated and to introduce a coupon tax in the interest of stabilizing its state finances served to further impair this reputation. The aforesaid measures cast a shadow upon Hungary as well just as the country was entering the international market. The semi-sovereign Hungarian state claimed in vain that the so-called “old debts” had been accrued without its consent and that it thus had no debts of its own, since potential creditors did not have a positive historical judgement of its behavior as a debtor and it even seemed to be conceivable that the state could declare insolvency at any time. Indeed, the Transleithanian half of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy began to accumulate sovereign debt so rapidly that it was nearly forced into sovereign default in 1873. The commitment of Hungary to the Rothschild–Creditanstalt–Disconto-Gesellschaft consortium played a decisive role in averting such default. The decision in favor of the Rothschilds was based not only on their extensive international network, rapid communications, immense prestige, enormous amount of capital and high degree of competitiveness, but on the fact that they had long been heavily involved in Austrian financial affairs and in their quasi–monopoly position were able to assess relatively favorable costs.34 Cisleithania, however, was forced under its post-1868 financial circumstances to refrain from rapidly accruing debt and, in fact, assumed the role of creditor within the internal market of the Dual Monarchy. However, the influence of the Rothschilds was not unlimited: for example, they attempted for almost a half century to rescue Spain from insolvency, though when the country’s debt was nevertheless rescheduled in the 1870s, they withdrew from the Spanish government-bond market and sought—and found—compensation in various enterprises (railway and mining).35 By contrast, after initial hardships, yields on Hungary’s state debt with some lag were able to keep up with the profitability on the again gradually increasing Austrian state debt. Hungary’s state debt did not follow the typical path of newcomers.36 It was able to forge benefit from its initial handicap via the integration of the Dual Monarchy’s money markets, particularly after the adoption of the Limping Gold Standard in 1892. The Hungarian money-market—through its close connection with the Wiener Börse and the Austo-Hungarian Bank—was able to gain admission to the “financial clique” at the forefront of the international network. Without this affiliation, Hungary would have unlikely been able to emerge from its peripheral position.37


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Eddie, Scott. “Limits on the Fiscal Independence of Sovereign States in Customs Union: Tax Union Aspects of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, 1868–1911.” Hungarian Studies Review 9, no. 2 (1982): 7–28.

Fellner, Friedrich. Die Zahlungsbilanz Ungarns: Ein Beitrag zur Lehre von der internationalen Zahlungsbilanz im Allgemein. Vienna–Leipzig: Franz Deuticke, 1908.

Fellner, Friedrich. “Das Volkseinkommen Österreich und Ungarn.” Statistische Monatschrift, 42 (1916): 485–625.

Ferguson, Niall. The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. London: Widenfeld & Nicolson, 1998.

Ferguson, Niall. “Political Risk and the International Bond Market between the 1848 Revolution and the Outbreak of the First World War.” Economic History Review 59, no. 1 (2006): 70–112.

Ferguson, Niall, and Moritz Schularlik. “The Empire Effect: The Determinants of Country Risk in the First Age of Globalization, 1880–1913.” The Journal of Economic History 66, no. 2 (2006): 283–312.

Flandreau, Marc, and Clemens Jobst. “The Ties that Divide: A Network Analysis of the International Monetary System, 1890–1910.” The Journal of Economic History 65, no. 4 (2005): 977–1007.

Flandreau, Marc. “The Logic of Compromise: Monetary Bargaining in Austria-Hungary, 1867–1913.” European Review of Economic History 10, no. 1 (2006): 3–33.

Flandreau, Marc, and Juan H. Flores. “The Peaceful Conspiracy: Bond Markets and International Relations During the Pax Britannica.” International Organization 66, no. 2 (2012): 211–41.

Gille, Bertrand. Histoire de la Maison Rothschild, vol. 2, 1848–1870. Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1967.

Komlos, John. The Habsburg Monarchy as a Customs Union: Economic Development in Austria-Hungary in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Komlosy, Andrea. “Imperial Cohesion, National Building and Regional Integration in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1804–1918.” In Nationalizing Empires, edited by Stefan Berger and Alexei Miller, 369–427. Budapest–New York: Central European University Press, 2015.

Kövér, György. “The London Stock Market and the Credit of Austria-Hungary.” Acta Historica Academiae Scientiarium Hungaricae 34, no. 2–3 (1988): 159–70.

Kövér, György. “Centripetal and Centrifugal Economic Forces in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.” In Der Markt im Mitteleuropa der Zwischenkriegszeit/The Market in Interwar Central Europe, edited by Alice Teichova, Alois Mosser and Jaroslav Patek, 341–47. Prague: Karolinum Press, 1997.

Kövér, György. “A bécsi Rothschildok és az 5%-os magyar papírjáradék (1881–1893)” [The Viennese Rothschilds and the five-percent Hungarian paper rente, (1881–1893)]. Aetas 16, no. 3–4 (2001): 140–58.

Kövér, György. “Kincstár és konzorcium: a magyar aranyjáradék-konverzió mérlegei, 1881–1884” [Treasury and consortium: Balance sheets of the Hungarian gold rente conversion, 1881–1884]. Aetas 19, no. 1 (2004): 74–99.

Le Bris, David. “Why Did French Savers Buy Foreign Assets before 1914? A Decomposition of the Benefits from Diversification.” Recherches économique de Louvin 79, no. 3 (2013): 71–89.

López-Morell, Miguel A. The House of Rothschild in Spain, 1812–1941. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013.

Michel, Bernard. Banques et banquiers en Autriche au debut du 20e siècle. Paris: Presses de la fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 1976.

Pammer, Michael. “The Hungarian Risk: The Premium on Hungarian State Bonds, 1881–1914.” Financial History Review 24, no. 1 (2017): 23–52.

Parent, Antoine, and Christophe Rault. “The Influence Affecting French Assets Abroad Prior to 1914.” The Journal of Economic History 64, no. 2 (2004): 328–62.

Ránki, György. “Le capital français en Hongrie.” In: La position international de la France: aspects économiques et financières XIXe-XXe siècles, edited by Maurice Lévy-Leboyer, 235–42. Paris: Edition de l’EHESS, 1977.

Tomz, Michael. Reputation and International Cooperation: Sovereign Debt across Three Centuries. Princeton–Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007.

1 Kövér, “Centripetal and Centrifugal Economic Forces.”

2 Berger and Miller, “Introduction: Building Nations.”

3 Ferguson, “Political Risk;” Ferguson and Schularlik, “The Empire Effect;” Accominotti, Flandreau, and Rezzik, “The Spread of Empire.”

4 Ferguson and Schularlik, “The Empire Effect.”

5 Accominotti, Flandreau, and Rezzik, “The Spread of Empire.”

6 Komlosy, “Imperial Cohesion.”

7 Pammer, “The Hungarian Risk,” 37.

8 Kövér, “The London Stock Market,” 168–69. Hungary’s finance ministry contracted the financial group of the Erlangers in an effort to circumvent Vienna and the Rothschilds. On the Erlangers, see Chapman, The Rise of Merchant Banking, 85–86.

9 In his estimations on the risk premium of newcomers, Michael Tomz does not take Hungary into consideration, presumably because the Hungarian five-percent bond was issued in London by Raphael and Sons only in 1872. Tomz, Reputation and International Cooperation, 59–60. The nominal interest rate was 5 percent, the issue price 81, so the yield (6.17 percent) was considerably below the average yields of newcomers at that time (8.6 percent). Clarke, “On the Debts of Sovereign,” 317–18. On Raphaels Bank, see Chapman, Raphael Bicentenary 1787–1987.

10 “Ich hoffe, daß Sie uns ein wenig mit ihren Rathschlägen un mit Ihrem Einfluß unterstützen werden.” Friedrich Beust to James de Rothschild, May 28, 1868. Quote from Corti, Das Haus Rothschild, 434. James Rothschild, in one of his last letters (he died in November 1868), explained his position: “Je comprends parfaitement qu’aujourd’hui l’Autriche veuille établir son budget sur les revenues du pays et non sur l’emprunt, mais ce serait tomber dans une exagération regrettable que de répudier absolument pour l’avenir le système des emprunts.” James de Rothschild to Friedrich Beust, June 2, 1868. Quote from Gille, Histoire de la Maison Rothschild, vol. 2, 486.

11 Ferguson, The World’s Banker, 690.

12 Fellner, Die Zahlungsbilanz Ungarns; Idem, “Das Volkseinkommen Österreich und Ungarn.”

13 Statistische Tabellen, 316–18; A valuta-ügyre vonatkozó statisztikai adatok, 106–14; Kövér, “A bécsi Rothschildok.”

14 “Wenn die Österreichische Gold Rente auf 61% geht, wird allgemein sich das Gefühl Bahn brechen, daß der richtige Zeitpunkt für die Emission der Ungarische Goldrente zugekommen sein wird.” A. v. Hansemann – CA, Berlin, 7 Jun 1877. 7. Rothschild Archive, London (hereafter RAL) 637 – 1 – 45.

15 The Statist, May 20, 1881.

16 Contemporary commentators remained puzzled about the price difference for quite some time. “Perusing the official stock exchange listings, one cannot but sadly note that Hungarian state securities are underpriced by 5% as compared to Austrian state securities. The reasons for this phenomenon are truly beyond explanation and may root in the circumstance that European markets have been familiar with Austrian government issues for longer than they have been with Hungarian government issues. They have forgotten about the coercive levying of taxes on coupons and financial gains.” The author of this quote, József Steiner, believed such market attitude was “comical and frivolous” in light of the fact that “the Hungarian state offered more guarantees in each and every respect.” “Államadósságok szaporítása” [The increase in state debt], Magyar Pénzügy, April 16, 1882. The decrease in the price gap did not serve to mitigate the perplexity either: “While the most recent price changes significantly decreased the price gap between Hungarian and Austrian rentes, it nevertheless remains quite wide; by now, any difference whatsoever can only be seen as political absurdity and financial injustice [. . .] costing the state millions year after year.” “A magyar államhitel alakulása” [The trend in Hungarian state loans], Magyar Pénzügy, May 2, 1889.

17 “It should be borne in mind that although separate accounts are kept of the finances of Hungary, as distinguished from those of Austria, yet both are equally under the auspices of the same Imperial-Royal Government of Austro-Hungary, and the security for each is ultimately identical. Consequently, there is no reason why there should be so great a difference in the market value of the Austrian Four per cents and those of Hungary, except that the latter are not yet placed. It is not at all improbable that when the Hungarian Sixes are all withdrawn, and the Fours all absorbed, that the latter will take rank with the Austrian 4-s, now quoted at 86. Those, therefore, who get into the Hungarian Fours at the price of 75, may before long have good reason to congratulate themselves on their pluck and foresight.” “The Hungarian Debt Conversion,” The Statist, March 29, 1884.

18 Komlos, The Habsburg Monarchy as a Customs Union, 173–84; Flandreau, “The Logic of compromise”; Pammer, “The Hungarian Risk,” 23–52.

19 RAL 637 – 2 – 3. Albert Rothschild, Wien – NMR, London, 29 Jan 1892.

20 The authors distinguish “clean” state bond issues from “tainted” ones. “For new clean bonds the Rothschilds’ yield premia are about 300 basis points lower than average for the category. This is an enormous effect: the Rothschilds could bring new borrowers to the market at very attractive terms. Seasoned tainted issues when they were taken in by the Rothschilds also enjoy a reduction of 100 basis points, meaning that prestige could restore credit.” Flandreau and. Flores, “The Peaceful Conspiracy: Bond Markets and International Relations During the Pax Britannica,” 226.

21 On the “relative stagnation and depression” in French Current Account balance between 1882 and 1897, see the following classic work: Cameron, France and the Economic Development of Europe, 79–82. On the political and economic motives that impelled the withdrawal of French capital, see Ránki, “Le capital français en Hongrie.” Earlier the political explanation was dominant in the French capital export movements, although currently the rationality of investor decision-making has regained its appropriate role among the arguments. Parent and Rault, “The Influence Affecting French Assets;” Le Bris, “Why Did French Savers Buy Foreign Assets.”

22 RAL 637 – 1 – 46-51. See Kövér, A bécsi Rothschildok, 148.

23 Hungarian National Archive State Archive (hereafter MNL OL) Z 50 9. cs. 3. t. MÁH igazgató tanács jk. April 25, 1887. On the very same occasion, under the next agenda item, it was decided that the consortium would take over Austrian five-percent paper rentes in the amount of 24 million forints. Hitelbank had a share of six percent in this package. Ibid.

24 RAL 637 – 1 – 50 S. M. Rothschild – Rothschild frères, Vienna, March 28, 1887. (Curiously, the letter is addressed to “Meine lieben Vettern.”)

25 The matter discussed was taking over Austrian Märzrente in the amount of six million forints and Hungarian paper rentes in the amount of five million forints. BA-CA, CA-V, CA – Verwaltungsrath-Protokoll vom 24 Mai 1887.

26 Imperial and Royal Finance Ministry, Tabellen zur Währungs-Statistik, 276–77. Referencing Ottomar Haupt, another source understands that the placement of Austrian paper rentes showed the following distribution: Austria, 81 percent; Hungary, 9 percent; and third countries, 10 percent. Flandreau, “The Logic of Compromise,” 17.*

27 The fear of the Monarchy’s dissolution is analyzed as a political factor from various points of view and using various methods in Flandreau, “The Logic of Compromise,” 14–19, and Pammer, “The Hungarian Risk,” 40–43.

28 Michel, Banques et banquiers en Autriche, 127–35. The overall picture is too complicated to allow any oversimplification of the process as a one-way-street or cul-de-sac. Cf. Ferguson, The World’s Banker, 935–38.

29 Flandreau, “The Logic of Compromise,” 18.

30 Pammer, “The Hungarian Risk,” 32–37.

31 Flandreau, “The Logic of Compromise.”

32 Eddie, “Limits on the Fiscal Independence.”

33 Accominotti, Flandreau, and Rezzik, “The Spread of Empire,” 401.

34 Flandreau and Flores, “The Peaceful Conspiracy,” 220–29; López-Morell, The House of Rothschild, 361–64.

35 López-Morell, The House of Rothschild, 191–213, 362–81.

36 Cf., Tomz, Reputation and International Cooperation, 39–69.

37 Flandreau and Jobst, “The Ties that Divide,” 988–92.




Graph 3. Changes in the Territorial Distribution of Austrian and Hungarian Four-Percent Gold Rente Coupon Payments Made in International Money Markets (1886–1898)

Sources: Statistische Tabellen zur Währungs-Frage der Österreich-Ungarischen Monarchie; Tabellen zur Währungs-Statistik, 1893; Tabellen zur Währungs-Statistik, 2nd edition, 2nd part (Vienna, 1900–1904); A valuta-ügyre vonatkozó statisztikai adatok, 1891; A valuta-ügyre vonatkozó statisztikai adatok (1892–1901) (manuscript) (Budapest, Hungarian Royal Finance Ministry, 1904).


Graph 4

The Territorial Distribution of Hungarian Five-Percent Paper Rente Coupon Payments (Austrian Forint Currency, Percent)

Source: A valuta-ügyre vonatkozó statisztikai adatok (Budapest, 1891), 80–86; Tabellen zur Währungs-Statistik, 2nd edition, 2nd part (Vienna, 1900–1904). 466, 484.


4% Austrian Gold Rente

4% Hungarian Gold Rente

5% Hungarian Paper Rente


Nominal Value (Thousand ft)

Quoted at (%)

Real Value at Quotation Price (ft)

Nominal Value (ft)

Quoted at (%)

Real value at Quotation Price (ft)


Nominal Value (Thousand ft)

Quoted at

Real Value at Quotation Price (Thousand ft)


Jan 1888







249,700 forints deposited with Bleichröder





Jan 1889












Jan 1890







Berlin parity





Jan 1891







deposited with Bleichröder




guarantee bond:

Jan 1892












Jan 1893












Feb 1893







from conversion 17,900




converted into 4% Hungarian korona rente

Jan 1894







100,000 forints deposited with Bleichröder





Jan 1895












Jan 1896












Jan 1897












Jan 1898












Jan 1899












Jan 1900







** Korona






Table 2. Austrian and Hungarian Bonds in the Stock Books of S. M. Rothschild Vienna

Source: RAL 637 - 1 - 163; 637 - 1 - 7










Amount Issued for Subscribing (K)

Issued at

Effective Annual Interest Rate


Amount Issued for Subscribing (K)

Issued at

Effective Annual Interest Rate



4% state bond











4% amortizable railway bonds











4% gold rente




4% gold rente*




* gold forints







4% Krone rente







4% gold rente











3½ % state bond















3½ % Krone rente











4% Krone rente







4% Krone rente















4% Krone rente











4% Krone rente











4% state bond







4% Krone rente











4% Krone rente











4½ % amortizable state bond








** marks







4½ % amortizable state bond






Table 3. The Prices and Interest Rates of Austrian and Hungarian Consolidated Government Loans at the Time of Subscribing (1893–1914)

Source: MNL OL Z 51 MÁH 16. cs. 226. t.


pdfVolume 7 Issue 2 CONTENTS

The Battle over Information and Transportation: Extra-European Conflicts between the Hungarian State and the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Ministry

James Callaway
New York University
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 Historians have written much about the conflict within Austria-Hungary between the Hungarian state on one side and the Cisleithanian state and/or Austria-Hungary’s joint institutions on the other. Historians have paid far less attention to how these conflicts unfolded beyond Europe, particularly in Africa. This essay examines the conflict between the Hungarian state and the Foreign Ministry over the empire’s trade relations with Morocco and Mexico. It shows that the Hungarian state and the Foreign Ministry perceived trade in different terms. These conflicting understandings of the purpose of trade fueled a battle between the Hungarian state and the Foreign Ministry over the information and transportation on which Austria-Hungary’s trade development was based. The Hungarian state’s success in this battle forced Austria-Hungary to pursue a much less imperialistic approach to global integration than the other great powers.

Keywords: Africa, Austria-Hungary, global, information, Mexico, trade


As Emperor Francis Joseph’s envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Sultan of Morocco, Leopold Graf Bolesta-Koziebrodzki endeavored to preserve what he believed to be Austria-Hungary’s interests in northern Africa.1 On May 31, 1908, the dutiful consul informed Foreign Minister Count Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal that the cargo ships of Adria, the Hungarian national shipping company, had unloaded goods from the ports of Trieste and Fiume at Gibraltar, but refused to continue to Tangier. The imposition, Koziebrodzki argued, forced Austro-Hungarian merchants to contract with foreign companies to transport Austro-Hungarian goods to Moroccan markets, which allegedly were expanding. His missive to the minister included a 43-page report (the seventh he had written) entitled “The New Organization of Shipping Service between the Habsburg Monarchy and Morocco.”2 Koziebrodzki claimed to have discussed the issue with Cisleithanian trade and industry councils, concluding that the absence of service by an Austro-Hungarian company to Morocco’s western coast threatened the empire’s trade. On the report’s final page, he urged the Foreign Ministry to compel Adria to extend its lines to Tangier at least and to create a new shipping company with service between Oran and the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro only. Notwithstanding the supposed interest of Cisleithanian businessmen, Koziebrodzki admitted that the proposed cabotage line would require a significant subsidy and would likely be unprofitable. The empire required Adria’s extended lines and the cabotage line, Koziebrodzki stressed, “in order for the Austro-Hungarian flag, which in Tangier is so exceedingly rare and on the western coast never at all seen, to fly constantly in the waters of Morocco.”3

Sándor Paczka saw no such connection between the empire’s trade and its flag. Paczka, a correspondent of the Royal Hungarian Trade Museum stationed in Veracruz, Mexico, had reported in January of the same year on trade possibilities between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Mexican Republic after he had returned from Budapest, where he had consulted with over thirty Hungarian companies (including Adria) to determine import and export possibilities. To accommodate new trade, such as the export of Hungarian beer and mailboxes and the import of coffee and vanilla, he proposed that the Hungarian state commission the Spanish company Transatlantic Espanola to operate the longest section of the proposed shipping route between Fiume and Veracruz. Adria would ship goods from Fiume to Genoa, then Transatlantic Espanola would transport Hungary’s goods from Genoa across the Atlantic to Veracruz, stopping at Barcelona, Cadiz, New York, and Havana. Hungary required this arrangement, Paczka argued, to ensure that Hungarian merchants “prefer Fiume and neglect Hamburg,” which was the nexus between Hungarian factories and Mexican markets at the time.4 Unlike the consular officer in Morocco, Paczka was willing to name the companies. Without the names and details of the companies, the report would have had little value for him and the Hungarian Ministry of Commerce, which requested data to justify suggestions to increase exports and imports. It had to be clear that an established market existed in Mexico for current Hungarian exports. Paczka mentioned neither the Austro-Hungarian nor the Hungarian flag.

This essay examines how tensions between the Foreign Ministry and the Hungarian state played out on the global stage, particularly over Austria-Hungary’s trade relationships with Morocco and Mexico. It shows how many imperial bureaucrats and supporters of imperialist global policies based their expectations of trade with Morocco and Mexico on the presumption that Austria-Hungary had the right to an undefined and dormant trade which would materialize with a combination of sufficient “can-do spirit,” the development of “virgin land,” and connections to exclusive markets. The politics of dualism regulated much of Austria-Hungary’s national shipping in the western Mediterranean and South and Central America to Hungary’s national shipping company, Adria, which proved unwilling to make the financial sacrifices that this “can-do spirit” required, provoking over a decade of conflict with the Foreign Ministry. Hungary’s trade relationship with Mexico in the early twentieth century highlights the Hungarian state’s use of Hungarian trade museums to work around the empire’s consular offices. The paper concludes by highlighting how our understanding of Austria-Hungary’s global history changes if we look at it through the lens of the Hungarian state rather than the Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry and the Networks of Trade Museums

The conflict between Koziebrodzki’s and Paczka’s understandings of the role of national shipping companies in connecting Austria-Hungary to overseas markets represents a larger struggle between the Hungarian state and the Foreign Ministry over the strategy and the purpose of the empire’s global integration. Scholarship over the past two decades on Austria-Hungary’s relationships with the world beyond Europe and North America has revolved predominantly around Cisleithania and the Austrian State Archives.5 In the late imperial age, “Austrians,” Alison Frank explains, “thought of their empire as a Great Power and aspired to belong to the club of imperial powers that exported their goods, their culture, and their civilization to the rest of the world.”6 This aspiration helped foster within the empire, particularly within the Foreign Ministry, an ideology of imperialism which in many ways defined the five decades before World War I. The definition of imperialism used here is the late nineteenth-century battle royal on the global stage among the great powers for economic, political, military, and cultural advantages.7 The claim to extra-European territories to which the European powers could export goods, culture, and civilization featured prominently in late-nineteenth century imperialist ideologies. The governments of Europe began to view territory (its possession, as well as its accessibility) as “a source of resources, livelihood, output, and energy.”8 Koziebrodzki viewed Adria as a vital weapon in the great power competition for protected relationships with these vital sources because it offered Austria-Hungary the opportunity to stake a claim to Moroccan territory.9

Since before the end of the empire, many contemporaries considered Hungarians apathetic about the extra-European world. A notable few felt that Hungary required a global or at least a regional empire.10 Among these imperial enthusiasts, there was a general feeling that Hungarians possessed a dangerous lack of curiosity about the world beyond the kingdom’s borders.11 During the interwar period, conservative politician Count Kunó Klebelsberg decried the fact that before World War I, the state “carried on with politics as if we had been living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Very few people could see beyond Vienna. There was a great deal of incredible naïveté in our judgment of foreign affairs.”12 The notion of Hungarian disinterest in the world beyond Europe appears to have captured the historical imagination.13

It is true that great-power status, civilizing missions, and claims to exclusive markets meant far less to Budapest than to Vienna and the Foreign Ministry.14 The argument that the empire required direct, national shipping lines to Morocco and Mexico to establish secure markets for the empire failed to persuade the Hungarian state to pressure Adria to establish these shipping lines. But Budapest had a global strategy. The Hungarian state’s approach to greater economic integration beyond the borders of the empire focused on connecting the Hungarian economy via Fiume, Hungary’s sole port, to established global markets. This strategy consisted of three areas: the direction of domestic and Balkan goods to Fiume, the assurance of a hospitable social and political environment within Fiume, and the export of goods from Fiume. The final area focused on shipping to complete the supply chain. An important part of the state’s plan to encourage shipping through Fiume was simply to allow foreign companies to operate shipping routes throughout the Mediterranean. The largest foreign company to service Fiume was the Austrian Lloyd. Adria served to entice Hungarian exporters when market forces and foreign companies alone could not redirect Hungarian trade to Fiume.

The Hungarian state established a subsidy in 1880 for Adria to ensure regular service to the United Kingdom, Belgium, Holland, France, and Brazil to make it more financially beneficial for Hungarian companies to ship goods through Fiume rather than by rail and through northern European ports.15 An 1892 agreement between Adria and the Austrian Lloyd (Austria-Hungary’s two largest shipping companies) which was backed by the governments in Budapest and Vienna, divided the empire’s global shipping route.16 Adria monopolized the empire’s routes to Western Europe, and the western Mediterranean. The Austrian Lloyd dominated routes to the eastern Mediterranean, India, and East Asia. Both companies could go to the Black Sea, but only Lloyd had the right to the Constantinople-Batumi and Constantinople-Odessa lines. Lloyd had the Levant, Egypt, and Indo-China. Adria maintained lines to Brazil, but the companies shared routes to other South American ports.17 The critical part of the deal for this story is Adria’s right (but not obligation) to maintain trade routes between Austria-Hungary and Morocco, as well as the possibility for the company to establish routes to Mexico.

Since Adria was a Hungarian national company subsidized by the Hungarian state, the Foreign Ministry proved incapable of pressuring it to establish unprofitable routes to Morocco and Mexico. But the ministry, through its control of the consular offices, had significant influence over the information that Adria required to determine the most efficient routes. The late nineteenth-century expansion of global shipping networks all over the globe required networks of merchants, agents, and officials to facilitate the flow of trade to, from, through, and between ports.18 These networks also provided data and impressions about the economic potential of new markets. Austro-Hungarian consuls were central pillars in the networks which underpinned most of the empire’s business networks. But as Koziebrodzki’s proposed trade strategy shows, the consuls could not separate foreign policy and commercial policy. Consular commercial reports reflected the Foreign Ministry’s preoccupation with secure and dormant markets, civilizational status, and prestige, complicating the Hungarian state’s and Adria’s explorations of profitable trade ventures. To focus on trade development, the Hungarian state had to find a way around the consuls’ monopoly on information.

The Hungarian state found the answer in trade museums. After the 1885 National Exhibition in Budapest, the Hungarian national industry councils wanted an institute that would assist producers in shifting from domestic to international markets. In response, in 1889 the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce founded the first trade museum in Budapest to exhibit Hungarian products and establish libraries of sources on international markets. In 1890, the museum established on office to report on the credit worthiness of companies in international markets, as well as the various fees associated with international exports. In 1899, the museum handed over the operation of foreign centers to the Hungarian Stock Exchange.19 The museum’s library contained all major business listings, trade statistics, and a list of services available to merchants abroad, including over 160 up-to-date domestic and foreign journals and the current Foreign Trade Booklets. These materials were open to the public. The museums endeavored to notify the Hungarian public of all pertinent developments in global and Hungarian commerce.20 The museum staff analyzed sources from all over the globe, including all Austro-Hungarian consulate reports, and it produced a report about the political and economic situations of target countries. In addition, the museum maintained a list of domestic and foreign rail and shipping rates, provided free information by phone to merchants, and translated business letters up to two pages long for free and longer materials at moderate rates.

To help explore potential markets and stimulate exports, the state established museums all over the world. The first museums outside Budapest, listed here in chronological order, were established in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Sofia, Fiume, Philippopolis (Plovdiv), Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Malta, Bucharest, Mostar, Banja Luka, Ruse, Venice, Bombay, Surabaya, Alexandria, New York, and Monastir (Bitola).21 By 1902, museum correspondents were stationed throughout the Ottoman Empire, including in the cities of Aleppo, Tripoli, Beirut, Jaffa, and Baghdad.22 In 1903, the museums stationed a correspondent in Khartoum for the first time.23 Four years later, the museums had expanded to Johannesburg, Harar, Shanghai, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Buenos Aries, and Lima.24 The museums offered the first museum correspondent position in Mexico to Sándor Paczka. The global network of trade museums provided Budapest with information about economic possibilities and promoted Hungarian goods abroad. The main museum in Budapest published Les Fabricants Exportateurs du Royaume de Hongrie, which listed 1,223 companies that exported Hungarian goods, in eight languages. Through its global system of museums, the Hungarian state circulated over ten thousand copies of the publication a year around the globe.25 With the information provided by Paczka and his trade museum colleagues across the globe, the Hungarian state outflanked the Foreign Ministry on the global stage.

Scholarly neglect of the Hungarian state’s role in Austria-Hungary’s global trading network has fostered a narrative of a backwards empire struggling to maintain great power status through competition in global commerce and feeble imperialist ventures.26 It is true that the Foreign Ministry envisioned a global competition over diminishing opportunities for economic expansion that required aggressive political and military maneuvering. The Hungarian state, however, forwent the battle over overseas territorial possessions and focused instead on maintaining an amicable global environment in which it could more easily direct freight and human traffic through Fiume. Much has been written about how this struggle played out within Austria-Hungary. The Hungarian state infiltrated the Foreign Ministry, fought in decennial budget debates, and vetoed colonial ventures.27 Few have questioned how the two halves of the monarchy interacted beyond the borders of the empire to form foreign policy. As Koziebrodzki’s enthusiasm shows, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Ministry channeled imperialist aspirations through the empire’s global consular network. Koziebrodzki’s belief in the importance of the cabotage line along the Moroccan coast to his empire’s trade reveals the place of prestige and status in the Foreign Ministry’s global commercial strategy. The contrast between Paczka’s detailed statistical report and Koziebrodzki’s generalized account of import and export possibilities epitomizes the dialectic of Austro-Hungarian foreign policy formation taking place outside the Ballhausplatz, indeed outside the empire.

“Virgin Land”: Africa

On December 25, 1901, Graf von Crenneville, the empire’s main consular official in Tangier reported to Gołuchowski that the court of Moroccan Sultan Mulai Abd al-Aziz IV had divided the representatives of the great powers into two groups. The first group included Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and Germany, each of which was striving to assert some political influence. Great Britain, Russia, Belgium, and Austria-Hungary constituted the second group, which commanded greater respect because its members desired only economic cooperation and mutual progress. The sultan, Crenneville suggested, sought to extend economic relations with Austria-Hungary because he looked favorably on the empire’s supposedly apolitical motives.28 Crenneville likely failed to mention to members of the court that two years earlier Gołuchowski had condoned the Austro-Hungarian Colonial Society’s attempted negatiations for the acquisition of Río de Oro, the Spanish colony directly to the south of Morocco, and that the Hungarian state had stepped in to veto any attempted purchase.29 Similarly, it was the Hungarian state and Adria that had fought the Foreign Ministry over the course of four decades to prevent Austro-Hungarian imperialist ventures in Morocco.

On October 20, 1902, the imperial consular in Tangier reported that the recently “[lost markets] could be easily recovered with a prompt intervention. If, on the other hand, they are lost, it will later require twice the effort to regain the lost territory.”30 The connection between markets and territory was clear. Austria-Hungary’s trade with Morocco remained dismal between 1867 and 1914. In terms of exports and imports, Morocco was usually dead last in official reports published by the Cisleithanian and Hungarian states. Even when Adria maintained routes between Fiume and Moroccan ports, trade barely budged. But rather than view the absence of market exchange as a sign that the two economies had little to offer each other, many imperial officials attributed the weak trade flows to the absence of overseas territory and the laziness of the empire’s own subjects. Without a territorial presence and sufficient effort from the empire’s merchant marine, one official account lamented, the empire’s trade with northern Africa “will never take the place that belongs to us as a Mediterranean power.”31 As one of the few parcels of Africa that Europe had not yet colonized by the early years of the twentieth century, Morocco offered Austria-Hungary its sole chance for what Koziebrodzki referred to as “virgin land” that offered the “fertility” of nascent markets.32 To prevent other great powers from closing the territory off to the empire, imperial officers engaged in a cold war to ensure Austria-Hungary’s territorial claim.

Austro-Hungarian efforts to prevent the expansion of the other great powers into the region met with little success. In 1908, Koziebrodzki warned the Foreign Ministry that “the competition unfolding all over the world among Europe’s seafaring powers to secure ‘their place in the sun’ becomes [...] more and more apparent in northwestern Africa.” In 1902, Crenneville feared that “the German East Africa and Wörmann lines will soon be allowed to win ground in northern Africa as they have done in the south and the east.”33 Germany was not the only threat. Crenneville warned about growing competition from France, America, Spain, and the Netherlands. In one 1909 report, he argued that the empire had to establish a commercial presence quickly because beginning July 31, the ships of the Dutch society “Neederland” would stop at Tangier, Algiers, and Genoa during their trips to Batavia. Attached to the same report was a newspaper article about increasing maritime traffic and communication between Spain and northern Africa.34 It was clear to the empire’s consular officials that the looming threat of foreign shipping companies required that Austria-Hungary act to secure its claim to the territory.

But a claim to land was not sufficient to secure trade. El Dorado was not “Virgin Land.” Profit required labor. There was a sense that trade (enough trade to sustain a self-sufficient empire) lay dormant in the Mediterranean and in Africa. But, in the words of Koziebrodzki, the fruits of the region would only “open themselves to the can-do spirit.” Until the cold war which the imperial bureaucrats imagined they were fighting turned hot, the merchant marine rather than the navy was the empire’s frontline combatant. One writer argued that the great importance of the merchant marine in the lives of the people requires that the development of the merchant fleet be maintained at the same pace as the corresponding development of the naval fleet, “what the merchant marine accomplishes and conquers in the competition of peaceful work, the navy constantly receives through the respect that it instills.”35 As another writer put it, “the trident of Neptune is the scepter of the world.”36 This understanding of maritime commerce placed considerable pressure on national merchant fleets. Not all leaders of the empire’s shipping companies, however, could easily square the concept of “can-do spirit” with the traditional performance metric, profit.

In consular reports to the Foreign Ministry there was an underlying belief that dormant trade between northern Africa and the empire would awaken if Adria were only to put in the effort. It was not clear what that trade was precisely. Koziebrodzki argued that the extra cost incurred because of delays and extra damages when Adria unloaded in Gibraltar prevented Austro-Hungarian petroleum from competing with American petroleum.37 It is hard to believe that Adria was the reason Austro-Hungarian petroleum could not compete with American petroleum. Vienna never managed to increase the global competitiveness of Galician oil by reducing the cost of rail transportation from Galicia to Trieste.38 There is also no record that the Hungarian state attempted to capture a market beyond the empire for petroleum products refined in Fiume. Koziebrodzki mentions neither Vienna’s nor Budapest’s failure to promote the export of petroleum. In his eyes, the sole obstacle to Austria-Hungary’s global petroleum trade was Adria’s inadequate service. This was a recurring theme throughout the decades preceding World War I. The clash between imperial officials, who blamed Adria for dismal trade performance, and Adria’s leadership, which claimed that there was no market for Austro-Hungarian goods in Morocco or the Spanish Sahara, dominated debates about the empire’s economic interests in northern Africa.

There were Hungarians who supported the Foreign Ministry’s position on the empire’s global interests. In 1888, the Budapest Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Adria funded a research expedition in northern Africa led by János Jankó. Working with local Austria-Hungarian consuls in Port Said, Cairo, Alexandria, Benghazi, Tripoli, and Tunis, as well as their trade reports, Jankó’s task was to determine whether Hungary had economic interests in Africa.39 His conclusions, unsurprisingly, resembled those of the consular offices with which Adria would do battle over the coming decades. He argued that the establishment of national shipping lines to ports along the northern African were indispensable if Hungary sought to stimulate its inadequate trade in the region.40 A strong maritime presence coupled with naval authority would allow Hungary to claim the economic market that it was geographically predisposed to command.41 Jankó based his vision of Hungary’s needs on an understanding of Hungary’s position in the world as one of competition with the other great powers and world civilizations. Hungarian businesses could only operate, he argued, where “civilization” existed and where no other European power maintained a presence.42 Adria declined Jankó’s proposal. But the empire’s consuls continued to influence perceptions within Hungary of economic opportunities in Africa. In 1908, the Economic Bulletin, citing consul reports, argued that if Adria could not or would not sail along the Moroccan coast, the Hungarian state would have to find a Hungarian company to establish a cabatoge line from Oran to Mogador (Essaouira).43 The Foreign Ministry could not convince the Hungarian state that the empire required Adria’s presence in Morocco. But the ministry, through the consuls, could influence the information that the Hungarian public received.

Even the Hungarian state was not always opposed to the Foreign Ministry’s approach to African trade. In January 1900, the Hungarian Trade Ministry began to debate the creation of routes between Fiume and northern Africa.44 The Foreign Ministry announced proudly in November of the following year that Adria’s new contract required that, beginning January 1902, it maintain routes with “the most important Northern African ports” and establish routes to Casablanca, Mazagan, and Mogador.45 Count Gołuchowski, the head of the Foreign Ministry, was a dedicated supporter of Austria-Hungary’s naval branch, not least because it could carry the Austro-Hungarian flag across the world, and he believed that Austro-Hungarian control over Morocco could be a stepping stone to a greater naval presence in the South Atlantic.

Not everyone shared Gołuchowski’s vision. On September 12, 1902, Adria’s directors reported that trade experiments with ports on the western coast of Morocco did not have the intended results and that Adria’s captains had feared the western coast’s unpredictable weather.46 The following day, Adria, claiming that trade with the western ports would not materialize, announced that the route’s terminus would be Tangier.47 The Hungarian state probably supported Adria’s decision not to establish new routes because the arrangement at the time served Hungary’s global interests. Many within Hungary believed that the empire’s exports with Morocco originated in Cisleithania, ruling out the possibility of directing trade through Fiume.48 There were almost no Moroccan imports to Hungary. And almost all Hungarian exports to Morocco traveled through Fiume.49 The Foreign Ministry and consular officials in Morocco may have bemoaned what they believed to be the empire’s failure in northern Africa, but the Hungarian state’s global strategy was successful without regular lines to Morocco.

The Foreign Ministry appears to have misunderstood the specifics of the contractual language. The official arrangement between Adria and the Hungarian state provided Adria’s leadership considerable room to decide where, when, and how frequently their ships would stop in northern Africa. The establishment of routes to Casablanca, Mazagan, and Mogador, furthermore, was a right the state contract guaranteed to the company, not an obligation. Adria’s arrangement with Budapest stated concrete objectives. The agreement established the minimum number of yearly routes and their destinations. There was room to maneuver. Many requirements provided options, such as “at least six times a year,” without providing exact dates, and the contract listed various ports from which Adria’s leadership could choose. This proved a powerful tool for Adria’s leadership and the Hungarian state against pressure from Austro-Hungarian bureaucrats and business leaders who sought to extend Adria’s routes. When someone in 1905 complained to the Hungarian trade minister that Adria had reduced its routes to northern Africa, the minister’s office offered the following response: “Due to the fact that these scheduled services are maintained by the company on a contractual basis, I cannot comment on the notified change.”50 Adria’s contract and the support of Budapest helped the company defend itself against the empire’s diplomatic officials in Africa, who supported the creation of new routes to Morocco.

The debate did not end in 1902. Imperial bureaucrats refused to sacrifice what they considered the empire’s economic security because of a shipping company’s risk aversion. The Foreign Ministry coerced the Hungarian Trade Ministry to renegotiate Adria’s contract. In November 1902, the trade ministry notified Adria that it was debating requiring the company to reextend lines to Morocco based on consular reports. The underlying assumptions of the Foreign Ministry saturated the reports: despite the lack of any evidence, conditions were characterized as positive for an extension; a significant new market allegedly would generate exports; and a delay in expansion would transfer the empire’s rightful trade to foreign rivals.51 Adria’s official response to the trade ministry’s notice cited statistical data according to which, since 1892, trade had not been adequate to support the establishment of a direct line. Adria’s response stated unequivocally that the company’s leadership believed the establishment of direct (and profitable) lines between Fiume and Morocco was impossible.52

Imperial officials blamed Adria for the precarious sailing conditions and poor trade between the two monarchies. Crenneville argued in December 1902 that Adria’s rates were too high and that the company’s frequent accidents were consequences of its use of cheap and poor-quality ships. According to him, Adria’s “hired ships on rotating routes are junk, and the petty number of crew are poorly paid and overburdened.”53 He said that the empire’s sugar exports to the region had recently increased and that he hoped to increase other exports, such as candles. Success required only skillful merchants and able travelers, i.e. the “can-do spirit.”54 To provide these merchants and travelers with opportunities to trade, Adria would have to purchase new ships, reduce its freight rates, and, of course, establish regular lines to Morocco’s ports.

Crenneville failed to mention how the company would finance capital investments and increased production while cutting revenue from fares, which was often more than double the subsidy the company received from the state.55 The company’s leadership refused to lower fares and increase voyages without assurance that the increased cost would be made up in increased volume. Crenneville insisted that there would be a future payoff, but he failed to provide a time frame or offer specific details about that payoff. For the time being, he expected Adria to take a profit cut for the sake of the empire’s supposed interests. Adria’s refusal to decrease its rates, replace its supposedly old ships, and increase its services assured that there would be further conflict between the company and the Foreign Ministry.56

In the early twentieth century, Morocco was the only country which offered the Foreign Ministry the opportunity to realize its imperial ambitions. Adria focused on developing Hungary’s trade through Fiume to and from European countries and colonies. These unaligned priorities fueled debates over what the empire could export and what import markets existed in Morocco. In 1904, Crenneville complained that the empire’s lumber exports had decreased because Adria had refused to stop at Algiers and Oran more than once a month. The consular officer complained that most wood imported from Fiume and Trieste to these ports arrived via Italian ships, and he demanded that Adria be bound to deliver to ports in Algeria on account of the state subsidy the company received. He cited competition from America and Norway and argued that Adria’s freight rates should be reduced to a level below the rates for the German and Italian lines to generate trade. He then listed the ships that had transported lumber to Algiers since the beginning of the year (the past ten days) according to the flag under which the ship had sailed, making sure to note that only two of the more than thirty ships had sailed under the Austro-Hungarian flag.57 He never questioned whether Cisleithanian or Hungarian lumber arrived via foreign ships or whether there existed a market for the empire’s lumber at all. The empire’s lumber exports to Morocco continued to decline, but the decreasing price of Norwegian timber was most likely the reason for this, not the dearth of Cisleithanian and Hungarian ships.58

For some, Morocco’s supposedly dormant market offered greater fruits than the markets of Western Europe. In 1909, the new Chief of Mission Ludwig von Callenberg complained that local sugar importers on the western coast of Africa refused to continue to import Austro-Hungarian sugar because of the lack of a reliable shipping service.59 He offered a list of products that were being shipped to Western European countries which, in his mind, would find new markets in Morocco. He emphasized sugar. He went so far as to claim that Austria-Hungary required Morocco as a market because of the amount of sugar Moroccans could import. This was in the future, of course. When he wrote the report, the empire’s sugar exports to Morocco were almost non-existent.60 He also failed to explain why it was more economically beneficial to export sugar to Morocco instead of Western Europe. The United Kingdom was a significant market for Hungarian sugar. France was also a strong market. To many, the potential economic losses caused by a trade war over Moroccan markets far outweighed any possibility for gains. But when a new line opened between Morocco and Spain, the consul in Tangier stated: “It is well known that sugar makes up most of our exports to Morocco and our importers are very troubled over this competition.”61

In contrast, Adria’s report insisted it was a well-known fact that sugar exporters did not consider Morocco’s market adequate and stressed that it should be these exporters, not bureaucrats, who determine the empire’s sugar trade.62 The company also found the rates that the Cisleithanian state enforced for sugar transportation from Trieste to ports on the Western Moroccan coast too low to be made up by volume.63 Adria’s freight rates for the main trade goods which went through Fiume to Western Europe were lower than Trieste’s, but Adria made up the difference in volume.64 Because trade between Trieste and Morocco was so dismal and Vienna refused to raise the rate limit, Adria refused to divert its ships from profitable Western European trade routes.

Koziebrodzki claimed in 1908 that Adria’s ventures to Morocco in 1902 had been “untimely and too short.”65 Between 1902 and 1908, Foreign Ministry officials and consular representatives in Morocco agreed that Adria only had to expand its shipping network, decrease freight rates, and increase the number of trips made to make new profits. Adria’s leadership continually retorted that this reasoning was fallacious. In 1904, the company’s leadership reminded the Hungarian Royal Maritime Authority that Hungary’s trade with Morocco might have increased between 1902 and 1903, but in 1901 there had been no exports to Morocco.66 And between 1903 and 1904, Hungary’s trade with Morocco decreased, reportedly due to France’s and Belgium’s low prices.67 In response to complaints in 1907 about its service to Algeria, Adria’s leadership emphasized that trade with northwestern Africa was dismal, complaining that their twelve ships combined carried only 929 tons of exports to Tangier, and imports were almost nonexistent. Adria stated firmly that “the maintenance of the monthly route demands considerable material sacrifices,” which it refused to make.68 When Count Gołuchowski contacted Adria’s leadership directly about the possibility of extending lines to Morocco, Adria’s director Leó Lánczy responded: “Your desires could not in good faith be met; … in the future a remedy would only be possible if the esteemed government could elect to provide a special subsidy for the line.”69 Due to the politics of dualism, however, the Foreign Ministry could not subsidize a Hungarian national company.


Similar tensions between the Hungarian state, the Foreign Ministry, Adria, and imperial enthusiasts influenced Austria-Hungary’s relationship with Mexico. In 1900, Habsburg-Mexican relations had had a troubled history. Between 1861 and 1867, Archduke and Prince Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria had ruled the Second Mexican Empire by invitation from Napoleon III. When the French withdrew their forces, Maximilian refused to abandon his imperialist supporters and remained in Mexico, only to be executed by the forces of republican leader Benito Juarez on 19 June 1867.70 In January 1868, Franz Josef dispatched Admiral Tegetthoff to recover Maximilian’s corpse on the frigate Novara, the same ship that had carried Maximilian to Mexico to become emperor.71 Beneto Juarez had hoped to use the release of Maximilian’s remains as a bargaining tool to achieve diplomatic recognition from Austria-Hungary. His gambit failed. Austria-Hungary and the Mexican Republic’s severance of relations curtailed the nascent connections between the two economies that Maximilian’s reign had fostered.72

Despite the diplomatic setback, many envisioned a positive future for Austro-Hungarian economic activity in Mexico. Jenő Bánó, who had lived in Mexico for eleven years, wrote to Budapesti Hírlap in 1898 to garner support for trade development between Hungary and Mexico. He said that he discussed the possibility of establishing economic relations between Hungary and Mexico with the Governor of Fiume, Count Lajos Batthyány and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Mexico, Ignacio Mariscal. He said that both men gave favorable responses, but that he had not discussed the matter with them in four years. He also said that he had talked to the director of Adria, who had been supportive of the idea. He argued that Mexico should replace the American market because McKinley’s tariffs closed the American market off to the world, and he recommended that Adria begin to serve Mexico instead of Argentina and Brazil, whose economies, he claimed, were in decline.73 He argued that Mexico would provide a “new and excellent market” for Hungarian flour, wine, plums, furniture, glassware, and porcelainware, as well as a source of tobacco, though he did not explain why the import of Mexican tobacco would be more cost-effective than the import of Turkish tobacco.

After Austria-Hungary and Mexico restored relations in 1901, Bánó began to write more frequently about Hungary’s supposed Mexican interests, calling on the Habsburg aristocracy to invest in Central America. This time, he argued that Adria should redirect its route from Argentina and Brazil, because Mexico was closer.74 In 1904, Bánó reasoned that the redirection of Hungarian emigrants from the United States to Mexico would produce a significant market for Hungarian industry because Mexico’s industrial sector was undeveloped and Hungarian immigrants in Mexico would choose to purchase Hungarian industrial and agricultural products. The desire to buy Hungarian, however, was unlikely to overcome competition from American and Western European companies in Mexico. It was well known that German industrial companies were trying to penetrate the Mexican market and that Hungarian companies could do little to make themselves competitive.75 Bánó was quite optimistic about the number of immigrants from Hungary in Mexico, and he was also optimistic about who would come to Mexico if Adria established a direct route to Mexico and the capacity of these immigrants to purchase Hungarian-produced products. But he acknowledged that the supposed demand among Hungarian immigrants would not be enough to entice Hungarian exports. To stimulate Hungarian-Mexican trade, Adria would again be expected to reduce its rates and sacrifice profit to establish a direct line from Fiume to Mexico.76

Bánó knew that the Hungarian state’s concerns lay in the development of Fiume. He emphasized that ships for a new line between Hungary and Mexico could be built in Fiume.77 He then turned to the argument that a subsidized shipping line would induce Hungarian exporters to ship through Fiume rather than northern European ports. He claimed that the statistics about Hungarian trade to Mexico only included Hungarian goods shipped from Fiume or Trieste and not goods transported to other European ports and then shipped to Mexico. He argued that these goods were recorded as exports from the country to which the ports belonged, not from Hungary. This form of record keeping, he claimed, underreported Hungarian exports to Mexico, which were five to six times higher than recorded, but were shipped from Hamburg, Antwerp, Southampton, Saint-Nazaire, and Barcelona. But the fact that he made such an argument underscores the Hungarian state’s prioritization of Fiume’s development.78

Bánó was not alone. In October 1901, another opinion piece in Budapesti Hírlap stated that “Hungarian interests seriously require direct trade” with Mexico. Here too, the author failed to identify what those interests were.79 In 1908, Lázár Pál, who believed that Hungary could “count only on a permanent and secure market where the stronger competitors still have not set foot,” argued that Adria had failed in its duty to secure a market like the market in Morocco, proclaiming, “as if the creation of secure new markets were something that occurs overnight!” The Minister of Commerce, Pál argued, should use the state’s approaching contract renewal with Adria to force the company to establish lines with Mexico, stating “we are not able to find a more suitable market for Hungary than Mexico, where they will receive us with open arms.” Pál based his argument on the fact that the privately funded Hungarian East Shipping Company already had a route that stopped at Mexico. Adria, of course, would need to maintain routes to Mexico for at least three years, despite financial losses, before signs of market development would emerge.80

Though Bánó never provided a source to support his claims that Hungarian exports traveled through non-Hungarian ports, he was correct. He erred, however, when he believed that the Hungarian state misunderstood the situation. The Hungarian state recorded export statistics, including exit points, every year, and it realized that the few Hungarian goods that made it to Mexico traveled via rail to non-Hungarian ports before crossing the Atlantic.81 But the Hungarian state also understood the precarious state of the Mexican economy and political system.82 Hungarians were advised to be extremely cautious in the Mexican credit market.83 In 1911, the Austro-Hungarian consul in London, in a report entitled “What do they want in Mexico?” said that the most sought-after goods were hand guns, rifles, and ammunition.84 Discussions of creating a secure market in Mexico during the Porfiriato era were delusional by many accounts. To establish subsidized lines between Fiume and Mexico in the years before World War I would have created a liability for the Hungarian state and would have risked drawing Austria-Hungary into Mexico’s troubled affairs.

The disinterest of both the company and the Hungarian state helped Hungary avoid possible misadventures in Mexico. After the settlement of trade negotiations between Austria-Hungary and Mexico, the Spanish shipping company La Compañía Transatlántica de Barcelona inquired whether it could provide service once a month between Trieste and Fiume and Mexico. The Foreign Ministry, of course, argued that Adria should launch a line between Fiume and Mexico.85 But the Hungarian Royal Maritime Authority in Fiume was skeptical that such an extension of shipping was even necessary. The Authority reported to Lajos Láng, an advisor to the Hungarian Minister of Commerce, that Adria had the first opportunity to establish such a line if it desired to do so. The Hungarian ministry was confident that Adria’ leadership possessed the judgment required to make the decision. No consular officers were involved in the discussion. If Adria chose to forego the opportunity to establish a new route, the Maritime Authority indicated that the Hungarian Ministry of Commerce would have no problem with La Compañía Transatlántica establishing a route.86 The Trade Ministry took the advice of the Maritime Authority and reported to the office of Prime Minister Kálmán Széll in August of 1902 that La Compañía Transatlántica should be allowed to establish a shipping route between Fiume and Mexico.87

In 1907, the Hungarian state again inquired as to whether Adria would be able and willing to establish a line between Fiume and Mexico. Adria responded that the Austro Americana society had already established a line between Trieste and Veracruz in 1905 and the combined subsidies between the Cisleithanian and Mexican governments were not enough to cover the company’s losses. Adria also pointed out the dangers to the ships and noted that it would need at least a one-million-crown yearly subsidy to operate twelve voyages yearly.88 Rather than establish its own route, Adria agreed to a state proposed transshipment arrangement with La Compañía Transatlántica to connect Fiume and Mexico.89 The introduction of the connection between Fiume and Mexico and the agreement with La Compañía Transatlántica were requested by the Hungarian state. Adria requested more information, but it questioned only the chain of exchange and the cost involved, not the use of another country’s shipping line.90 Neither the company nor the Hungarian state required that only Hungarian ships transport Hungarian goods or that Hungary maintain a presence in Central America.

Adria and the Global Economy

That the assumed reason for the empire’s supposedly inadequate trade with Africa and the Americas was Adria’s lackluster resolve is evident from the company’s complaint file held in the Austrian State Archives. Of course, all shipping companies received complaints; ships and weather were unreliable, as were the workers who loaded and unloaded cargo ships at each stop. One complaint from the main consular in Algiers noted that it would have the same grievances with all the Cisleithanian and Italian shipping companies.91 Most grievances directed towards Adria concerned the company’s service to northern Africa, especially to Morocco, and they revolved around disagreements concerning the importance of shipping destinations and means. It should be clear that the empire’s diplomatic corps and many of its subjects considered Adria unreliable. This was especially the case in northern Africa. Numerous reports detailing shipwrecks after storms support the claims of Adria’s captains that African’s coast was dangerous.92 But the company’s organizational structure amplified the effects of these storms on shipments between the empire and Morocco. Despite repeated demands from Cisleithanian companies and the Foreign Ministry, the Hungarian state never required Adria to maintain lines to Moroccan ports.93 When a ship could not complete a route agreed to in the contract, it was replaced with a ship from a non-contract line. Numerous reports detail storms that delayed ships along the northern African routes that Adria was contractually obligated to maintain.94 Because Larache, Casablanca, and Mazagan were contractually optional destinations, these ports received greater cancellations than those to the east of Tangiers.95

One case shows that Cisleithanian businessmen who wanted their products shipped at reduced rates knew how to speak to the consular officers. Koziebrodzki was referring to the complaint of a Cisleithanian oil company when he reported that the empire required a direct line to Morocco. The company cited the threat of American competition and highlighted the “ground” that Austro-Hungarian trade was losing due to Adria’s obstinacy. 96 The oil company was not alone. In a separate instance, a Cisleithanian automobile manufacturer claimed that it was unable to compete with French automobiles in northern Africa because Adria’s freight rates were too high.97 The company insisted that all else was equal and Cisleithanian automobiles were of equal or better quality than French automobiles. The problem, the company claimed, lay with Adria. The company used the threat of French trade overtaking Austro-Hungarian trade in northern Africa as a threat to urge the state to force Adria to reduce its shipping rates. Complaints against Adria were less a sign that the Hungarian company failed to achieve its goals and more an indication that deep conflicts existed within Austria-Hungary over what those goals should have been.

These complaints, however, should not form the basis of an analysis of how Austria-Hungary integrated into the global economy. By many measures, Adria fulfilled the Hungarian state’s goals. Thanks largely to Budapest’s redirection of the railway to Fiume and subsidization of shipping companies, Fiume became the tenth most trafficked port in Europe. Principle overseas imports consisted mostly of raw commodities such as rice, cotton, and tobacco. Overseas exports included refined sugar, flour, wood products, and paraffin. In 1867, imports totaled 423,721 quintals, and they rose to 9,299,592 quintals by 1913. Exports in 1867 reached 604,734 quintals and increased to 11,738,827 quintals by 1913. In 1913, the total value of imports was 213,410,000 crowns, while exports were valued at 264,594,000.98 In total, between 1867 and 1913, 40.4 percent of Fiume’s overseas trade traffic consisted of imports and 59.6 percent consisted of exports.99 Every year between 1893 and 1913, Adria accounted for the highest percentage of export shipments (over thirty percent yearly except for 1913).100

This success allowed the Hungarian state and Adria to remain steadfast in the face of pressure from the Foreign Ministry. Neither the complaints of Cisleithanian businesses nor imperial bureaucrats could force Adria to alter its routes. When Adria was asked to stop at a new port in Brazil to break into the rubber market, it refused out of fear that it would endanger coffee trade.101 Over the course of its history, the framework of Adria’s shipping network changed little.102 Adria would add and remove stops along its main routes. But unlike the Austrian Lloyd, the final destinations remained the same for the most part until the outbreak of World War I. But while Hungarian businesses forged trade and finance relations with India, South America, China, Japan, and Australia over the course of five decades, Africa, with no significant market for Hungarian commodities, never attracted much attention. Hungarian and Austrian colonial enthusiasts, which included a significant portion of the public, imperial bureaucrats, and Emperor Franz Josef, never outweighed the Hungarian state’s perception that Africa offered little economic opportunity and numerous risks.


* * *


Adria’s story serves as a warning against forming a narrative of Austria-Hungary’s global history based predominantly on the Foreign Ministry’s interpretation of an empire in decline.103 Historians often condemn the Hungarian state’s obstructionist approach to negotiations with the Cisleithanian state and the empire’s joint institutions.104 But this essay has shown that Budapest’s obstructionism played a significant role in Austria-Hungary’s relatively benign extra-European engagements. The inclusion of the Hungarian state complicates the notion of an Austro-Hungarian foreign policy because Budapest not only influenced the decisions of the joint Foreign Ministry but also engaged the world beyond Europe on its own terms. Rather than fear of or indifference to overseas activity, a strategy of internal development guided the Hungarian state’s approach to global trade. This strategy exacerbated internal tensions within the empire. Though officially united behind a common foreign policy, the Cisleithanian and Hungarian states and the empire’s joint institutions often had divergent, competing international interests. But the Hungarian state’s strategy was largely successful, and this success should be as prominent an element of understandings of Austria-Hungary’s global history, if not an even more prominent element, than the Foreign Ministry’s lament over its failure to maintain the empire’s great-power status.



Primary sources

Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv [HHStA]

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Fach 95, Schiffahrt Adria.

Državni arhiv u Rijeci [DAR]

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Adria. Üzleti jelentés: 1900 [Business report: 1900]. Budapest: Kunosy Vilmos és Fia, 1901.

Bornemisza, Pál. Kelet-Afrika kereskedelmi viszonyai és fejlődése [Trade relations and development of East Africa]. Budapest: Márkus, 1904.

Duckerts, Jules. Le port hongrois de Fiume. Brussells: Weissenbruch, 1896.

Geyling, Remigius. Fünfundsiebzig Jahre Österreichischer Lloyd: 1836–1911. Trieste: Verl. d. Österr. Lloyd, 1911.

Havass, Rezső. “Magyar imperiálizmus” [Hungarian imperialism]. Budapesti Hírlap 22, no. 273 (1902): 1–2.

Hölek, Sámuel. “Magyarország és Északafrika” [Hungary and North Africa]. Közgazdasági Szemle 25, no. 26 (1901): 833–42.

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N.A. Die Probleme der österreichischen Flottenpolitik: Die Frage der grossen Schiffe und deren Konsequenzen; Fiasko der früheren und die Möglichkeiten der zukünftigen österreichischen Marinepolitik; Adria- oder Weltpolitik. Leipzig–Vienna: Nereusverl, 1912.

Oesterreichiesches statistisches Handbuch für die im Reichsrathe vertretenen Königreiche und Länder, herausgeben von der K.K. statischen Central-Commision. Vienna, 1916.

Ricek, L. G. Moderne Schiffahrt und Österreichischer Lloyd. Vienna: Pichler, 1914.

Tápay-Szabó, László. Magyar Adria [The Hungarian Adria]. Budapest: Rákosi Jenő Budapesti Hirlap Ujságvállalata, 1909.

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Weiss, Berthold. “Kereskedelmi hódítások” [Trade conquests]. Nemzetgazdasági Szemle 12, no. 10 (1887): 133–51.


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Ablonczy, Balázs. Keletre, Magyar! A Magyar Turanizmus Története [Go East, Hungarian! The History of Hungarian Turanism]. Budapest: Jaffa Kiadó, 2016.

Beckert, Sven. “American Danger: United States Empire, Eurafrica, and the Territorialization of Industrial Capitalism, 1870–1950.” American Historical Review 122, no. 4 (2017): 1137–70.

Bilgeri, Andreas. “Österreich-Ungarn im Konzert der Kolonialmächte: Die militärischen Interventionen der Kriegsmarine.” Kakanien Revisited (2012). Accessed June 24, 2018. http://www.kakanien-revisited.at/beitr/fallstudie/ABilgeri1/.

Bridge, F. R. The Habsburg Monarchy among the Great Powers, 1815–1918. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 1990.

Canis, Konrad. Die Bedrängte Großmacht: Österreich-Ungarn und das Europäische Mächtesystem 1866/671914. Paderborn: Schöningh, 2016.

Deak, John, and Jonathan E. Gumz. “How to Break a State: The Habsburg Monarchy’s Internal War, 1914–1918.” The American Historical Review 122, no. 4 (2017): 1105–36.

Deak, John. “The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy and the First World War.” The Journal of Modern History 86, no. 2 (2014): 336–80.

Diószegi, István. Hungarians in the Ballhausplatz: Studies on the Austro-Hungarian Common Foreign Policy. Budapest: Corvina Books, 1983.

Frank, Alison. Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Frank, Alison. “Continental and Maritime Empires in an Age of Global Commerce.” East European Politics and Societies 25, no. 4 (2011): 779–84.

Frank, Alison. “The Children of the Desert and the Laws of the Sea: Austria, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and the Mediterranean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century.” American Historical Review 117, no. 2 (2012): 410–44.

Godsey, William. Aristocratic Redoubt: The Austro-Hungarian Foreign Service on the Eve of the First World War. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1999.

Hantsch, Hugo. Leopold Graf Berchtold, Grandseigneur und Staatsmann. Graz: Verlag Styria, 1963.

Harding, Bertita. Phantom Crown: The story of Maximilian & Carlota of Mexico. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1934.

Hughes, Jon, and Florian Krobb, eds. “Colonial Austria: Austria and the Overseas.” Austrian Studies 20 (2012): 1–4.

Kolm, Evelyn. Die Ambitionen Österreich-Ungarns im Zeitalter des Hochimperialismus. Frankfurt: Peter Land, 2001.

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Köves, Margit. “Modes of Orientalism in Hungarian Letters and Learning of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” In Deploying Orientalism in Culture and History: From Germany to Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Johannes Feichtinger, James Hodkinson, Shaswati Mazumdar, and John Walker, 166–89. Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 2013.

Köves, Margit. “The Semiotics of Empire-Building: The Imperial Assemblage in India (1877) and the Millennium Celebrations in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (1896).” In Semiotics of Language, Literature, and Cinema, edited by Harish Narang, 95–104. Delhi: Book Plus, 2000.

Lehner, Georg, and Monika Lehner. Österreich-Ungarn und der “Boxeraufstand” in China. Vienna: Studien Verlag, 2002.

Loidl, Simon. “Safari und Menschenversuche: Die Uganda-Expedition von Rudolf Kmuke und Robert Stigler.” Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur 55, no. 1 (2011): 38–53.

Lukacs, John. Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988.

Maier, Charles. “Consigning the Twentieth Century to History: Alternative Narratives for the Modern Era.” American Historical Review 105, no. 3 (2000): 807–31.

Miller, Michael. Europe and the Maritime World: A Twentieth-Century History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Naranch, Bradley. “Made in China: Austro-Prussian Overseas Rivalry and the Global Unification of the German Nation.” Australian Journal of Politics and History 56, no. 3 (2010): 366–80.

O’Connor, Richard. The Cactus Throne: The Tragedy of Maximilian and Carlotta. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1971.

Pelles, Márton. “Az Adria Magyar Királyi Tengerhajózási Rt. szerepe Fiume hajó- és áruforgalmában (1874–1914)” [The role of Adria, the Hungarian Royal Maritime Navigation Joint Stock Company in ship and merchandise circulation in Fiume (1874–1914)]. Közgazdasági Szemle 63, no. 2 (2016): 188–208.

Pruonto, David. “Did the Second Mexican Empire under Maximilian of Habsburg (1864–1867) have an ‘Austrian Face’?” Austrian Studies 20 (2012): 96–111.

Rác, Katalin. “East and West in Modern Hungarian Politics.” Hungarian Cultural Studies 7 (2014): 198–213.

Rác, Katalin. “Orientals among the People of the East: Nationalism, Orientalism and the Jewish Question in Nineteenth-Century Hungary.” In Empires and Nations from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century, edited by Antonello Biagini and Giovanna Motta, 131–40. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.

Rauscher, Walter. Die Fragile Großmacht: Die Donaumonarchie und die Europäsche Staatenwelt, 1866–1914. Vienna: Peter Lang, 2014.

Ritter-Basch, Renate. Die Weltumsegelung der Novara, 1857–1859: Österreich auf allen Meeren. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 2008.

Romsics, Ignác. Múltról a mának: Tanulmányok és esszék a magyar történelemről [On the past for today: Studies and essays on Hungarian history]. Budapest: Osiris, 2004.

Ruthner, Clemens. “Central Europe Goes Post-Colonial: New Approaches to the Habsburg Empire around 1900.” Cultural Studies 16, no. 6 (2002): 877–83.

Sauer, Walter. ed. k. u. k. kolonial: Habsburgermonarchie und europäische Herrschaft in Afrika. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2002.

Schilddorfer, Gerd, and David Weiss. Novara: Österreichs Traum von der Weltmacht. Vienna: Amalthea Signum, 2010.

Scott, Eddie. “Economic Policy and Economic Development in Austria-Hungary, 1867–1913.” In The Cambridge Economic History of Europe from the Decline of the Roman Empire, edited by Peter Mathias and Sidney Pollard, 814–86. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1918. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2001.

Skrivan, Ales. “The Economic Interests of Austria-Hungary in China between 1900–1914.” Rivista di storia economica 31, no. 3 (2015): 395–432.

Sondhaus, Lawrence. The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867–1918: Navalism, Industrial Development, and the Politics of Dualism. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1994.

Staud, Géza, Orientalizmus a magyar romantikában [Orientalism in Hungarian romanticism]. Budapest: Terebess Kiadó, 1999.

Tooze, Adam. The Deluge: The Great War and the Making of the Global Order, 1916–1931. London: Penguin Allen Lane, 2014.

Wank, Solomon. “Varieties of Cultural Despair: Three Exchanges between Aehrenthal and Goluchowski.” In Intellectual and Social Developments in the Habsburg Empire from Maria Theresa to World War I: Essays Dedicated to Robert A. Kann, edited by Stanley B. Winters and Joseph Held, 203–39. New York–Boulder, Colo.: East European Quarterly, 1975.

Wawro, Geoffrey. A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

Winter, Karin. Österreichische Spuren in der Südsee. Die Missionsreise von S.M.S. Albatros in den Jahren 1895–1898 und ihre ökonomischen Hintergründe. Vienna: NWV Verlag, 2005.

1 U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1496.

2 Leopold Graf Bolesta-Koziebrodzki, Chief of Mission to Sultan of Morocco in 1907–1909, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vienna [Ministerium des Äußern], May 21, 1908, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv [hereafter HHStA], Ministerium des Äußern [hereafter MdA], Administrative Registratur [hereafter AR], Fach 34, Schifffahrt Adria, Generalia (1901 – 1915), Beschwerden, 1908/4138 [hereafter F344138].

3 HHStA MdA AR Report in F344138, 43.

4 Sándor Paczka to Ferencz Kossuth, Hungarian Royal Trade Minister, January 15, 1908, Državni arhiv u Rijeci [hereafter DAR] – 46, JU 9 1908 XVIII/II – 456 [hereafter DAR 456].

5 For example, see Bilgeri, “Österreich-Ungarn im Konzert der Kolonialmächte;” Frank, “Continental and Maritime Empires;” the special issue of Austrian Studies edited by Hughes and Krobb: “Colonial Austria: Austria and the Overseas;” Loidl, “Safari und Menschenversuche;” Naranch, “Made in China;” Ritter-Basch, Die Weltumsegelung der Novara; Ruthner, “Central Europe Goes Post-Colonial;” Sauer, k. u. k. kolonial; Schilddorfer and Weiss, Novara: Österreichs Traum von der Weltmacht.

6 Frank, “The Children of the Desert,” 411, ft. 4.

7 Tooze, The Deluge.

8 Maier, “Consigning the Twentieth Century to History,” 818.

9 The American economy was a primary danger that imperialists attempted to fortify their empires against. See Beckert, “American Danger.”

10 For example, see Bornemisza, Kelet-Afrika kereskedelmi viszonyai; Weiss, Kereskedelmi hódítások; Havass, Magyar imperiálizmus.

11 Tápay-Szabó, Magyar Adria.

12 Lukacs, Budapest 1900, 186.

13 Ablonczy, Keletre, Magyar!; Köves, “The Semiotics of Empire-Building,” 95–104; Kövér, “Modes of Orientalism in Hungarian letters;” Rác, “East and West in Modern Hungarian Politics,” 208; idem, “Orientals among the People of the East,” 136. For a classic example, see Staud, Orientalizmus a magyar romantikában. For an exception, see Romsics, Múltról a mának, 121–58.

14 Eddie, “Economic Policy and Economic Development in Austria-Hungary,” 871.

15 Die Probleme der österreichischen Flottenpolitik, 58.

16 Sondhaus, The Naval Policy, 62. For a debate about the renegotiation of the agreement in 1898, see

“A képviselőház közgazdasági bizottságának jelentése,” 364–66.

17 Duckerts, Le port hongrois de Fiume, 6–7.

18 Miller, Europe and the Maritime World.

19 “Hivatalos Rész;” “Magyar Kereskedelmi Muzeum,” 1055.

20 “Magyar Királyi Kereskedelmi Muzeum,” Közgazdasági Értesítő 9, no. 9 (1914): advertisement, after page 528.

21 “A magyar királyi kereskedelmi muzeum üzletkezelősége,” Magyarország tiszti cím- és névtára (1900): 342.

22 “Magyar királyi kereskedelmi museum,” Magyarország tiszti cím- és névtára 21 (1902): 358.

23 “A magyar királyi kereskedelmi muzeum üzletkezelősége,” Magyarország tiszti cím- és névtára 22 (1903): 359; “Magyar királyi kereskedelmi museum,” Magyarország tiszti cím- és névtára 23 (1904): 189; “A magyar királyi kereskedelmi muzeum üzletkezelősége,” Magyarország tiszti cím- és névtára 24 (1905): 227; “Magyar királyi kereskedelmi museum,” Magyarország tiszti cím- és névtára 25 (1906): 240.

24 “Magyar királyi kereskedelmi muzeum,” Magyarország tiszti cím- és névtára 26 (1907): 244.

25 “Magyar kereskedelmi museum,” 54.

26 Canis, Die Bedrängte Großmacht; Kolm, Die Ambitionen Österreich-Ungarns; Lehner and Lehner, Österreich-Ungarn und der “Boxeraufstand;” Skrivan, “The Economic Interests of Austria-Hungary;” Rauscher, Die Fragile Großmacht; Winter, Österreichische Spuren in der Südsee.

27 Diószegi, Hungarians in the Ballhausplatz; Godsey, Aristocratic Redoubt; Sked, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 191–202; Sondhaus, The Naval Policy, 147–48.

28 Komár, “Az Osztrák–Magyar Monarchia és Marokkó,” 55.

29 Sondhaus, The Naval Policy, 147–48.

30 Report from Tangier to Foreign Ministry, October 20, 1902, 778910, HHStA MdA AR Fach 68/2.

31 Report from Tunis to Foreign Ministry, July 7, 1905, 252534, HHStA MdA AR Fach 68/4.

32 HHStA MdA AR, Fach 34 F344138.

33 Viktor Graf Folliot de Crenneville-Poutet, Chief of Mission to Sultan of Morocco from 1901–1904, to Kereskedelemügyi Ministerium [hereafter KM], 20 October 1902, DAR – 46, JU 9 1908 XVIII/II – 282 [hereafter DAR 282].

34 “Le développement des communications maritimes entre l’Espagne et le Nord de l’Afrique” in F344138 Report (HHStA MdA AR, Fach 34).

35 Ricek, Moderne Schiffahrt, Second page of Foreword.

36 Geyling, Fünfundsiebzig Jahre Österreichischer Lloyd, 1.

37 HHStA MdA AR, Fach34, Report in F344138.

38 Frank, Oil Empire, 176–77.

39 Jankó, “Érdekeink Észak-Afrikában,” 107.

40 Idem, “Kereskedelmünk Észak-Afrikában,” 540.

41 Ibid., 540; Idem, “Érdekeink Észak-Afrikában,” 111.

42 Idem, “Kereskedelmünk Észak-Afrikában,” 541.

43 “Afrika, Marokkó,” Közgazdasági Értesítő, March 1908, 772.

44 KM to the Magyar Királyi Tengerészeti Hatóság [hereafter MKTH], January 18, 1900, DAR 282.

45 Foreign Ministry Report, November 30, 190, DAR 282, 4966/90.

46 Adria Magyar Királyi Tengerhajózási Részvénytársaság [hereafter Adria] to MKTH, September 12, 1902, DAR 282.

47 Adria to MKTH, September 13, 1902, DAR 282.

48 Hölek, “Magyarország és Északafrika,” 836.

49 This data was taken from A Magyar Korona országainak évi külkereskedelmi forgalma.

50 KM to Foreign Ministry, 28 October 1905, DAR 282, 578990.

51 KM to Adria, November 14, 1902, DAR 282.

52 Adria to MKTH, May (date not provided), DAR 282.

53 KM to MKTH, December 16, 1902, DAR 282.

54 HHStA MdA AR, Fach 34, F344138.

55 Adria, Üzleti jelentés.

56 KM to MKTH, 9 March 1903, DAR 282.

57 Algiers, January 10, 1899, Letter from V. Graf Crenneville, “Specialbericht aus Algier,” DAR 282.

58 Sándor Billitz, freight forwarder, to MKTH, October 4, 1904, DAR 282.

59 Ludwig von Callenberg, Chief of Mission to Sultan of Morocco between 1909 and 1913, “Klagen über den ,,Adria” – dienst. – Neuregelung des österreichisch – ungarischen Schiffahrtsdienstes nach Marokko, June 20, 1909, DAR 282.

60 Oesterreichiesches statistisches Handbuch, 232.

61 Tangier consul to Count Agenor Maria Adam Gołuchowski, Chairman of the Ministers’ Council for Common Affairs of Austria-Hungary, July 24, 1904, DAR 282.

62 Adria to MKTH, February 25, 1908, DAR 282.

63 Adria to MKTH, May 2, 1904, DAR 282.

64 MKTH to Károly Hieronymi, Interior Minister of Hungary, May 18, 1904, DAR 282.

65 HHStA MdA AR, Fach 34 F344138.

66 KM to MKTH, August 19, 1904 DAR 282.

67 Adria to MKTH, September 8, 1904, DAR 282.

68 Adria to MKTH, May 16, 1907, DAR 456.

69 Adria to Gołuchowski, February 24, 1906, 13521, HHStA MdA AR Fach 68/1.

70 Harding, Phantom Crown; O’Connor, The Cactus Throne.

71 Sondhaus, The Naval Policy, 16.

72 Pruonto, “Did the Second Mexican Empire,” 110.

73 “Összeköttetés Mexikóval,” Budapesti Hírlap, November 19, 1898.

74 “A mexikói magyar kereskedelmi,” Budapesti Hírlap, April 11, 1901.

75 “A Közép-tenger körül,” Budapesti Hírlap, January 7, 1903; “Német vas Mexikóban,” Budapesti Hírlap, February 16, 1902.

76 “Az OMGE ipari és kereskedelmi szakosztályának ülése,” Köztelek, March 16, 1904.

77 “Bánó Jenő fölolvasása,” Budapesti Hírlap, March 8, 1904.

78 Jenő Bánó, “Mexikó kereskedelmi fejlődése és a magyar gőzhajó járatok,” Magyarország, May 31, 1908.

79 “Magyar hajójárat Newyorkba és Mexikóba,” Budapesti Hírlap, October 27, 1901.

80 “Hajójárat Mexikóba,” Magyarország, May 8, 1908.

81 A Magyar Korona országainak évi külkereskedelmi forgalma 1903–1915.

82 “Mexicói cs. és kir. Konzulátus,” Közgazdasági Értesítő 3 (1908): 1070.

83 Ibid., 1075.

84 “Mit keresnek Mexikóban?,” Közgazdasági Értesítő 6, no. 1 (1911): 578.

85 Foreign Ministry Memo to Prime Minister Koloman von Széll, Vienna, November 5, 1902. 72588, HHStA MdA AR Fach 68/1.

86 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [hereafter MNL OL] K 26 1908 – XXXVIII – 1289 – 394, July 10, 1902, 43982, MKTH to Lajos Láng.

87 MNL OL, K 26 1908 – XXXVIII – 1289 – 394, August 31, 1902, Note from the Trade Ministry to the Prime Minister, 4618.

88 Adria to MKTH, September 29, 1907, DAR– 46 – 439.

89 Adria to KM, August 29, 1908, DAR 456.

90 Adria to MKTH, June 23, 1908, DAR 456.

91 KM to MKTH, February 13, 1900, DAR 282.

92 Adria to MKTH, December 28, 1904, DAR 282.

93 KM to MKTH, March 8, 1904, DAR 282.

94 Adria to MKTH, December 28, 1904, DAR 282.

95 Adria to MKTH, January 20, 1904, DAR 282.

96 “An die hochverehrliche k.u.k. österreich-ung. Gesandtschaft in Tanger,” Complaint by Benchimol & Kell, Beilage zum Bericht No. 8. H. P. vom 20. Juni 1909.

97 “Einführung von Automobilen in Tunesien,” March 4, 1912, HHStA MdA AR Fach 95/1.

98 Pelles, “Az Adria Magyar Királyi Tengerhajózási Rt,” 197.

99 Ibid., 205.

100 Ibid., 206.

101 Adria to the Prime Minister, Budapest, April 26, 1906, 32710, HHStA MdA AR Fach 68/4: Schifffahrt-Lloyd, Generalia (1909 -).

102 For example, compare Adria’s shipping schedules for 1891 and 1913.

103 Deak and Gumz, “How to Break a State,” 1106; See also Wank, “Varieties of Cultural Despair;” Bridge, The Habsburg Monarchy; Hantsch, Leopold Graf Berchtold. A similar corrective has been made about the perspective of the military. See Deak, “The Great War and the Forgotten Realm,” 367.

104 Most recently in Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe, 13.

pdfVolume 7 Issue 2 CONTENTS

Between “Here” and “Over There”: Short-term and Circular Mobility from the Czech Lands to Latin America (1880s–1930s)*

Markéta Křížová
Center for Ibero-American Studies, Charles University, Prague
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The present text deals with the phenomenon of short-term mobility from the Czech Lands to Latin America from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930s on the basis of sources such as memoirs, letters, and official reports, oral histories, and family histories. An examination of patterns in short-term labor mobility can offer interesting insights into the mechanisms of communication in the broader Atlantic region in the period in question and also further an understanding of cultural and economic interchange and the perceptions by the migrants themselves of their place in the world, their “home,” and their identities. By transmitting skills, experiences, and cultural knowledge, they assisted in the creation of “transnationalism from below” on both sides of the ocean.

Keywords: short-term mobility, labor mobility, Czech Lands, America, Argentina, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, transnationalism from below


In 1937, Matěj Poláček, a carpenter from southern Moravia, disembarked in the port of Buenos Aires. This fact in itself would be of little interest. In the previous half century, hundreds of thousands of Central Europeans, men and women, had made the same trip. However, Poláček walked down from the deck of Cap Arcona, a luxury transoceanic ship, after having spent several weeks vacationing in his native village. The company for which he was working, the German corporation Grün & Bilfinger, had given him compensation for the work he had performed in the form of tickets for the vessel which had brought him from Hamburg to Buenos Aires in less than two weeks.1 This seems to be at odds with the standard image of Central European migrant worker, but numerous historical sources prove that since the end of the nineteenth century, thousands of migrants had been crossing the Atlantic back and forth, maybe not in such a high-class fashion as Poláček, but playing their part in a complicated web of economic and social relations which transcended the borders of nation states and continents. They were not opting for permanent resettlement, but worked overseas for some time to acquire capital to use in their home countries or to supplement the family income.

The interest of scholars in the great transatlantic migration of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries has resulted in a fair amount of monographs and shorter studies. There are many “bilateral histories of migration,” in the words of Tara Zahra, for instance histories of Poles in Chicago or Czechs in Argentina.2 Historians have paid attention in particular to the reasons for which migrants chose to leave their homelands, the mechanisms of integration into receiving societies, and/or the maintenance of earlier loyalties. Only recently has an interest emerged among scholars in the persisting strong and multilayered ties between the countries of origin and those of destination.3 There were in fact rather high rates of return. About 30 percent of the Europeans who entered through the North American ports between 1815 and 1914 returned to Europe, and the proportion was even higher for Latin America during this period, so the phenomenon of return and circular mobility is indeed worth consideration.4 The movement across the Atlantic certainly left profound marks on the intellectual and material culture of the countries from which the migrants set sail and the societies where they settled, whether permanently or temporarily.

In the discourse of the times and to a great extent also in the historiography, return migration was and is often equated with failure. Certainly, there were those who returned because they were unable to fulfill their visions. Still, the glum picture given by Charles Dickens in his American Notes of those “coming back, even poorer than they went” hardly captures the complexity of the phenomenon of overseas mobility.5 In fact, the preponderant majority of those who headed for America planned to return. In 1900, the Portuguese consul in Buenos Aires wrote, with respect to his fellow countrymen coming to Argentina: “The main aspiration of this people is to save some money to buy small plots of land in their homeland.”6 Furthermore, at the time, thanks to the improvements in maritime and overland travel, workers were able to cross the Atlantic repeatedly. Alongside the colonies of fellow countrymen who were trying to establish themselves in the New World arose communities of those “with their feet in both societies,”7 able to maintain (at least partially) their status in their home society, including kinship ties and political loyalties. After returning, by bringing information and money to their native communities and putting into practice knowledge gained abroad, they drew relations, friends, and countrymen who had remained at home into the Atlantic system of economic and cultural interchange. Thus, they contributed to the creation on both sides of the ocean of what Ewa Morawska has called “transnationalism from below,” in which everyday people participated as the principal agents within the borders of the choices allowed to them by the concrete socio-political circumstances.8 On the other hand, while becoming “transnational,” these men and women were able to define who they were and where they belonged, in spite of competing allegiances for different “homes.”9

The realization that the transatlantic migration of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and, in fact, all migration has almost never been unidirectional has prompted many historians to use the term “mobility” instead of the concepts of “outmigration” and “immigration, ” which were originally coined to meet the administrative needs of nation states in the nineteenth century.10 I prefer it in this article, as it better captures the multidirectional and interwoven patterns of migration activities, with emphasis on the short term and the repeated and circular moves over the ocean and back. My goal is to demonstrate, via a very limited case study focused on the Czech Lands/Czechoslovakia,11 how this type of study can help us move beyond a narrowly nationalistic approach to the study of history. Also, as historians have shown a considerably stronger interest in migration to the United States than in migration to the southern parts of the American continents, I have focused on mobility to and from Latin America as the principal starting point of my analysis.

While there has been a steady influx of individuals and smaller groups from Central Europe to the southern parts of the American continent since the colonial period which grew stronger throughout the nineteenth century, the main impetus for increased interest in settling in Latin America was the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited opportunities for Czechs, together with other Central and Eastern Europeans, to enter the USA. Also, the adverse consequences of the global economic crisis in the 1930s in Central Europe and the local booms in various parts of Latin America sparked further interest in Latin America (even though, as I will explain, the global crisis caused drops in available workplaces in Latin American countries as well).12 While the permanent migration from the Czech Lands to Latin America has been studied intensively by Czechoslovak/Czech historians since the 1960s,13 the phenomenon of short-term, circular, and return mobility has not yet received similar attention.


There certainly is an explanation for the relative lack of interest among historians in short-term mobility, namely, the scarcity of sources. In a sense, these migrants fall into a “blind spot” in the archival documentation, as the official statistics usually only include people who sought the approval of the authorities to leave the country permanently. It is not possible to determine the volume of the back and forth movement between America and Europe with any precision. Short-term laborers often relied on the help of family members or friends, especially at the beginning of their ventures, but they were relatively mobile and they remained largely outside the more compact expatriate communities in America, mixing instead with other salaried laborers, either locals or immigrants from other countries. Thus, their names do not appear frequently in the source materials concerning national clubs and associations in the host societies.14 There is, furthermore, a general problem with statistics dealing with migrants from Austro-Hungary. Czechs were often automatically considered either “Austrians” or “Germans,” or they were mixed with other Slavs, like Poles; they sometimes even presented themselves as such when looking for work.15

There are scattered mentions of companies sending their employees overseas in the published and manuscript autobiographies of migrants, the documentation from official visits by Czech and Austro-Hungarian and later Czechoslovak officials touring Latin America for various purposes, and travelogues or newspaper articles, and in the archival fonds. Interviews were done with Czech settlers repatriated from Latin America after 1918, as well as (by mail) with their fellow countrymen who opted to stay abroad, by the employees of Československý ústav zahraniční [Czechoslovak Foreign Institute].16 Finally, there are the family histories, transmitted orally, together with postcards, photographs, and other memorabilia. Several decades ago, Julianna Puskás eloquently demonstrated the value of these types of documents for the study of (not only) Hungarian migrations.17 Many of the testimonies—some of them so far unknown to or little exploited by historians—are only indirect; often there are just scraps and pieces from peoples’ life histories.

Given the nature of these sources, one is compelled to adopt a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach. My interest lies primarily in the agency of migrants themselves, as individuals and members of family units and local communities, who were acting within concrete social, geographical, and temporal spaces. Overseas migration always involved individual decision making, and if we seek to arrive at a nuanced understanding of these historical processes, we must consider individual stories as well as the broader collective phenomena. Still, my ambition has been to arrive, on the basis of these individual stories, at some general conclusions with respect to the transatlantic entanglements, which constituted one of the crucial historical factors in the making of present-day Central Europe.18

The chronological delineation of this study connects two very distinctive political regimes, beginning with the period when the Czech Lands still constituted part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ending two decades after they had been made part of the new, postwar state of Czechoslovakia. While major political events often make suitable milestones for historical study (and in certain respects the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918 constituted a turning point in the history of migrations, since tens of thousands of Czechs, Moravians, and Slovaks returned from over the world to the lands of their birth),19 I still opt for structural approach. Therefore, I examine short-term and circular mobility from its commencement at the very end of the nineteenth century (due to the considerable reduction in the cost of transatlantic passage) up to the beginning of the World War II, when overseas transit in general was brought to an abrupt end.

Back and Forth

The concept of “short-term mobility” escapes precise definition.20 People had a wide array of reasons for leaving for the New World, and a similarly diverse array of experiences once they arrived. For the present analysis, and aware of the insufficiencies of my approach, I take as central the initial aim of returning instead of remaining and becoming permanent residents and, at times, a pattern of repeated visits. The social composition of the group under consideration is also important. I do not take into account the members of the managerial staff of the Austrian/Czech/Czechoslovak companies in the Latin American branches (i.e. what is referred to as “career migration”21), nor do I consider the journalists and travelers who earned their living along the way. Rather, I focus on individuals who came from the same social strata as the long-term and permanent migrants, specifically the lower and middle classes, urban and rural, and in the majority of cases people who did manual labor. For them, living overseas was a means to an end, a labor strategy,22 not the final objective of their endeavors. The intention of returning rules out the poorest, who often had to sell everything they possessed, arriving in the New World “with just the shirt they had on, without a penny in their pocket,” as stated one of the texts from the beginning of the twentieth century the author of which warned Czechs against emigration.23 Surely also those who planned to return sometimes had difficulties raising the necessary cash and were compelled to take out mortgages or ask for loans from their relatives, but were not forced to sell everything (and clearly, the mere act of taking out a mortgage or asking for a loan meant that the person intended to return).24 Also, the poorest migrants usually lacked the necessary qualifications that would enable them to find better-paid jobs and save money for a return ticket.

Of course, sometimes the decision to stay or return was not made by the migrants themselves, but rather was dictated by outside forces. Many of those who originally planned to stay permanently returned within a few years, because the promises made by the agents and the authorities of the host country had given them misleading impressions of the realities of everyday life in the New World. Sometimes people who wished to return were forced to stay when they realized that their savings would barely suffice to buy a return ticket. Judging from the memoirs and interviews, there were many such cases. “I came to Argentina, as many of us did, thinking that I will get rich quickly and easily and I will earn a lot of money and then immediately I will return home. This was my firm conviction when I left home,” stated František Lukešík, who came to Argentina around 1910. As he could not find salaried work, he ended up in the agricultural colony Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña, founded in 1913 by several Czech families.25

There was never significant seasonal transatlantic mobility from the Czech Lands, i.e. nothing equivalent to the Spanish and Italian golondrinas (swallows), farmhands who took advantage of the alternating agricultural cycles between the hemispheres and spent the European winter harvesting fruit and wheat in Argentina and then returned to Europe in May.26 Even with the improved system of railroad traffic, the Czech Lands remained too distant from the Mediterranean and Atlantic ports to make such movements worthwhile. Most of the Czechs and Moravians who went to America for shorter stays were industrial rather than agricultural workers, and they came for periods of years instead of several months. Still, there was a correlation between overseas mobility and the existing patterns of seasonal work.

This, in fact, is true for the whole of Europe. While traditionally the various types of migration—transatlantic, continental, or regional—have been studied in virtual isolation, in recent decades various historians have proven their mutual interdependence, and the “push” and “pull” models have given way to more complex explanations.27 As for the Czech Lands, in some parts, such as southwestern Bohemia and southern Moravia, mostly poorer agricultural regions with high number of landless or petty farmers who could not support their families by working the land alone, there existed a long tradition of seasonal and short-term labor mobility within and outside the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Germany, Serbia, and Italy. Not just young and single, but also married men would spend up to eight months a year seeking skilled or semi-skilled employment as farmhands, bricklayers, brickmakers etc. Women worked as maids in Vienna, but also as construction assistants all over Germany and Austria.28 A special survey of seasonal labor mobility ordered by the Austrian government in 1913 as a supplement to the regular censuses shows clearly the extent of the short-time absences. At the local level, there were places where seasonal workers made up 20 percent or more of the total population, a figure comparable to the percentages in the best-known regions of seasonal out-migration in Europe, like the Italian Friuli.29 Of course, there were also regular or occasional movements from other regions—for example, miners from northern Bohemia drifted to the Ruhr area in times of labor shortage.30

Given the intensity of this mobility, overseas transfer does not appear as exceptional as traditional historical studies have tended to suggest. Rather, it seems to have been one of the alternatives workers could pursue. The fact that communities with existing traditions of seasonal and short-term mobility had already established social mechanisms for accommodating absences and returns is important. There existed what could be termed a “culture of mobility,” i.e. a collective strategy for coping with and taking advantage of the willingness of some of their members to travel by adjusting existing norms, values, and ideologies to their absences.31 Females took male occupations on the farms or hired day laborers to do them; families and the community at large were willing to accept some of the novelties brought about by the return of laborers. The laborers themselves were already used to making accommodations in the new environments in which they had lived, and, last but not least, while working in various European countries, they had opportunities to learn about the possibilities of transoceanic migration.32

It is possible that some of the seasonal workers originally did not plan to go to America, but decided to cross the Atlantic only after coming to the Italian port, for example, and encountering agents of shipping companies.33 Similarly, it is possible that they were approached with offers of work or attracted by rumors while working in Germany, as was the case of Poláček. Up to World War I, in particular Brazil and later Chile actively spread immigration propaganda in Germany, so the Czech seasonal workers who were coming to Germany also became the targets of agents. And even when they did not opt to move overseas themselves, these seasonal workers brought home information about such opportunities from Germany or Italy.34 America certainly was not an unreachable, strange world for Central European farmhands and workers. Of course, mobility, whether short-term or permanent, also depended on concrete economic conditions in a given region. And it should be noted that for the period under consideration overseas short-term mobility remained of secondary importance in comparison with the continuing seasonal labor movements within the Czech Lands or to neighboring countries. The possible paths for improving one’s economic and social status for the inhabitants of the Czech Lands at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries included a number of choices.

A Typology of Short-term Migrants

The countries of destination in Latin America for the short-term migrants were mostly the same as for the long-term and permanent migrants: first and foremost Argentina and Brazil, then to a lesser degree Chile (mostly due to its geographical position, which made short-term stays more difficult) and Mexico, and only exceptionally Central America or other Latin American countries. Argentina and Brazil in particular offered an acceptable climate and a relatively large array of work opportunities due to rapid modernization and urbanization, which had been underway since the second half of the nineteenth century, a factor even more important for short-term migrants than for those who mostly opted for privately owned land and an independent existence.

Regarding the typology of short-term mobility from the Czech Lands, there are two clearly distinguishable groups. The first of these consisted of unskilled or semi-skilled workers motivated by the vague notion of the “American dream,” as it was spread by the agents of the transportation companies and the colonizing societies or by the successes of their predecessors. In their effort to earn money quickly, they were willing to take any work, but they usually proved ill-prepared for the realities of life in the New World.35 From the point of view of cultural exchange, they did not have much to share with the host societies, and though their work as farm hands or factory workers provided them with new experiences, these insights were not of much use in their native communities. Many of such would-be short-term migrants were in the end forced to remain for a longer period of time than they had initially planned or even permanently, since it proved almost impossible to save money for the return journey. Sometimes, they were repatriated at the expense of the Austro-Hungarian or Czechoslovak embassies.36 Repeated warnings from the authorities and already established fellow-countrymen offer clear evidence of their considerable vulnerability to economic oscillations and social pressures; however, their numbers increased nonetheless, especially during the economic crisis of the 1930s, even though labor opportunities in Latin America decreased sharply precisely at that time.37

The second group consisted of skilled workers. Some of them came to America to find employment in their respective fields, either at random or drawing on the previous experiences of relatives or friends. Others were sent by the companies for which they were working in Europe. For both groups, Latin America offered better opportunities than the United States, where the labor marked had been saturated by immigrant and domestic specialists since the second half of the nineteenth century. Sometimes, factories in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile themselves sent agents to Europe to seek specialists in professions in which there was a high demand for the comparatively few skilled laborers;38 furthermore, these countries actively encouraged the establishment of foreign companies. As the Czech Lands had historically produced some specialized jobs, these workers adapted with relative ease not only to their new lives in various European countries, where their expertise was in demand, but also to conditions on the other side of the ocean. There was also the aforementioned traditional seasonal mobility of construction workers from southern Bohemia and southern Moravia. Matěj Poláček, to whose third arrival in Argentina in the span of ten years I alluded in the opening lines of this article, had been working as a migrant laborer since the 1890s, first in Hungary, then in various German cities, and then in the New World. There, he took part in such projects as the construction of the huge Cruz del Eje dam, the railroad bridge at San Lorenzo, and the “Tiro Federal,” that is, shooting grounds for the federal army in the Argentinian capital.39

There were Czech railroad builders, construction workers, and factory workers all over Argentina, as the precipitous expansion of railroads created a need for people with experience in these professions. For example, workers from the Czech factory in Kopřivnice, a famous producer of railroad carriages, were invited to the state-owned factory in Tafi Viejo in 1910. Because there was a scarcity of work in Kopřivnice at the time, the factory management supported their temporary absence and even organized Spanish courses for them. Of about forty workers, some stayed in Argentina, while others returned home before the war.40 For the dangerous work at the oil fields in southern Argentina, experienced miners were recruited by German agents in the Czech mining regions Ostrava/Ostrau and Kladno.41 At the beginning of the 1930s, the Škoda company of Plzeň delivered facilities for the newly built beet sugar refinery plants in the Argentine provinces of Mendoza and San Juan. Since the nineteenth century, the Bohemian Lands had been at the foreground of sugar production in Europe. After a very unsuccessful first season in the Argentinian enterprise, Škoda arranged to send over technicians and “boilers,” along with the machinery.42

The Bohemian Lands were also famous for beer production. Not only were Czech beer, malt, and hop important export articles, but since the end of the nineteenth century brewing machinery had been exported to furnish breweries all over Latin America. Again, specialized workers were sent to start production, some of them repeatedly when new branches of breweries were established or production was expanded. Vojtěch Vaníček, representative of the Economic Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, traveled in South America together with the aforementioned Zdeněk Fafl in 1910 on behalf of the Trade and Commercial Chamber. He found Czech specialists “in almost every brewery we passed through.”43 Similarly, after visiting Argentina and Brazil in 1910 and finding many Czechs in local breweries, Czech economist Leopold Perutz recommended that “our vocational and trade schools teach Spanish and Portuguese.”44 At the beginning of the twentieth century, Jan Mikš first passed through various European breweries, concluding with Zagreb in 1910. He then moved to to South America; there was comparatively intense mobility, both permanent and short term, between Croatia and Latin America, especially Chile.45 For two years, Mikš worked in breweries in Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and other cities. In Santiago, he made the acquaintance of Count Kolowrat-Liechtenstein, the Austrian envoy to Chile, who later employed him as a tenant of his own brewery in the town of Rychnov in eastern Bohemia.46 And, finally, there were representatives of specific professions such as musicians who at the time were in great demand in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires, where they provided not only the dance music and entertainment in restaurants, but also live accompaniment for silent films.47

The preponderant majority of the short-term migrants were male, in contrast to the more balanced mix in the case of long-term migrants. Still, there were also female specialists. Uruguayan and Argentinian upper-class families preferred maids and cooks from Europe over local labor as a sign of high social standing;48 and there has been a tradition of Czech and Moravian maids going to Vienna, so again the move overseas was more of a prolongation of existing mobility patterns than the establishment of entirely new ones. Also, the Argentinian elites employed governesses from Central Europe who were able to speak French for lower wages than “genuine” French gouvernantes.49 There were certain risks, as the mediating agencies sometimes delivered the young women to brothels.50 In response to numerous reports and complaints, as of 1930, women from Czechoslovakia under the age of twenty-five could only travel to Argentina or Brazil if they could presents an affidavit from a family member or employer who pledged to provide “financial support and moral supervision.”51

Experiences Overseas

Specialized workers often came to South America with a contract already in hand. They were thus spared the humiliating stay in the “Immigrants’ hotels” in Buenos Aires or São Paulo, where they could stay for free, but where conditions were crowded and discouraging,52 and the equally discouraging clamor for work, any work at all. Because they possessed skills that were rare in Latin America, they were able to negotiate their pay and sometimes even the luxury of an occasional trip home. They often felt superior and sometimes voiced a sense of superiority over local laborers, and sometimes even seem to have had a notion of themselves as representatives of a “civilizing mission” who were spreading European/Czech skills in undeveloped regions. The authorities in the home country were actually aware of this and commented on it negatively. While the Habsburg state did not intervene actively in the “export” of skilled workers, the Czechoslovak Ministry of Trade and Industry made efforts (although mostly in vain) to keep specialists in prominent export industries (such as beer-making, sugar-making, glass-making, the textile industry, etc.) within the state borders even in times of rising unemployment during the great crisis of the 1930s precisely because they feared that the transfer of technological knowledge abroad would create competition for domestic production.53

Still, even the position of a highly qualified worker was not at all secure, and America was far from a “new home.” Often, salaries were lower than had been promised.54 Many of the workplaces were far from inviting. For example, in the oil fields in southern Argentina, the workforce consisted mostly of foreigners, the atmosphere was highly cosmopolitan,55 and earnings were relatively high. But, according to the memoirs of some of the Czech workers, the housing conditions were dismal, consisting mostly of crude shacks made of boards and corrugated sheets; there was acute lack of drinking water, which was sold at high prices. Medical facilities were inadequate and there was no compensation for work-related accidents. As the region was isolated, the workers lacked protection and could hardly flee.56

The situation on railroads was similar. When in 1929 the Argentinian government started the construction of the railroad from Salta to Formosa, it negotiated the involvement of a Hungarian company which recruited skilled workers in various places, including the Czech Lands. But as soon became evident, high earnings notwithstanding, the working conditions were hard. Because of the lack of proper machinery, the laborers had to do backbreaking manual work, drinking water was scarce and housing inadequate. In response to reports on these conditions, the Hungarian government forbade further recruitment of workers for Argentina, but the Czechoslovak authorities only issued warnings through the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute.57 Of course, these experiences, if narrated back home, might have had discouraging effects. The dominant image of Latin America as a region in which work was reduced to manual labor is interesting. “In Argentina, intelligence will not find work, as there are enough educated people. Argentina needs only laborers in agriculture and in trade.”58

Those who had worked first in Western Europe, had been members of labor unions and had taken advantage of (or taken part in ensuring) social securities and labor legislature resented the lack of protections for workers in Latin America. The situation was particularly bad in Brazil. “There are no legal protections for workers. The laborers are blatantly oppressed. […] Every factory has its own warehouse with food for workers. Often the laborer does not get any money at all. If he needs medicine or other necessities, he must buy at a high price from the warehouse of the factory and sell at a loss for cash.”59 Of course, this was even more stressful for short-term migrants, who had hoped to accumulate meaningful savings as quickly as possible. For some of the migrants, the stay overseas seems to have been crucial as an experience which increased their awareness of social issues.60 Last but not least, migrants had to face anti-immigrant sentiments, which with the passage of time became more intense in many Latin American countries.

Migrants who aspired to remain in their new homes for longer period of time or even permanently mostly tried to settle down as quickly as possible on purchased or rented estates. The relative availability of land in Latin America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when it was becoming scarce in the USA, was one of the major attractions for Czechs (who, unlike other migrants from eastern and southern Europe, generally aspired to settle in the countryside instead of looking for work in urban areas). The temporary migrants, in contrast, often moved around, either because they were sent to new locations by the companies for which they were working or because, in their search for work, they had gotten to know various parts of the country and fellow workers of various nationalities. As they opted for a short, profitable stay in America, with as few expenses as possible, and as they often worked in multilingual and multinational environments, many of them considered it impractical to devote time and money to activities like learning Spanish or Portuguese, especially when they were working for French or German companies.

The dominance of German companies in Argentine industry eased the process of adaptation for Czechs and Moravians, most of whom had at least a superficial knowledge of German. When Karel Urban, one of the would-be sojourners who decided to stay in America, responded to the questionnaire of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, he commented: “I only remembered several words in Portuguese, but that bit of my German helped me everywhere.”61 The language barrier was another factor which prevented the short-term migrants from constructing the notion of a home (albeit temporary) in America. Of course, without the knowledge of the local language, they were also more vulnerable to being cheated by employers or members of the local population.

The American Trunk

While it was demonstrated above that intercontinental mobility in many respects was followed by long-established models of labor sojourns, this did not just mean a widening of the radius of travel for work. Stays overseas had some important repercussions for the migrants themselves, their families, and the local communities. Of utmost importance were the remittances that flowed into the villages and suburbs in the Czech Lands. The fact that “temporary immigrant comes to earn money and then leaves with wages, [which] is important for doing the work, but is not something [the host country] needs for its development” was noted by the contemporary Czech commentators62 and officials in Latin America. Many of the contemporary commentators noted the substantial difference in wages between Argentina, for example, and Europe, not forgetting, however, immediately to note also the high living costs, especially the prices of basic foodstuffs.63 As remittances came mostly through the mail or by personal delivery, it is difficult even to estimate the total sums involved. But they probably meant a boost to local economies through the purchase of land plots and houses64 and also due to the fact that the prolonged absences of numerous males made it necessary to employ hired hands.

The notion of “American wealth” even entered local folklore. One Moravian offered the following characterization of the advantages of migrant labor in the New World for people in the Old: “Good for women in the old country, who have their husbands in America. They work, they send money home.”65 And they also sent exotic goods. Poláček once dispatched a chest of oranges from Argentina shortly before Easter, and his daughters gave them away instead of painted eggs, which is the local custom on Easter Monday.66 This story could be seen merely as a curiosity, but it illustrates the fact that such gifts sent or brought home reinforced the exotic image of the New World in Central Europe and could be also regarded as a symbol of the progressive interlinking of local and regional economies to the transatlantic system.

The returning migrants also brought back information about the world on the far side of the ocean. In his monograph, Mark Wyman uses of the metaphor of the “America trunk” as an apt symbol for both emigration and remigration, of coming to America and returning to the homeland, of conserving the memories of the mother country and bringing home new wares, goods and ideas.67 Certainly, the letters from relatives and friends living in America represented an important source of information for their home communities and, later, for historians.68 But first-hand experiences transmitted by word-of-mouth, together with the presents and memorabilia taken out of the trunk, probably had an even stronger impact, though not one that would leave much trace in historical records. But perhaps these presents and memorabilia influenced the contents of the “American trunk” packed by the next generation of migrants. The seasoned “Mexican” or “American” in fancy clothes, able to deal with any situation and endeavoring to climb the social ladder, even entered the local folklore, including songs, jokes, and fairytales, as well as the popular literature all over the Czech Lands.69

In his memoirs, František Vyšata, a traveler and ardent proponent of the Czech national spirit among migrants, lamented that “the preparation of our fellow countrymen for such a vital step as leaving of motherland was minimal or nonexistent.” Migrants simply bought their tickets from “eloquent agents” and then “off they went to try their luck.”70 But, as was already noted, this was in fact not true. More often than not, prospective migrants had abundant and surprisingly precise information which helped them make carefully considered decisions when contemplating travel overseas. It certainly was not a coincidence that the Czech and Moravian regions in which we find highest number of seasonal migrants to European countries and, later, to America—southwestern Bohemia, southern Moravia—were also regions from which numerous individuals and families decided to move overseas permanently. In a study of contemporary transmigrants, Peggy Lewitt refers to this flow of information as “social remittances” in an effort to accentuate its importance for the increase in the material wellbeing of the home communities because it stimulated other forms of mobility.71 The two types of mobility certainly reinforced each other, as the return migrants spread knowledge, direct or indirect, of the opportunities overseas, while the permanent settlements of fellow countrymen made the shorter stays of those who did not want to remain for good easier. Also, within the framework of short-term mobility, the chain pattern acquired great importance. Memoirs and correspondence confirm that on returning for another stay in America, workers often took with them relatives—brothers, bothers-in-law, nephews etc. —to follow them to the Americas.72

Alongside the economic implications, there were important social and cultural consequences for community cohesion and the lives of the members of communities from which migrants departed for the New World. The overseas sojourns differed from previous patterns of seasonal mobility, if only due to the longer duration of labor stays. Short-term migrants did not dispose of their properties, and for the most part, if married, left their wives behind, thus maintaining also their social position in the community and preventing themselves from establishing closer social ties in the host societies. Though the wives took over the everyday tasks, their husbands managed their affairs from long-distance through correspondence and messages sent back and forth with traveling friends and relatives. Still, the outcomes of their prolonged absences could be damaging. Both contemporary commentators and recent studies have spoken of the “feminization” of society, as wives and other family members were forced to take over some of the work and, perhaps more importantly, the social responsibilities (and thus to some extent the social influence) of the departed men.73 Folklore captured the feelings of uneasiness and a sense of fragmentation, tension, and inconsolable emptiness: “Children are crying aloud when they bid farewell to their father over the wide sea.”74 The documentation of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute covers many cases of fathers gone overseas and mothers who died or were seriously ill, leaving the care of the offspring to relatives or the state.75 Therefore, since the 1930s, anyone applying for a passport and leaving minor children behind had to demonstrate that he or she had provided for their support.76


The impact of returnees on their home surroundings depended, of course, on many factors, including the length of their stay in the Americas and the extent and type of contacts they had had with American society. However, some general trends emerge. In her comments on the impacts of the return of migrant workers from the United States on the Hungarian countryside, Puskás notes the crucial impact of experiences with the democratic establishment, political freedoms, which made it more difficult for the returnees to tolerate the more restricted conditions in their home country.77 As the sources concerning Czech and Moravian migration to South America indicate, upon returning, the migrants lacked “freedom” in a different sense—lowered social restraints and pressures, less cramped living conditions, and a sense of greater responsibility for one’s own life.

One finds explicit allusions to the lack of “freedom” and the discomforts of living in densely populated areas in the correspondence of returned migrants sent via the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute and implicit references in the memoirs of Matěj Poláček. In this sense, the feeling of being at “home” unexpectedly shifted overseas, throwing into doubt the notions maintained during the sojourns in America. A letter sent in 1929 by the Moravian returnee to compatriots in Argentina documents not only the intense communication with people oversees, the interchange of letters, and the frequent visits of relatives, but also the fact that even returning home and buying land was not necessarily a definite step. “How was the harvest? I am homesick for America, I liked it there, except for the flies. […] Here we are among strange people. […] When we tire from working for others, we will sell [what we have] here again and go over to you. […] The country is nice here, fields all flat, but more work than with the cotton over there.”78 The anonymous author of the letter still drew a distinction between “here” and “over there,” but her loyalties were not at all clear-cut. Poláček bought a “ranch” in Argentina, while also investing in real estate in his native village, manifesting fervent affection for his homeland. That he was prevented in 1946 from embarking again for South America and was subsequently deprived of part of his properties as a consequence of the rise to power of the communist regime is a different story.79 What is important in this context is the evident multiplicity of “homes” Poláček (along with hundreds or thousands of other Czechs and Moravians) was able to come to regard as “his,” a sentiment he was at least partially able to transmit to his surroundings, drawing the peripheral regions of Central Europe into the transatlantic economic and cultural interchange.


Primary sources

National archive of the Czech Republic, fonds ČÚZ [Czeholslovak Foreign Institute], boxes 30, 33 and 39.


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1* This article was written as part of the the European Regional Development Fund Project “Creativity and Adaptability as Conditions of the Success of Europe in an Interrelated World” (No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734) and Charles University PROGRES Q 09 program: History – The key to understanding the globalized world. The first version of the article was presented at the Fifth European Congress on World and Global History in Budapest (2017). I am thankful to the participants of the panel “Emigration from the Habsburg Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to America, 1848–1918,” as well as to the reviewers of the submitted manuscript, for their inspiring remarks.

In the 1970s, when he was nearing ninety, Poláček wrote down his life story, which was then preserved by his descendants. It was published with the title Za velkou louži: Vzpomínky moravského dělníka Matěje Poláčka na Afriku a Jižní Ameriku; translation into German currently underway.

2 Zahra, The Great Departure, 16.

3 Other texts which merit mention include, from the field of the study of migration to Latin America, Da Orden, Una familia y un océano; or the collective volume Sæther, Expectations Unfulfilled. Of course, there is also the important study by Mark Wyman, quoted in this text and dedicated to the phenomenon of return migration from the United States: Wyman, Round-Trip to America.

4 Julianna Puskás went so far as to state that “from the point of view of the emigrants’ original plans, it is not those who returned who needed to be explained, but rather those who settled permanently in America” (Puskás, “Hungarian Overseas Migration,” 227). Also Devoto, Historia de la inmigración, 73, stated that “European migration to the Americas constituted a circular process, not a linear one.” With respect to mobility between the Czech Lands to America, the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute in October 1930 reported that “yearly roughly same number of people return [from South America] as leaves for [South America]” (Documentation in the National Archive of the Czech Republic (hereafter quoted as NA), fonds ČÚZ, box 33.

5 On the relative lack of interest among historians and the lack of evidence (a consequence of the fact that the people who returned, in an effort to hide their “failure,” did not draw attention to their stays in or returns from America), see Moltmenn, “American-German Return Migration.” See also Dickens, American Notes, originally published in 1842, then in many reeditions.

6 Borges, Chains of Gold, 9. The case studies of Norwegians in the aforementioned volume Expectations Unfulfilled show similar patterns.

7 The phrase used by Chaney, “The World Economy,” 204, with reference to present-day transmigrants.

8 Morawska, “Disciplinary Agendas,” 611.

9 The phrase “multiplicity of homes” is used in the volume of Al-Ali and Koser, New Approaches to Migration?, dealing, however, with recent migrations.

10 Steidl et al., “Relations among Internal,” 63.

11 The Czech Lands or the Lands of the Bohemian Crown are the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, historically ruled by the kings of Bohemia and since 1526 incorporated into the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1918, they became, together with Slovakia and Ruthenia, parts of the new Czechoslovak Republic. See Pánek, Tůma et al., A History of the Czech Lands. While the phrase “Czech Lands” was not used after 1918, I am sticking to this denomination, instead of “Czechoslovakia,” as the present article does not take into account migrants from Slovakia either before or after 1918. At the same time, I will refer in the article to “Czechs”, indicating their provenance from the Czech Lands, rather than “Czechs, Moravians and Silesians”, referring to the three separate regions of which the Czech Lands are composed.

12 On both of these consequences in local milieus, positive as well as negative, in the 1920s and 1930s there is ample documentation in NA, fonds ČÚZ, boxes 30, 33 and 39.

13 The interest among Czechoslovak historians in migration studies was provoked by the limitations on the use and study of archival sources abroad after 1948. The study of materials on European and world history in the national archives was a sort of alternative or solution to this limitation. (See Křížová, “Iberoamerikanische Studien”. On the history of outmigration from the Czech Lands to Latin America, see the volumes from a series of conferences organized by the Centre of Ibero-American Studies: Opatrný, Emigración centroeuropea a América Latina I–IV. There are other valuable collective volumes and monographs, such as Prutsch, Das Geschäft mit der Hoffnung.

14 This was not in any way exceptional. For instance, several studies included in the collective monograph concerning the Norwegian migrants to Latin America indicate patterns of social and economic behavior similar to those prevailing among the labor migrants from the Czech Lands in the same area: Saether, Expectations Unfulfilled.

15 Zdeněk Fafl, an employee of the Trade and Commercial Chamber in Prague who in 1910 took an inspection journey through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile stated that “many Czechs in Brazil pass as Germans and many as Poles” (Perutka, “Jižní Amerika,” 1069).

16 The institute was established in 1928 as a state-supported but independent organization the aim of which was to maintain contacts with expatriate communities and individuals of Czechoslovak origin living abroad. The documentation, which often reaches back to the pre-1918 period, at present is held in the National Archive of the Czech Republic. See Brouček, Krajané a domov.

17 Puskás, “Hungarian Overseas Migration,” passim, and also Yans-McLaughlin, “Metaphors of Self in History.” The value of the family photographs as a source for the study of overseas mobility and the fabrication/maintenance of individual, family and group identities was discussed in an excellent article by Da Orden, “Fotografía e identidad familiar.”

18 I took inspiration from the highly regarded monograph by Fernando Devoto, who also sought to combine analytical and narrative, micro- and macrohistorical approaches (Devoto, Historia de la inmigración, 12).

19 Brouček and Grulich, Domácí postoje k zahraničním Čechům, 10.

20 The problematic distinction between permanent and temporary migrants was dealt with by Bovenkerk, The Sociology of Return Migration, 10–13. And, as shown by Fernando Devoto, even arriving at a simple definition of the “migrant” is problematic, much as it is problematic to distinguish this type of newcomer from “foreigners,” “travelers,” and “passengers” (Devoto, Historia de la inmigración, 20–42).

21 See the migration typology of Bade, Emigration in European History, x–xi.

22 Migration to America as “labor strategy” is analyzed by Borges, Chains of Gold.

23 Jetmar, “Hrst úvah o Argentině a české inmigraci,” 9–10.

24 On mortgages and loans, sometimes excessive and burdensome, taken out by those opting for sojourns in America see the report of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, October 1, 1930 (NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33).

25 Lukešík was later interviewed by mail by the members of the Czech Foreign Institute, (NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33. Lamentably, the documentation is neither properly catalogued nor paginated.) Josef Grygar, a miner from Ostrava, went to Argentina in 1906, apparently under the influence of Ferdinand Missler, the dominant agent for the traffic to Argentina from the Czech Lands. Later, he denounced Missler’s characterization of the opportunities that awaited him as deceptive propaganda. “Missler […] lures so many people to work, and there is no work for these thousands. And the ships are bringing more and more. […] Some people have been here for a long time and would like to go home to their families.” Grygar himself never saved enough to return home to his wife and son. (His letters were edited by his grandson: Grygar, “Osudy rozdělené oceánem,” 334. On Missler, see Opatrný, “Propaganda y contrapropaganda.”)

26 On these “birds of passage,” see Vázquez-Presedo, “The Role of Italian Migration.”

27 In his groundbreaking 1960 essay, Frank Thistlethweite argued for the interdependence of transatlantic and other migrational activities and the need to consider them as a complete whole (Thistlethweite, “Migration from Europe Overseas”). For later elaborations, see Steidl et al, European Mobility; for a complex depiction of migrations within Europe, see Moch, Moving Europeans.

28 Blau, Böhmerwälder Hausindustrie und Volkskunst, 193, mentions these “bricklayer-maids” (Maurermädchen). On Czechs in Vienna, see Steidl, Auf nach Wien! Similar patterns existed in other parts of Europe. See Borges, Chains of Gold and Holmes, Cultural Disenchantments.

29 The results of the survey were published in Mitteilungen des Statistischen Landesamtes. Hermann Zeitlhofer compared seasonal mobility from the Czech Lands and Friuli, “Zwei Zentren temporärer kontinentaler Arbeitsmigration;” on the whole phenomenon of seasonal migration from the Czech Lands see Zeitlhofer, “Bohemian Migrants.” The outpouring of inhabitants from these regions was noted by contemporaries: Korčák, Vylidňování jižních Čech.

30 Kořalka and Hoffmann, Tschechen im Rheinland und in Westfalen.

31 Again, I made use of a term used for the analyses of present-day migrations, in this case by Elrick, “The Influence of Migration,” 504–05.

32 The importance of the stage model of migration opening the way overseas is noted by Baines, “European Labor Markets,” 46–47.

33 One such case is mentioned by Dubovický, “Krajanská kolonie Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña,” 149.

34 Ibid., 142.

35 In the fonds of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute in the National Archives two notebooks are preserved with the title “Deník. Cesta do Jižní Ameriky, 1930” [Journey to South America, 1930]. Under the entry on March 18, 1930, the anonymous author resumed the interviews with fellow passengers. “Two Moravians. Both have families. Don’t plan to stay in Argentina, they want to earn money and return. One of them has built a house and another has bought one. So, they need money. How and where they don’t know and don’t care much. ‘We will see.’”

36 The bricklayer Vincenc Mlček offers the following recollection: “All of us wanted to earn some money to found a family and come back in two or three years. But the reality was different.” Mlček himself spent 25 years in Argentina, returning to the mother country only in 1946. His memoirs, written after his return to Czechoslovakia in 1945, were edited by his son: Mlček, Vzpomínky na Argentinu, 139.

37 For a detailed discussion of the problem of unqualified migrants, see Hyža, Zpráva o cestě do Jižní Ameriky, 1927, NA, fonds ČÚZ, box. 33, f. 48. Hyža was sent by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Social Welfare to gather information about the potentials of successful emigration and also to propagate Czechoslovak exports. In his report, he conveyed the warnings of fellow countrymen in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil against coming as a dayworker given the “competition from Italians, Spaniards, and Southern Slavs.” He argued instead for the transfer of specialists in fields such as smiths, lathe operators, locksmiths, and foundrymen (f. 48), all professions in great demand in the rapidly expanding states of South America. A similar statement is found in Kresta, Stát São Paulo, 86. Again, the author names the sought-after professions: “locksmiths, electronic technicians, smiths, carpenters, bricklayers,” etc.

38 For example, Brazilian printers and newspaper publishers sought lithographers and were willing to pay for their transport, see the article “Čeští litografové v São Paulo,” 7.

39 Křížová, Za velkou louži, passim.

40 Hyža, Zpráva o cestě, NA, fonds ČÚZ, box. 33, f. 57.

41 Čech-Vyšata, Patnáct let v Jižní Americe, 56. There were oil fields in Austrian Galicia, where many of these miners got their first experiences in this industry (see Frank, Oil Empire). The standing of the Czech and Moravian laborers in the Argentinian oil fields was similar to that of the Norwegians described by Bjerg, “Male Narratives from the Margins of the Country”: fatigue, long working days, anxiety, frugality, social isolation, scarcity, and untidiness.

42 Letter of Václav Čermák, September 25, 1932, sent to the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, NA, fond ČÚZ, box 33.

43 Vaníček, Republiky řeky La Platy, 138. On the export of machinery for beer brewing from the Czech Lands see Novotný and Šouša, “La malta de Bohemia en América Latina.”

44 Perutz, “O hospodářském významu Argentiny,” 691.

45 On migration from Croatia to Chile, see de Kuzmicic, Inmigrantes croatas a través del siglo XX; Pajovic, “La emigración yugoslava a América Latina.”

46 The life story of Mikš has become part of local historical memory. See the interview with Mikš’s grandson Jan Mikš on the webpage of the brewery in Rychnov.

47 Information of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, May 1, 1930, NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33.

48 However, in his report Hyža warned young women interested in such occupations that work conditions were burdensome, with no protections whatsoever against the caprices of employers and immediate dismissals from service and no form of social insurance. (Zpráva o cestě, NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33; the same stated the information concerning the employment of Czechoslovak maids, sent by the ambassador in Buenos Aires to the Czechoslovak Foreign institute, August 28, 1937, NA, fond ČÚZ, box 33).

49 Memoirs of one of the governesses: Čvančarová, Na tvrdém úhoru. There were similar trends among other ethnic groups: see, for example, Frid de Silberstein, “Immigrants and Female Work in Argentina,” 195–217.

50 Kodýtková, 21 let v Argentině, 11. In 1887, the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Exterior warned unaccompanied young women not to travel to South America ( Agstner, Von Kaisern, Konsuln und Kaufleuten, 112).

51 Report from the Czechoslovak Embassy in Buenos Aires to the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, March 10, 1930, NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33; see also Vyhnanovský, Cestovní pasy a vystěhovalectví, 230.

52 According to Čech-Vyšata, who spent only one night in the “Hotel de Inmigrantes” in the port of Buenos Aires, the food was disgusting; also, about eighty men were lodged in one room, and “instead of sleeping, until the break of day we were busy hunting various kinds of vermin” (Čech-Vyšata, Patnáct let v Jižní Americe, vol. 1, 22).

53 Brouček and Grulich, Domácí postoje k zahraničním Čechům, 17.

54 Jetmar, “Hrst úvah,” 11.

55 Solberg, Oil and Nationalism in Argentina, 39, stated that of a total of 1,700 workers and supervisors in Comodoro Rivadavia in 1919, only 3 percent were Argentinian citizens; many of the foreigners did not speak Spanish. (There is a table stating the percentages of various nationalities; however, the Czechs disappear in the mass of “Austrians.”) On the general context, see Kaplan, “La primera fase de la política petrolera,” 775–810.

56 Bielik, “Zo života Slovákov a Čechov v Patagonii, ” 150.

57 Report by the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, November 1, 1929, NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33.

58 Jetmar, “Hrst úvah,” 55. Three decades after Jetmar’s note, a report of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute of March 15, 1931 warned that “intellectuals have no prospects whatsoever in Argentina” (NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33).

59 Hamáček, “Brazílie,” 58. More than twenty years later, the report by Hyža mentioned the absence of any reciprocal treaty between Czechoslovakia and Argentina that would enable the paying out of insurance for a worker who was gravely injured at work to his relatives in Czechoslovakia (Zpráva o cestě, NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33, f. 123). The Czechoslovak Foreign Institute also warned repeatedly that “there is no organized social service in Brazil, nor are there labor unions which would strive for the improvement of workers’ organizations” (NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 35).

60 This was the case of Antonín Neugebauer, who left for Brazil in 1886 and then moved to Montevideo. Between 1887 and 1889, he lived and worked in Buenos Aires, where he helped organize the German-speaking workers with the intention of founding of one of the first laborers’ associations in the country, Vorwärts (Forward). He returned home in 1889. See Klíma, “Antonio Neugebauer.”

61 Urban to the Czehoslovak Foreign Institute, January 25, 1934, in NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33. A report of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute of May 1, 1930 noted that there is only a slight minority of Czechoslovak migrants to South America who have “at least some command of Spanish. Language skills are limited to German for Czechs and Hungarian for Slovaks” (NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33). In 1905, Jan Jetmar recommended to those traveling to Argentina to learn Spanish beforehand, but stated that it was possible to find one’s way around using German (Jetmar, “Hrst úvah,” 55).

62 Ibid., 14–15, commenting specifically on the case of Argentina.

63 Jan Jetmar, quoted above, at the beginning of the twentieth century stated on Argentina: “The wages are good, or measured against ours excellent, […] but it is necessary to consider also the increase in the price of all life necessities” (Ibid., 15).

64 Matěj Poláček bought a house for his daughter and partly financed the purchase of a house for his grandson, while rebuilding his own, “all by honest and dutiful work.” (The commentary on Poláček’s financial situation, written by his daughter at the end of his memoir after his death, was not included in the edition at the request of the family members. Thus it remains only in the manuscript version.) Also, the letters that were to be delivered via the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute to South America (and apparently never were, as the originals remained in the archive) include mentions of land purchases with the “American” money (NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33).

65 Smutná and Smutný, Keď som sa já z mojho kraja do Ameriky zberal, 15. This edition of approximately twenty folk songs from southern Moravia dealing specifically with short-term work mobility was edited recently, but composed mostly at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and collected around the 1950s by local amateur ethnographers who lamentably did not include much information concerning the sources of the published texts. Puskás noted in the case of Hungary that “there is hardly a story, hardly a local legend of America that’s does not make reference to the dollars sent home” (Puskás, “Hungarian Overseas Migration,” 396).

66 Author’s interview with descendants of Matěj Poláček, recorded on April 20, 2017.

67 Wyman, Round-Trip to America, 189.

68 A case study from Slovakia by Bielik, “Slovak Images of the New World,” proves the impact of letters from America on the expectations of prospective migrants. Analyses of correspondence have contributed in an important way to our understanding of motivations and the initial images the migrants had of the New World, as well as their later changes of opinion: among others, Da Orden, Una familia y un océano; Eduardo Ciafardo, “Cadenas migratorias e inmigración italiana.”

69 For example, Župan, Pepánek nezdara, vol. 1, 126–28. For an overview of these folkloric traditions, see Pavlicová and Uhlíková, “Vystěhovalectví do Ameriky.”

70 Čech-Vyšata, Patnáct let v Jižní Americe, 5–8.

71 Lewitt, The Transnational Villagers.

72 On the importance of chain networks in the emergence of permanent and temporary expatriate communities in the New World see Krebber, “Creed, Class, and Skills.”

73 On the similar situation in Hungary, see Puskás, “Consequences of Overseas,” 394.

74 Smutná and Smutný, Keď som sa já z mojho kraja, 21.

75 Public lecture of Rostislav Kocourek, employee of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, “Rodiny vystěhovalectvím rozdělené,” for the “Workers’ Radio,” February 3, 1931, transcript in NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 33.

76 Vyhnanovský, Cestovní pasy a vystěhovalectví, 305.

77 Puskás, “Consequences of Overseas Migration,” 398–400.

78 Letter of December 23, 1929, written by a woman, but only identified by the postal address “Cyril B., Březce u Olomouce,” NA, fonds ČÚZ, box 30.

79 Poláček, Za velkou louži, 123–27, on the purchase (and subsequent sale) of the property in Argentina; passim for the frequent praise of “our dear, beautiful Czech land.”

pdfVolume 7 Issue 2 CONTENTS

International Architecture as a Tool of National Emancipation: Nguyen Cao Luyen in French Colonial Hanoi, 1920–1940*

Ulrike von Hirschhausen
University of Rostock
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* This paper is the revised form of a lecture given at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest on April 5, 2017, as part of its lecture series “Current Approaches to Global History.” Many thanks go to Dr. Judit Klement and Dr. Krisztián Csaplár-Degovics, who stimulated thoughts about globalizing cities and also made my stay in Budapest at the time of the demonstrations in support of the Central European University a wonderful experience of collegial friendship. I am also deeply indebted to the anonymous reviewer from the Hungarian Historical Review for his or her critical reading and very helpful ideas.

This paper takes the city of Hanoi as an example in order to explore the potential of global history with regard to the urban context. It argues that the specific conditions of French urban planning made international architecture, not indigenous traditions, a tool of national emancipation in the 1930s and 1940s. The colonial administration of France in Indochina became increasingly concerned with integrating vernacular elements in its colonial architecture in order to visualize a policy of assimilation. This “Indochinese Style” was clearly seen as part of an imperial repertoire of power to which Vietnamese architects were opposed. Most of them, as the professional biography of Nguyen Cao Luyen illustrates, therefore considered contemporary architecture, as the International Style, to be an appropriate tool to reengineer a colonized society in the direction of national emancipation. When the French assigned a large area in southern Hanoi exclusively to the Vietnamese, this “New Indigenous Quarter” turned into a laboratory of international architecture that the emerging Vietnamese middle-class regarded as a means of practicing global modernity. Only the interconnectivity of the local, the imperial and the global realm helps us to better understand why at the local level internationalism appeared in Hanoi to be the appropriate tool for designing a national future.

Keywords: colonialism; Hanoi; architecture; international style; urban planning; empire.


French colonialism in Hanoi was particularly concerned with urban planning. In 1900, the city, located in the north of Vietnam, became the capital of France’s newly conquered territories in Southeast Asia, termed French Indochina and roughly including the present-day areas of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. A French presence needed to be created visually in order to assert political domination over the territory against indigenous revolts as much as to demonstrate reformist attitudes towards the Vietnamese in a field considered a less overtly disciplinary form of colonial rule. The bulk of current research on Hanoi’s built environment has followed well-known assumptions of colonial rule as an effective power, which reconstructed the inner city as a French capital, neglected traditional housing of the Vietnamese and enforced ethnic separation between the Vietnamese and the European—primarily French—population.1 This, however, seems to partially reflect long-standing and unquestioned ideas of empire-building as a process planned in Western metropoles, forcefully implemented by colonial élites and resulting in a rather static geography of power between the colonizers and the colonized. The critical New Imperial History that is currently emerging questions this notion by focusing on the ambivalent and changing mutual relationship between the colonizers and the colonized in order to open a new understanding of both their diverse agencies in “making and unmaking” empire. This way, the historic entanglement of peripheries and centers, which historiography has often treated in isolation, also becomes visible. Attributing greater weight also to indigenous actors who were bridging these spaces sharpens our sensitivity to the outcome of the colonial encounter as an interactive phenomenon without neglecting the unequal distribution of power upon which it is based.2

Cities have not constituted a major field in which historians have tested such premises, whereas social scientists are particularly concerned with the emergence and governance of global cities today.3 This article takes the built environment of the colonial capital of Hanoi as an exemplary field in which imperial, colonial and national actors used architecture as a strategy to initiate and enforce their frequently contradicting and sometimes overlapping visions of political power, economic hierarchy and cultural identity.4 The Vietnamese Nguyen Cao Luyen (1907–1987) exemplifies a group of indigenous architects. By tracing his imperial biography in the 1930s and 1940s, the activities of these men who were eager to realize their visions of Hanoi’s urban design and city planning in the face of colonial hierarchy and ethnic segregation will be explored. I argue that the specific condition of French urban planning made international architecture, not vernacular traditions, a tool of national emancipation. This thesis builds on two points. First, France’s colonial administration became increasingly concerned with integrating regional and local traditions and elements in its colonial architecture in order to visualize a policy of assimilation. An “Indochinese style” emerging from these efforts was clearly marked as part of an imperial repertoire of power that indigenous architects opposed. Second, some of these architects, including Nguyen Cao Luyen, therefore considered the International Style that had reached its heyday in Paris, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago and Tokyo during the late 1920s and 1930s to be the appropriate tool to reengineer a colonized society. Rather than a reinvention of indigenous traditions, adapting to and reinterpreting global modernity would strengthen their program of national emancipation and future autonomy. Practicing global modernity as a prerequisite for these aims for them meant selecting and converting principles of contemporary avant-garde architecture and adapting them to the local context of Hanoi. A sufficient explanation for these policies, which they considered to be anti-colonial, needs to take three dimensions into account: the colonial environment of Hanoi as well as the metropolitan influences of Paris that Nguyen Cao Luyen had experienced as an intern with Le Corbusier as much as the global trends of the International Style that in the mid-1930s were practiced selectively on a worldwide scale. The interconnectivity of these realms—the local, imperial and global—helps us to better understand why at the local level of Hanoi, internationalism appeared to be the appropriate tool for designing a national future.

An “Indochinese Style” as a Repertoire of Power

City planning and urban architecture became an object of change after World War I. Various factors were responsible for shifting attitudes of both the French colonial administrators and Vietnamese élites in Indochina. In Paris, debates over colonialism had taken on a new tone in the French parliament. Politicians demanded visible attention to the needs of the colonized and started to replace the former leitmotif of “assimilation” with the term “association” as a means of managing ethnic diversity in the colony. Concealing the hard fact that the unequal distribution of political power and military force had remained intact, they advocated a softer policy of taking ethnic identity, indigenous traditions and geographic factors into account in order win greater support from the indigenous population.5 This seemed even more necessary in the face of ongoing revolts against French colonial rule after World War I, in which more than 100,000 Vietnamese had served without gaining more participation at home.

These new politics of “association” were increasingly intertwined with urban design in Hanoi. An influential colonial actor eager to translate the political strategy into local architecture was Ernest Hébrard (1875–1933), who arrived in Hanoi in 1921 to head the new Town Planning and Architecture Service.6 Hébrard had worked in Thessalonica and Athens, where he had realized plans to protect the historic districts and developed futurist “world city” projects. Although a well-trained Beaux-Arts architect by education, Hébrard took a keen interest in developing new forms of regional architecture that the colonial government was in turn eager to use for political purposes. During his years in Hanoi, Hébrard implemented civic buildings combining indigenous traditions with modern techniques of construction and material that were at the same time adapted to the climatic conditions of Hanoi. The “Indochinese style” became particularly evident in his Colonial Ministry of Finance built in 1927, which today serves at the home of the Foreign Ministry of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Comparable to colonial approaches in Cambodia, Tunisia or Morocco, this regional architecture, often an eclectic mix of diverse cultures within and beyond the colonial borders, remained a product of the French. Only French architectural theorists seemed to Hébrard capable of discerning and building upon the true character of Vietnamese culture and, correspondingly, only French architects were commissioned to implement their vision of the Vietnamese vernacular in the center of Hanoi.




Fig. 1. Ministry of Finance (1927), designed by Ernest Hébrard7


Integrating indigenous traditions in this colonial architecture went hand in hand with segregating the urban population according to race. Hébrard, as most city planners of his time, advocated racial segregation as a necessary constituent of colonial urbanism. The reasons for such segregation, which almost all colonial city planners endorsed, were related to hygiene, security, surveillance and racism.8 In an article “L’urbanism en Indochine,” published in 1928, Hébrard argued in favor of an ethnic topography of the city while realizing that mutual interest often eroded this colonial zeal:


La ville est divisé en: quartier de commerce genre européen et indigène; quartier d’habitations, européen et indigène; quartier des garages, quartier des chantiers, ateliers, petites industries et usines. Il est souvent de quartiers européens et de quartier indigènes, et certains pourraient croire à une spécialisation absolue et penser que des zones devraient être rigoureusement traces pour éviter tout contact pouvant devenir dangereux. En Indochine, les groupements sont distincts, mais si très rarement les Européens habitant les centres indigènes, par contre des Indigènes aisés vivent souvent dans les centres européens.9


Constantly comparing the French methods of controlling colonial societies with those of the British and the Dutch, Hébrard advocated the expansion of land-use zoning in order to enforce strict racial and environmental controls, which, however, were never officially implemented in Hanoi.

In 1926, Hébrard founded a new Architectural Section at the École Beaux Arts d’Indochine at which he hoped to further develop a modern regional architecture as a stabilizing factor underpinning the French régime. The more practical purpose of the colonial administration behind Hébrard was to recruit the much-needed draftsmen, subordinates and technical assistants for the French governmental architectural service. The five-year curriculum of the Architectural Section combined study of Vietnamese traditions with that of Western architectural theories and practices. It became supplemented through surveying and sketching civic buildings of the French, both those in the Beaux-Arts tradition and those in the new “Indochinese style,” such as Hébrard’s Ministry of Finance as well as Vietnamese temples, pagodas and ordinary houses.

Unintended by Hébrard—and even less by the colonial government—the new school spread ideas rather contrary to its original task. The concepts of European and American avant-garde architects increasingly swept into classrooms and lectures and created new models that extended far beyond the Beaux-Arts tradition, Art Deco or French ideas of an “Indochinese style.” The key reason for this unintended outcome was that the interwar-war period, during which around 50 Vietnamese students graduated from the new school, was one of the most stimulating moments in the history of twentieth-century architecture and urban-planning theory. In Dessau, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe developed ideas of Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of arts”) unifying art, crafts and technology at the German Bauhaus. In the United States, Frank Lloyd Wright created buildings emphasizing simplicity and an organic adaption of the environment in contrast to the ornate architecture prevailing in Europe.10 Most influential for the Vietnamese students at Hanoi’s Section was probably Le Corbusier’s activity as a theorist and architect in Paris. Le Corbusier proclaimed a new aesthetic devoid of any traditional references, oriented toward function and driven by technological development. Although Le Corbusier’s manifesto Vers une architecture, published in 1923, was not part of the curricula, the likelihood that the young French teachers whom Hébrard hired from France circulated and discussed this manifesto with their Vietnamese students is very high.11 Moreover, the publications of the Congrès International d’Architecture (CIAM) radiated worldwide and found repercussions in the colonies.12 In 1932, a year before one of the school’s graduates, Ngyuen Cao Luyen, left for Paris to work as an intern with Le Corbusier, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held an exhibition of “modern architecture.” The show was accompanied by a book entitled The International Style with which Nguyen and his fellow students, as later articles regarding him verify, were fully familiar.


Fig. 2. Lecturers and students, among them Nguyen Cao Luyen, from the École des Beaux Arts, Hanoi, in the 1930s13


These global trends of how to express modernity in urban architecture increasingly became a topic in the classrooms of Hanoi’s Architectural Section. Here they overlapped and mixed with Vietnamese interpretations of modernity fostered by the activities of teachers like Victor Tardieu. Tardieu was a progressive architect from Paris who had been a key promoter of an Architectural Section at the École Beaux Arts d’Indochine since the early 1920s. When the school finally opened, he taught students who studied there to strive in their work for the same standard as in the metropole (“égaler la qualité métropolitaine”), thereby undermining Hébrard’s demarcation of cultural difference between center and periphery as well as the administration’s interest in maintaining a social hierarchy within Indochina’s colonial society.14

Taken together, the French colonial government founded the Architectural Section at Hanoi’s École Beaux Arts with the primary purpose of creating and promoting a new modern “Indochinese Style” that would serve as a tool of imperial rule and produce subordinates and technical assistants for governmental service. Deviating from these expectations, the school turned into an institution at which both French and Vietnamese discussed radical concepts of modern architecture and their capability to reengineer human societies. This was to have unintended consequences for Hanoi’s colonial society and urban built environment in the 1930s.

Nguyen Cao Luyen between Hanoi and Paris in the 1920s–1940s

Nguyen Cao Luyen, one of the 50 Vietnamese graduates of the Architectural Section at the École Beaux Arts d’Indochine, participated actively in all these discussions.15 Coming from an educated middle-class background, Luyen had early on engaged himself in informal Vietnamese associations that promoted ideas of affordable housing production and fostered an endogenous architectural work beyond mere transfer. Immediately following his graduation in 1933, the 26-year-old Luyen departed for Paris to work as an intern with August Perret and Le Corbusier. This stay in the imperial capital had a formative influence on his biography, both as an architect and as a political activist.

In Paris, Luyen was able to approach two leading representatives of modern architecture, one conservative and one radically progressive. Luyen spent the majority of his internship working at the office of August Perret (1874–1954). In the 1930s, Perret was one of the most acclaimed and booked architects of both the French bourgeoisie and the government and was responsible for the design of many civic buildings. Perret argued that contemporary architecture must represent metaphysical principles of construction, thereby legitimizing a return to classical forms while using modern materials, above all reinforced concrete.16 The success of Perret’s neoclassical architecture certainly had an influence on Luyen as some of his later Art Deco designs suggest. Luyen’s own work in Hanoi, however, points rather to the lasting influence of Le Corbusier (1878–1965) who, in stark contrast to Perret, used sociological arguments as the emergence of a new mass culture and urbanization to legitimize his architecture and its potential to standardize. The English, French and German sources used for this article do not indicate how long Nguyen Cao Luyen worked as an intern at Le Corbusier’s atelier, but new research on the latter’s co-workers sheds light on Le Corbusier’s recruitment pattern.17 In the early 1930s, despite his increasing global reputation, Le Corbusier was constantly in depth, had no state commissions at all, quarreled constantly with his clients and paid almost no salary to his interns and fellow architects. Nonetheless his pioneering role in the new “international” architecture attracted a wealth of young, ambitious architects from Europe, Latin America, Japan and India, mostly of middle-class background, who were eager to work in his atelier at the Rue de Sèvres even without salary. Ngyuen Cao Luyen’s background from a Vietnamese middle-class family certainly contributed to making an unpaid internship with Le Corbusier possible.

The key aspects of Le Corbusier’s programmatic architecture, which engaged Luyen and many other young architects at the time, were emphasis on the geometric line as a regulating principle, a complete independence from historical context, the necessary combination of technology and architecture, the primacy of function and the use of new material such as steel, glass or concrete, among others.18 The “International Style,” a synthesis of design concepts from many primarily French, German and American architects, shared many of these claims and became a global export good that was particularly visible through the joint work of these architects within the International Congress of Architecture (CIAM). It was further promoted by Le Corbusier’s extensive publications of his own oeuvre, which he marketed on a worldwide scale. The time Nguygen Cao Luyen spent at Le Corbusier’s office on Rue de Sèvres, which was full of young architects from all over the world, had similar repercussions. The few texts we have from Luyen after he left Paris in 1933 indicate his preference to contribute actively to the “International Style” that he had studied in Hanoi on a theoretical basis and with which he became acquainted on a practical basis in Paris. In an article for the journal La Patrie annamite in 1937, co-authored with others, Luyen reflected on their formative experiences and the future tasks of the Architectural Section at the École Beaux Arts d’Indochine, arguing that “certain étudiant architectes affirment que le point de vue primordial de l’École est des former des artistes indochinois. Mais les étudiants ont plus d’ambition, ont-ils ajouté, c’est de posséder l’esprit d’artiste . . . c’est de pouvoir se comparer aux artistes étrangers.”19

The French capital in these very years was a laboratory for modern architecture that provided Nguyen Cao Luyen with a wealth of professional stimulation regarding how to translate “international modernism” into his own work as an architect working in Hanoi. At the same time, the imperial metropolis attracted migrants and exiles from various colonies of the French empire and beyond, many of whom became politicized during their stay in the imperial center.20 It is this second, social and political dimension of Paris as a “hotbed of anti-imperialism” that helps to further explain the later activity of Ngyuen Cao Luyen in Hanoi both as an architect and as a political activist.

When Luyen arrived in Paris in early 1933, he came to a metropole that was bursting with “men without a country.”21 The huge number of colonial subjects recruited by the French army to fight in World War I was a key reason for their unintended presence in Europe following the war. Moreover, labor demands in the metropole attracted growing numbers of North Africans and West Africans over the subsequent years. The permissive political climate of Paris differed starkly from the colonial situation back home with its strict censorship, violent restriction of public opposition and discriminatory practices in places such as Algeria, West Africa and Indochina. This added to the attraction of the metropole particularly for educated and politicized colonial subjects who were often deported to the center by the colonial governments.22

The anti-colonialist outlook, which in many cases had already been a reason for the frequently forced departure of the migrants from the colonies, intensified through mutual exchange and communication. A letter written by a Vietnamese student in 1927 documents the importance of mutual contacts and learning for the formation of an anti-imperial perspective among Vietnamese: “Since my departure from home, I have come to think much about the situation of my country. [. . .] There is now in France a small number of Vietnamese who constitute a part of the country and who, benefiting from the situation here, have undertaken its defense. I believe it is my duty to take part in that defense.”23

The idea that learning from the West in political, cultural and economic terms and applying these ideas and concepts to the modernization and political independence of their own nations was a recurrent theme in all anti-colonial discourses worldwide. However, the close mutual contacts within the narrow space of the Quartier Latin, where most of the Vietnamese students lived, intensified these perspectives because each migrant was now able to compare his individual experience of colonialism with that of other colonized men. This experience, which Nguyen Cao Luyen also had in Paris, contributed to understanding his situation less as a singular “colonial” fate than as a part of an “imperial” system. Some of the Parisian migrants, such as Ho Chi Minh in the 1920s, drew the conclusion that inter-ethnic solidarity—such as that experienced at the local level in Paris—needed to be translated into a global solidarity of anti-imperialists. Others, such as Nguyen Cao Luyen ten years later, felt encouraged to apply “modernism” as a tool of national emancipation to their professional work at home. The idea of modern architecture being instrumental for social progress was an overarching theme for all protagonists of the International Style and the Bauhaus movement alike. Upon his return to Hanoi, Luyen translated the social agenda of European architects into a national cause seemingly more applicable to the colonial context. Two years after returning to Hanoi from Paris, he co-founded the association Ánh Sáng (“Lumière”) with the aim of coordinating practical measures of intellectuals in Hanoi’s social sector. The society soon embraced a broad spectrum of engineers, journalists, writers, artists, architects and doctors, which numbered around 3,000 members by 1940, who used their respective professional expertise as a means of national emancipation from French rule.24

The Parisian experience, altogether, marked a central moment in Nguyen Cao Luyen’s imperial biography. In professional terms, he acquainted himself with the architectural movement of “International Modernism,” learned how to implement it into reality and started to reinterpret its agenda for the built environment at home. In political terms, the exposure to a city brimming with immigrants from other colonies stimulated new ways of seeing the imperial order and its possible demise. Colonial Hanoi in the 1930s and 1940s became the theater for putting these global inspirations into local practice.

International Architecture in Hanoi’s Indigenous Quarter

Immediately following his return from Paris, Nguyen Cao Luyen, together with a partner, Hoàng Nhu Tiêp, founded Hanoi’s first architectural office that was run completely by Vietnamese. The chances of implementing modern concepts of urban architecture in Hanoi’s center seemed to be dim. The French colonial government invested heavily in public infrastructure and civic buildings, but did not commission indigenous architects with public works. However, the consequences of colonial urbanism, including racial segregation, created an unexpected niche in the residential market that indigenous architects like Luyen used to their own benefit. The development of the “New Indigenous Quarter” in southern Hanoi shows how concepts of international architecture permeated a zone assigned only to the indigenous population.

Since 1900, Hanoi’s French administration had set aside a large area in the southern part of the city to serve as a Vietnamese residential district. Since the inception of the project in 1902, the area was called the “New Indigenous Quarter.”25 Land acquisition implemented in order to privatize and subdivide the land met with ongoing resistance among the poor and migrant population that lived on the periphery of the colonial capital. Therefore, in 1928, only one-third of the entire area accommodated solid houses, while two-thirds of the area served as the site of so-called Paillotes and huts made of light material. The municipal council stopped tolerating this situation the same year, evacuating the poor and offering land to the growing number of wealthier and educated Vietnamese who were interested in leaving the overcrowded merchant city in the center. In accordance with the colonial hierarchy, actual ownership of the new plots would remain with the French, while the Vietnamese could gain access to them only under a lease agreement with the municipality. By the 1930s, the French administration realized that it had to abandon the idea of controlling and delimiting actual ownership in the private real-estate market after realizing that only full private ownership would have the desired effect of populating the Indigenous Quarter with middle-class Vietnamese families. To qualify for purchase, potential future owners had to satisfy considerable financial conditions and needed to be reliable taxpayers and legitimately married. The above conditions restricted the plots of land to members of the emerging Vietnamese middle-class who in turn preferred to commission Vietnamese architects, in particular the graduates of the Hanoi Architectural Section. For a variety of reasons, the consequences of racial segregation as a constituent of colonial rule helped international architecture become a dominant feature of Hanoi’s Indigenous Quarter.

First, the new owners—educated Vietnamese, young traders or second-tier civil servants who often maintained a staunchly national perspective—wanted to have their status and outlook adequately reflected in a modern, contemporary architecture. They clearly associated the “Indochinese Style” that characterized many civic buildings in the center with colonial architecture. Moreover, the outdated eclecticism of this architecture failed to symbolize the social progress they were making, while its association with the French empire was in no way attractive for this bourgeoning, nationally orientated group. Therefore, the “Indochinese Style” was largely rejected by the very Vietnamese whom it was designed to represent.26 Nguyen Cao Luyen characterized the remoteness that he, his fellow-architects and clients alike felt toward any construction of an imagined Vietnamese vernacular: “Il faut assouplir son esprit et allier son art au gout du public. [. . .] Il faut être très libéral, il faut être élastique en art. [. . .] Il faut dégager le caractère primordial de chaque style. L’architecture, ce n’est pas de la théologie.”27

Second, members of the new Vietnamese middle-class who could afford their own house in the Indigenous Quarter instead preferred a style devoid of any imperial association that was shared by urban élites worldwide. This was a key reason for which they embraced contemporary architectural trends such as Art Deco or the brand new International Style, neither of which carried any imperial connotations or conveyed an overly French character. Particularly the International Style that renowned offices such as that of Luyen and Tiép offered their clients was associated with global modernism. To participate in this global movement was also a sign of social progress as a prerequisite of national autonomy. Internationalism as a means of nationalism was a strategy that Nguyen Cao Luyen observed as a growing pattern: “La plupart de nos élèves, une fois sortis de l’École, croient faire oeuvre d’indépendance […] les architectes, bien entendu, avec le moindre effort, construisent des édifices semblables à ceux que l’on construit en Amérique ou en Scandinavie.”28

Third, being relegated to the margins of the colonial capital unexpectedly resulted in a flourishing new market for Vietnamese architects, developers and builders who became largely independent from the city’s colonial administration. The prolific output of Nguyen Cao Luyen’s office shows how indigenous architects used this very situation to their own benefit. Between 1934 and approximately 1945, Luyen, Tiép, Dúc built around 200 villas primarily in the Indigenous Quarter as well as several churches and temples and a variety of shops. They also collaborated closely with the French administration on a number of social housing projects. Their office offered a broad spectrum of styles corresponding to the tastes of their customers, specializing in Art Deco and the International Style. This exemplary villa (see fig. 3), built for a Vietnamese doctor in the late 1930s, used the Art Deco style with barely any reference to indigenous traditions.

Fig. 3. Villa designed by the office of Luyen, Tiép and Dúc, late 1930s29

Fig. 4. “Compartiment,” Luyen Tiép, Dúc, late 1930s, Hanoi30


Luyen worked above all on his own interpretation of the International Style, particularly through the “Compartiment,” a new type of townhouse that he built for customers. The key vocabulary of international modernism with its focus on the regulating power of geometric lines, cubic forms and a flat roof, constituting a break with the historical context, is clearly recognizable in this example (see fig. 4), built in Hanoi in the 1930s. Fine horizontal lines as a décor underlined the importance of geometry, inside corridors provided for the functional segregation of rooms and small pillars created shady outdoor places adapting to the local climate while at the same time using one of Le Corbusier’s favorite elements.

Nguyen Cao Luyen developed a reputation through his buildings that soon transcended the racial segregation that existed in architecture and urban planning. In 1940, the French general governor commissioned him to design the new interior architecture of the governors’ palace. In 1945, Luyen joined Ho Chi Minh’s first communist cabinet as a vice minister in the newly created ministry of architecture.


Colonial Hanoi thus became a location at which both French and Vietnamese protagonists used architecture and urban planning as a strategy to enforce their political, economic and cultural agendas. The colonial administration promoted an “Indochinese Style” that attempted to translate indigenous traditions into the colonial architecture as part of the new French politics of “association.” The Architectural Section that the French founded in 1926 at the École Beaux Arts d’Indochine should implement this goal by training indigenous clerks and assistants. Unintentionally, the school turned into an institution at which students discussed global concepts of contemporary architecture that peaked worldwide in the late 1920s and 1930s. Nguyen Cao Luyen, one of the school’s graduates, personally experienced these concepts while working as an intern with Le Corbusier in Paris. The French capital at the same time functioned as a “hotbed of anti-imperialism” fostered through mutual contacts and networks of students, workers and migrants from various French colonies. Colonial Hanoi became the theater for putting these ideas into practice when the colonial policy of racial segregation set aside a vast area in southern Hanoi to meet the residential needs of the Vietnamese middle-class. Instead of adopting the “Indochinese Style,” which Vietnamese owners, developers and architects alike associated with colonial rule, they favored the International Style associated with global modernism and shared by urban élites worldwide. In turn, the “New indigenous Quarter” at the margins of the colonial capital developed into a laboratory of international architecture that the Vietnamese middle-class also saw as a means of national emancipation from the colonial régime.



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Collins, Peter. Concrete: The Visions of a New Architecture: A Study of August Perret and His Precursors. London: Faber & Faber, 1959.

Cooper, Fred. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Cooper, Nicola. “Urban Planning and Architecture in Colonial Indochina.” French Cultural Studies 11, no. 1 (2000): 75–99.

Freigang, Christian. Auguste Perret: Die Architekturdebatte und die “Konservative Revolution” in Frankreich 19001930. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2003.

Goebel, Michael. “‘The Capital of Men without a Country’: Migrants and Anticolonialism in Interwar Paris.” American Historical Review 121, no. 5 (2016): 1444–67.

Goebel, Michael. Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Hébrard, Ernest. “L’Urbanisme en Indochine.” In L’Urbanisme aux colonies et dans les pays tropicaux, vol. 1, edited by Jean Royer, 278–98. La Charité-sur-Loire: Delayance, 1932.

Herbelin, Caroline. “Des HBM au Viet Nam: La question du logement social en situation colonial.” Mousson 13–14 (2009): 123–46.

Herbelin, Caroline. Architectures du Vietnam colonial: Repenser le métissage. Paris: CTHS-INHA, 2016.

Hirschhausen, Ulrike von. “A New Imperial History? Programm, Potenzial, Perspektiven.” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 41, no. 4 (2015): 718–57.

Howe, Stephen. “Introduction: New Imperial Histories.” In The New Imperial Histories Reader, edited by Stephen Howe, 1–20. London: Routledge, 2010.

Jeanneret, Charles-Édouard. Vers une architecture. Paris: Crès, 1923.

Kym, Nguyen Van. “The French Model.” In Hanoi: City of the Rising Dragon, edited by Georges Boudarel and Nguyen Van Ky, 47–73. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

Labbé, Daniel, Caroline Herberlin, and Quang-Vinh Dao. “Domesticating the Suburbs: Architectural Production and Exchanges in Hanoi during the Late French Colonial Era.” In Harbin to Hanoi. The Colonial Built Environment in Asia 18401940, edited by Laura Victoire and Victor Zatsepine, 251–71. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

Logan, William S. Hanoi: Biography of a City. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2000.

Mazur, Linda. “Nguyen Cao Luyen (1907–1987).” Tap Chí Kîen Trúc [Architecture Magazine of Vietnam Association of Architects] 6 (2015) c.

Mumford, Eric. The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 19281960. London: MIT Press, 2002.

Muscheler, Ursula. Gruppenbild mit Meister – Le Corbusier und seine Mitarbeiter. Berlin: Berenberg, 2014.

Nightingale, Carl H. Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Passanti, Francesco. “The Vernacular, Modernism, and Le Corbusier.“ In Vernacular Modernism: Heimat, Globalization, and the Built Environment, edited by Maiken Umbach and Bernd Hüppauf, 14156. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Riehl, M. Vers une architecture: Das moderne Bauprogramm des Le Corbusier. Munich: Scaneg, 1992.

Sassen, Saskia. The Global City: New YorkLondonTokyo. Princeton University Press, 1991.

Vann, Michael G. “Building Colonial Whiteness on the Red River: Race, Power and Urbanism in Paul Doumers’s Hanoi, 1897–1902.” Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques 33, no. 2 (2007): 277–304.

Wright, Frank Lloyd. Europe and Beyond. Edited by Anthony Alofsin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Wright, Frank Lloyd. Schriften und Bauten. Berlin: Mann, 1997.

Wright, Gwendolyn. “Indochina: The Folly of Grandeur.” In The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism, 161–233. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

1 See Wright, “Indochina: The Folly of Grandeur”; Logan, Hanoi; Kym, “The French Model”; Cooper, “Urban Planning and Architecture in Colonial Indochina”; Vann, “Building Colonial Whiteness on the Red River”, 290, ft. 40.

2 See, e.g., Cooper, Colonialism in Question; Howe, “Introduction: New Imperial Histories;” Ballantyne, “The Changing Shape of the Modern British Empire and its Historiography;” Hirschhausen, “A New Imperial History?“

3 See Sassen, The Global City; Bain, Urbanization in a Global Context.

4 For a prime example of the new approaches moving away from the mutual exclusivity of colonizers and colonized, see Herbelin, Architectures du Vietnam colonial. In a similar vein, see the following short article: Labbé, Herberlin and Dao, “Domesticating the Suburbs”.

5 See Logan, Hanoi, 97f.

6 See Herbelin, Architectures, Chapter 2, “Ernest Hébrard et la recherche d´un rationalisme indochinois,” 68–84; Logan, Hanoi, 99–109.

7 For photo, see Logan, Hanoi, 100

8 See also Nightingale, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities.

9 Hébrard, “L’Urbanism en Indochine,” 284, 285.

10 See Wright, Schriften und Bauten; Alofsin, Frank Lloyd Wright.

11 See Jeanneret, Vers une architecture; Riehl, Vers une architecture.

12 For information regarding the congress, see Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928–1960.

13 Photo by the Hanoi architect Nguyen Van Ninh printed in Mazur, “Nguyen Cao Luyen, (1907–1987).”

14 See Herbeline, Architectures, 85–98.

15 For Ngyuen Cao Luyen, see Mazur, “Nguyen Cao Luyen, (1907–1987);” Labbé et al., “Domesticating the Suburbs,” 254 ff.; Herbelin, “Des HBM au Viet Nam;” Herbelin, Architectures, Chapter 3.

16 See Collins, Concrete: The Vision of a New Architecture; Freigang, August Perret.

17 See Muscheler, Gruppenbild mit Meister.

18 See, for example, Benton, Le Corbusiers Pariser Villen aus den Jahren 1920–1930; Passanti, “The Vernacular, Modernism, and Le Corbusier.”

19 Quoted in Herbelin, Architectures, 122–23.

20 See this argument in Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis; for the following quote see ibid, 5.

21 Baldwin, “The Capital of the Men without a Country,” 460; quoted in Goebel, “‘The Capital of Men without a Country’”.

22 For the ethnic composition of Paris, see Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis, 23f. In the early 1930s, approximately 13,000 North Africans and West Africans, 7,000 Vietnamese, including 700 students, and 4,000 Chinese lived in the Greater Paris area.

23 Letter by Truong Quan Thuy, February 1927, quoted in Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis, 139f.

24 See Heberlin, Architectures, 124–29.

25 See above all Labbé et al., “Domesticating the Suburbs.”

26 See Herbelin, Architectures, 110: “A côté des colonisé, ce style coûteux,, utilisant des références élaborées, empruntées à la tradition savant, ne connut pas de véritable succès . . . cette architecture incarnait en effet difficilement les aspirations de la classe moyenne et de la bourgeoisie vietnamienne. Celle-ci préfère se tourner vers la moderne plus cosmopolite des oeuvres des architectes vietnamiens de l’EBAI conçues à partir des années 1930.”

27 Dào Quang Vy, “Enquête sur la jeuneusse annamite,” La Patrie annamite 60 (1936); quoted in Herbelin, Architectures, 122.

28 See the footnote above.

29 For photo, see Heberlin, Architectures, 117.

30 For photo, see ibid.


pdf Volume 7 Issue 2 CONTENTS

The Formation of Global Tourism from an East-Central European Perspective

Sarah Lemmen
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article traces the formation of tourism to non-European regions from the late nineteenth century to the end of the interwar period with a focus on its East-Central European and specifically its Czech perspective. Tourism to Africa and Asia—considered here to be the culmination of “global tourism” in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century—has been generally regarded as part and parcel of the imperial endeavor: empire shaped both the infrastructure and the practice of overseas tourism. By focusing on Czechs as “non-imperial” tourists to non-European regions, this article traces their travel experience as defined by different coordinates: no imperial identity would determine their behavior abroad, and no reasoning of economic nationalism would favor the visit to certain world regions over others.

Following an overview of the globalization of tourism and its interconnectedness with the imperial project, this article focuses on the specifics of Czech tourism to non-European regions. Some specifics have very practical implications, such as the language skills that generally catered rather to a Central European than a global environment, or the average travel budget that was lower than that of travelers from Germany, Great Britain or the United States. Others suggest a Czech identity that was drafted in contrast to the imperial “other” and outside the colonial dichotomy of “rulers” and “ruled.” While Czech travelers profited from a strongly imperial tourist infrastructure, they often professed a general skepticism toward imperial rule.

Keywords: travel; tourism; globalization; East-Central Europe; Czechoslovakia; empire; Africa; Asia

The “Golden Age of Travel” in East-Central Europe

In 1932, Vladimír Hýl, a young teacher and cultural critic from the Czechoslovak city of Ostrava, displayed an unwavering belief in modernization when he formulated a history of advancing means of transportation that would enhance tourism around the globe:

In modern times, the world is shrinking and [thus] enables everyone to get to know her. Distances are soon to be meaningless. While sailing ships still required up to three months to reach America, [and] the first steamship needed fourteen days, [today] the fastest steamship manages the distance in five days and the airplane in eighty hours!1

From today’s perspective, even the stated flight time seems incredibly high and thus lets us continue this narrative of increasing speed and global density up to the present. Yet, this quote highlights the rapid change of overseas travels starting with the first passenger ocean liner launched in 1838, continuing with the faster and more regular ocean liners from the 1870s onward, and passing on to the first transatlantic passenger flight from southern Germany to New Jersey in 1928—only a short couple of years before Vladimír Hýl described the shrinking of the world in such enthusiastic terms.2

The rapid development of the means of transportation, both in travel time and mode as well as in the regions covered, led to a globalization of tourism that by the late nineteenth century had reached all continents and was soon to be criticized for producing a global “mass tourism” to destinations such as Cairo or Aswan.3 Although in his statement Vladimír Hýl was overly optimistic in his assessment that just about “everyone” could go and see the world, he did catch the zeitgeist of the interwar period as a time when even long-distance travels were slowly opening for a growing middle class. Trips to see the pyramids of Egypt, the exotic bazaars of Tunis and Algiers, the famous Buddha of Kamakura or the Taj Mahal in Agra had come into reach for growing social strata not only in London and Paris, but also in Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

This article traces the formation of tourism to non-European regions from the late nineteenth century to the end of the interwar period with a focus on its East-Central European and specifically its Czech perspectives. There are good reasons for the concentration on this region. The globalization of tourism, as the inherent claim suggests, affected virtually all world regions. But it did not affect all of them in the same way. And while around 1900 it was more likely for a European to embark on a leisure trip to India than for an Indian to explore Europe, it was also more likely for a member of British society to travel overseas than it was for a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy or, during the interwar period, of one of its successor states. Local customs, economic capital and political power played a role in choosing travel destinations, in finding travel accommodations and not least in interpreting and understanding travel experiences. This article will focus on the local appropriation of global processes—or “glocalization”4—when examining Czech tourism to non-European regions in this “golden age of travel” from the late nineteenth century and throughout the interwar period.5 By doing so, it will challenge some general assumptions on the relation between tourism and imperialism.

Tourism to Africa and Asia—as will be considered here the culmination of “global tourism” for the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century—has been generally regarded as part and parcel of the imperial endeavor. Research on the entanglement of tourism and empire has strongly argued the case that overseas tourism evolved in the wake of imperial outreach, while at the same time reinforcing imperial power.6 The building of infrastructure—railroads, shipping lines—in regions of imperial influence helped create efficient and safe tourism in locations that had been difficult to reach, while tourist infrastructure and its main protagonists —Thomas Cook & Son and others—became central financial and political players overseas, reinforcing imperial interests.7

At the same time, the entanglement of tourism and empire was also reflected in the practice of tourism. Focusing on tourists mainly from Great Britain—not only as the country with the largest overseas empire at the time, but also as the “inventor of tourism”—and from other empires, numerous studies show that these “imperial tourists” were coined by the imperial experience while at the same time they were given a vital role in (direct and indirect) empire building.8 For one, “empire tourism”—e.g. visiting destinations inside the empire—was the common way of traveling, both because imperial tourists may have had stronger ties to these places, but also because imperial tourism was strongly promoted for both economic reasons and in support of imperial identity. Touring the Empire therefore was denoted for British travelers as “buy British, see British, travel British, parade British,” and was part of enforcing imperial power and maintaining the existing world order.9 Travel destinations, choices of travel mode, and behavior on location were affected by an imperial identity and controlled by an imperial network. Looking at it from a reverse angle, travel experience was also tainted by the imperial: while imperial tourism offered a glimpse of the exotic, it was also embedded in a familiar context, as British currency and foods, customs and social routines were “available to British tourists across the Empire, especially in port cities and colonial capitals.”10

To be sure, “imperial tourism” was not the only option for British travelers, although certainly the most frequent one.11 Research has suggested, however, that imperial identity was generally not shed outside the empires, and that the choices and actions of the travelers were indeed imperially informed: independent of their travel destination or motive, it has been suggested, British travelers shared a British imperial mindset, which with “its triumphant rhetoric, [. . .] and colonialist vision [. . .] contributed to ways of seeing the world.”12 Imperial identity, then, coined travel experience and world views both inside and outside the empire.

This concept of “empire tourism” and imperial identity, as historian Gordon Pirie points out, was surely not a purely British phenomenon, but (however in lesser scope and degree) also valid in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.13 In contrast, Czech tourists—as well as those from Hungary, Poland and Austria among others—could not rely on imperial networks and infrastructure overseas or seek the familiar in the exotic.14 This is not to say that Czech—and other non-imperial—travelers were neutral bystanders: they took advantage of the imperial infrastructure and thus, inadvertently, also took part in the European imperial project. They, as much as any other tourist, were part of this form of “un-invited visiting,” of “creating inequality between ‘hosts’ and ‘guests.’”15 For the local populations, therefore, there might not have been a great difference between a Czech and a British traveler, as European travelers generally and inadvertently supported the existing imperial order.16

At the same time, however, the experience of non-imperial tourists was embedded in and defined by different coordinates: no imperial identity would coin their behavior abroad and no reasoning of economic nationalism would favor the visit of certain world regions over others. This would influence both decisions on where and how to travel and the experiences made on location. As the literary scholar Wendy Bracewell has argued, in contrast to British and French imperialist travel writing, “accounts of travel from Europe’s eastern peripheries suggest different relations of knowledge, representation and power, rather less monolithic or polarized.”17 Eastern European travelers, as Bracewell further argues, did not travel in a contextual void, but neither did they adopt all perceptions of the places they visited from Western discourse, as they “may find themselves working with a pre-existing vocabulary of images and stereotypes, but they are far from voiceless.”18 Although certainly not immune to notions of European superiority, East European tourism to non-European destinations certainly did not encounter a familiar environment: The “non-imperial tourist” was dealing with a different set of issues than imperial tourists, some of which were highly practical.

By telling a story of the emergence, development and experience of Czech tourism mainly to African and Asian destinations from the late nineteenth century to the end of the interwar period, I am asking how a world that had been built around imperial interests was appropriated by tourists without any stakes in the empire at hand. While looking specifically at Czech tourists, the underlying question is if (and how) a non-imperial tourism was different from an imperial tourism. In that sense, the arguments and the underlying concept may be valid for other “non-imperial tourists” from Poland, Hungary or interwar Austria.

This article is based to a large part on Czech travelogues published from 1890 to 1938 as well as on articles that were published in contemporary journals and magazines as part of a public discourse on tourism and its importance for the Bohemian lands as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as later for Czechoslovakia. Without access to quantifiable data on Czech tourism abroad, the steady increase in the publication of travelogues as well as the heightened public debates on tourism and the growing number of commercialized package tours to popular tourist destinations give not only an estimate of trends—of tourist destinations, of travel incentives, etc.—but also an evaluation of how tourism was experienced.

The Globalization of Tourism

Travel connections between continents have always existed, in the form of trade relations, expeditions or diplomatic missions. The specific form of long-distance tourism spanning several continents, however, in its understanding as a leisure activity and relying on the predictability of financial and temporal investment as well as a certain comfort, evolved from the European core of tourism during the nineteenth century.19

The eventual globalization of tourism—its outreach beyond the European continent—was strongly connected to the imperial project.20 Tourism—in contrast to the more adventurous and individualistic (as well as more expensive) earlier forms of long-distance travel—relied on favorable political stability and heavy infrastructure: tourism expanded in the wake of what came to be called “railway imperialism.”21 The speed with which the growing railway network soon connected all continents is remarkable, and it changed international and intercontinental relations as well as the means and speed of transportation and forms of control. In terms of tourism, railways not only considerably enhanced the number of travelers, but they also redefined travel destinations, as travelers would follow the train tracks and therefore were less inclined to venture “off the beaten track.”22 In short, railways enabled tourism to non-European regions on a large scale, while at the same time streamlining tourism to certain destinations and certain forms of travel.

Tourism as an Imperial Project

Only some regions outside of Europe or North America had been established as regularly frequented tourist destinations by the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the earliest and most important certainly was Egypt. The vital train connection between the Egyptian port of Alexandria and further inland to Cairo opened for instance already in 1854, reducing the travel time between these two cities from four days to a mere four hours, thereby connecting the Egyptian metropole to a global transport network and enhancing its history as one of the most popular tourist destinations outside Europe.23 This early date also serves as a reminder that British imperialist outreach did not necessarily predate the financial involvement in infrastructure and the advent of tourism, but rode along with its expansion. Muhammad Ali Pasha, governor of Egypt, was quite a driving force himself in the modernization of Cairo and the accommodation of European tourists.24

Other regions central to European interests and eventually to European tourism obtained railroads during the second half of the nineteenth century, intensifying in the last three decades. The railroad system in Africa was concentrated at first mainly in the north, expanding rapidly from Egypt to Algeria and Tunisia. By the turn of the century, the African continent had 20,000 kilometers of railroads, connecting vast regions by regular schedule.25 A similar timeframe can be established for India, which in 1860 only had 1,350 kilometers of railway tracks, while in 1900, this number had increased 25-fold, with the central train connection between Bombay and Calcutta opening in 1870.26 In South America, similar to Australia, railroads were first introduced in the 1850s, although railway construction accelerated only in the 1880s.27 Only few world regions, such as the vast Chinese empire, remained with virtually no railroad network until the turn of the century, a fact that both hints at the limited influence of European imperial powers in China and accounts for the relatively small number of European tourists during the nineteenth century.28

While the advancement of tourism largely followed European imperial outreach, it went eventually from imperial byproduct to establishing its own driving force. Two of the most famous passenger train services exemplify this trend of an increase in catering to a luxurious form of tourism and to well-paying customers: the famous Orient Express connected Paris—and Vienna—with Constantinople beginning in 1883. The Trans-Siberian Railway, built in the years 1891–1914, finally connected Moscow and eventually all of Europe overland with Vladivostok at the Pacific Ocean.29

The railroad network was complemented by the simultaneous establishment of regular travel routes by seaway. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 facilitated the direct connection by sea from Europe to Asia. Direct and regular ferry connections on steamships were introduced from Trieste to Port Said in 1869, Bombay in 1870, Singapore in 1880, Hong Kong in 1880, Shanghai in 1881 and Yokohama in 1892, enhancing the global transportation network considerably.

By geographical convenience, it was quite common to hail from East Central Europe. Not only did the trains to Constantinople or to Russia and then on to East Asia stop in Vienna, in Budapest or in Warsaw; but after the opening of the Suez Canal, the Austro-Hungarian port city of Trieste had become a central hub for transportation to the Southern Hemisphere. In its wake, Austrian Lloyd became the leading shipping company on this route for passenger travel.30

In the span of a couple of decades, European tourism to places such as Cairo, Algiers and Bombay had become both considerably faster and safer, more projectable in terms of time and finances, and last but not least, significantly more comfortable if not outright luxurious. By the late nineteenth century, the “golden age of travel” had been heralded for the European tourist.31

An Empire Equipped for Tourists

This apparent accessibility of the world was celebrated and promoted by the tourist industry. In 1890 a brochure by the travel agency Thomas Cook & Son dubbed Cairo “no more than a winter suburb of London.”32 Less possessive, but implying a similar direction, the Czech travel journal Do světa commented retrospectively in 1932 on the immense pace with which tourism had taken over the world and Czech society in particular:


While less than a quarter century ago, a trip to Venice was considered a large expedition that only those could accomplish who were not only blessed with wealth but also with great courage, today even the members of less affluent social strata are returning from Aswan in Upper Egypt or from [the Algerian] Biskra as if from a short excursion.33

This perception, of course, was not only due to the easy accessibility of foreign shores and to the calculability both of time and financial means, but to the emergence of a wide range of tourist infrastructure of European provenance and—again—in close relation to the imperial project. In colonial and tourist centers, an array of luxury hotels was built, such as the well-known Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo or the Mena-House right at the foot of the Egyptian pyramids.34 Restaurants and cafés with European fare provided for the culinary well-being of the travelers.35 The first office of the British travel agency Thomas Cook & Son in Cairo (opened in 1872) signaled another feat in the history of global tourism, offering package deals to its clients with measured exotic exposure and a heightened degree of security.36 Soon even trips around the world could be booked as a package tour.37 By the turn of the century, as the historian Robert F. Hunter argues, “there were two empires on the Nile—Britain’s military occupation, and Cook’s Egyptian travel,”38 and both profited from one another: tourism had conquered the world.

Another layer of tourist infrastructure soon followed suit: the exploration of long-distance and global tourism to Africa and Asia was soon taken up by prominent travel guides such as the German Baedeker Guides or the British “red books” by John Murray when they took non-European travel destinations into their repertory, with John Murray offering a first decisive list of “must-sees” of Egypt already in 1847, of Syria and Palestine in 1858 and of India in 1859. Karl Baedeker concentrated on non-European regions somewhat later, focusing on Syria and Palestine in 1875 and on Egypt in 1877, but omitted India altogether until as late as 1914—a hint at the different status of India in the British and the German context as well as the role imperial interests played in the choice of travel destinations.39 Another popular series of travel handbooks, the German Meyers Reisebücher, adhered in 1907 to the globalization of tourism with the publication of a “travel-around-the-world guide.”40 Czech tourists, however, had to make due with foreign-language guides for quite a long time: the first Czech-language travel guide to the Near East and North Africa was published only in 1936.41

The impact of this rapid globalization of tourism was immense—on the regions affected by it, on the travelers and on the local population, as well as on the power dynamics between them. A tourist in a fancy hotel or a European café in Algeria or Morocco during the interwar period could only marvel at the fact that less than a lifetime before, until the 1880s, certain North African regions could only be visited “disguised as a Muslim or a Jew,” as a tourist duly noted in 1928.42 In fact, some of the famous expeditions to explore and conquer the “Dark Continent” had taken place only a couple of years before the advent of the tourist: the 1880s still saw the second Africa expedition by Moravian explorer Emil Holub or the Emin Pasha Expedition by Henry Morton Stanley. Shortly thereafter, the adventurous and troublesome expeditions were exchanged for hotels and railroads, the constant uncertainty of exploration replaced by an exact itinerary and precise timetable. The era of the explorer was mostly over—now focusing mainly on the polar regions—and the tourist came to stay.

The Specificity of Czech Tourism

It is self-evident—if under-researched—that long-distance tourism to destinations in Africa or Asia even in its early phase was not limited to British, French or other “imperial tourists,” but was also enjoyed by a growing number of citizens of the Habsburg Empire and its successor states.

Czech tourists were part of global tourism from the very beginning—quite literally, as various travelers confirmed who took trips along railroad lines that had been built only shortly before.43 This experience, however, was limited in access to certain social classes. While extensive data on the quantity and social class of travelers from the Czech lands is not available, a look at the authors of travelogues suggests that until World War I, long-distance travelers from the Bohemian lands generally had an upper middle-class background. The well-known educator and writer Josef Kořenský, also acclaimed to be the first Czech to travel around the world (in 1893–1894), or the lawyer and journalist Jan Josef Svátek are representative travelers of this time both in social and professional background.44 Researchers and pilgrims were among the travelers, but—specific to the Czech case—there were neither members of the nobility nor public servants. The interwar years offered a democratization in tourism. The opening of travel destinations for ever more tourists, the lowering of the prices through competition and the increased catering not only to the higher society, but also to an ever more mobile middle and even lower middle-class enabled larger segments of society to travel abroad and even beyond the borders of Europe.

The expansion of tourism also led to an infrastructure around travel needs in the Bohemian lands and especially in interwar Czechoslovakia. Travel agencies opened in urban centers, such as the travel agency Čedok (founded in 1920), offering package tours abroad,45 while the Brno-based travel agency Do světa advertised three organized trips to Northern Africa and the Near East in 1927 alone.46 Other institutions followed suit to meet the growing demand.47 At the same time, journals and magazines sprang up that catered to the growing interest in travel to foreign countries.48 The tourist infrastructure met growing demand: the travel magazine Do světa discussed in its first edition in 1926 the “significance of [Czech] travel abroad“ and stated confidently: “Our travel activities are increasing.”49

Thus, Czech tourism developed in line with a general European trend to “get to know [the world],” as Vladimír Hýl is quoted at the beginning of this article. For a number of reasons, however, traveling turned out to be different for, say, a Czech teacher than for a British colonial officer, and these differences, I argue, were reflected both in the travel experience abroad and in the discourse surrounding long-distance tourism. The choice of travel destinations and travel mode, the language skills and financial abilities coined the travel experiences. A different mode of traveling than that of “imperial travelers” was noted by the tourists themselves and interpreted from a Czech perspective.

Travel Destinations and Financial Means

British tourists, as has been stated, were encouraged to travel the British Empire. Similarly, for French citizens, “[c]olonial tourism was represented as a duty.”50 While this was not an exclusive model of traveling, it certainly was a recurrent one.51 For Czech tourists, however, there was no “self-evident” travel destination in non-European regions. If we take the corpus of published travelogues as an indicator of popular travel destinations, we can determine, out of a sample of almost 100 Czech travelogues on non-European regions published between 1890 and 1938, the preferred destinations for global tourism.

In many ways, Czech tourists followed the travel routes set by imperial infrastructure, and not least by the recommendations of the widely consulted travel guides by Baedeker or Murray. However, they did not follow any imperial pattern. Egypt was and remained the most often and most regularly visited country throughout the entire “golden age of travel,” relying on the extended tourist infrastructure and fairly easy accessibility as much as on the fame of its ancient tourist sites. A trip to Egypt—which included a longer stay in Cairo and a ride to the pyramids, and often entailed an excursion down the Nile to the sites of Upper Egypt—was sometimes combined with a trip to either Algeria and Tunisia, or to Palestine. In the interwar period, various Asian countries such as Japan, India, China and Ceylon had become popular travel destinations at least for more affluent tourists.

Czech tourists, therefore, traveled to the same destinations as “imperial tourists,” if without the focus on one empire or another. However, they generally had distinct access to them. On average, Czech tourists had markedly less financial means than their British or German counterparts, a fact that clearly influenced their travel experience. The—admittedly fragmentary—data suggests that especially in the interwar period, Czech tourists were strongly recruited from professions such as teachers, university professors, journalists, as well as university students or artists. Not only did these professions come with a rather moderate income—although, almost equally important to long-distance traveling, with above-average vacation time—but, in international comparison, Czech spending capacity was limited. Although the national income of Czechoslovakia was higher than that of neighboring Eastern European countries or of Italy, it was somewhat below that of Austria and Germany and clearly below that of Western European countries or the USA.52 A comparison of incomes of some of the relevant professions in Prague, Berlin and New York for the second half of the 1920s show a distinct difference: while teachers in Prague earned about 1,500 Kčs, those in Berlin earned about twice as much and in New York triple that amount. This ratio applies to the income of university professors as well.53 These numbers suggest that in internationally frequented tourist centers that catered to the needs and means of the “imperial tourists,” the average spending power of Czech travelers was considerably lower than that of tourists from Western Europe or the United States.

Accordingly, a trip to Cairo, and even more so to India or Japan, was still an expensive undertaking for the average Czech tourist. The Brno-based travel agency of Jaroslav Karásek advertised a four-week roundtrip tour to Alexandria, Cairo, Aswan, Luxor and Jerusalem for 17,900 Kčs,54 while a four-week trip to Tunisia and Algeria was offered for 6,750 Kčs.55 Even the less expensive tour was four and a half times the amount of the monthly salary of a teacher in Prague. Especially during the interwar period, Czech tourists often opted for a more cost-effective solution by choosing to travel second class. This travel mode was a common topic in the travelogues. The luxurious grand hotels were generally traded for small boarding houses, the comfort of a first-class passage was rejected for the somewhat simpler second-class transit. The distinction of travelers according to social class and financial means was discussed by Czech tourists, who realized that the luxurious hotels were “adapted to the needs of the upper ten thousand,”56 and catered, as was made explicit, to the budgets of tourists from Great Britain or the United States.57 The Czechs, however, were “the only tourists traveling second class,” as the pioneer in Czechoslovak-Moroccan relations, Jan Kořínek, claimed in 1928.58 The travelogues offer a view of a European two-class society following an East-West divide, with the imperial tourists living the high life in the colonial metropolises, while Czech tourists shared the simple boarding houses with other Central and East European travelers, or as one of the travelers noted in 1935, with “Russians, Jews, [and] Poles.”59

Language Skills and Language Problems

Central to travel preparations was the gathering of information. While travelers from imperial nations could generally rely on published information in their mother tongue and thereby partake in a national discourse on those travel destinations, Czech travelers—and with them many others from “small nations”—had to make due mainly with literature in a foreign language, a situation that changed only slowly in the interwar period.

The main Czech encyclopedia of the time, Ottův slovník naučný (1888–1909), comparable in scope, depth and relevance to the Encyclopædia Britannica,60 gives ample evidence of the language distribution of the available literature at the time. The dictionary entries for “Africa,” “Asia,” and “America,” published in the first two volumes in the years 1888–89, refer to only seven literature references in Czech out of 116 mentioned altogether, adding up to six percent of the cited literature.61 The supplement edition of the encyclopedia from the interwar period consulted literature in Czech to a greater extent. The same dictionary entries now referred in 12 percent of all citations to Czech language publications. The majority of references, however, was still made to literature in German, followed by English and French.62 All in all, the increase of Czech-language literature was embedded in a general increase of specialist publications. While the article on “Asia” in the first edition of 1889 still noted that there were “only very little publications on all of A[sia],” the second edition, published roughly 40 years later, came to the conclusion that “[t]he literature on A[sia] has been increasing lately to such an extent that one can only mention the most important works that either reflect on the entire continent or on large regions.”63

The limited amount of literature on non-European regions available in Czech had practical as well as discursive implications. For one, it was not until the interwar years that a national discourse on those regions could flourish with a regular exchange between experts on these subjects. The travelogues under scrutiny here exemplify this change in their mentioning of preparatory literature. In the late nineteenth century and throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century, literary references were mostly made to publications in German or English. Josef Kořenský, for example, referred mainly to travelogues and academic treatises in English and German in preparation for his trip around the world in 1893/94, referring only to the Czech writings of the Indologist Otakar Feistmantel.64 In 1901, the explorer Enrique Stanko Vráz again mentioned for his preparations of a trip to Siam works by European, American and even Siamese authors, but not a single book in Czech was part of his preparatory reading.65

It was only in the interwar period that the corpus of literature in Czech on non-European regions—both academic studies and travel descriptions—had reached a critical mass that could serve as a starting point for discussion and cross-references, and the amount of coverage varied strongly from region to region. The sculptor František Foit, who in 1932 traveled by car from Cairo to Cape Town together with the botanist Jiří Baum, stated that he had read “everything” that was related to Africa, and listed books by the Moravian explorer Emil Holub along with publications by the US-American film maker Martin Johnson and the French writer André Gide about his travels to the Congo and Chad.66

Only in 1934 could the physician Jaroslav Přikryl in his travelogue about Ceylon and South India refer—in addition to novels by Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling and others—to literature mainly by his fellow countrymen and regional specialists Jiří Daneš (geographer), Karel Domin (botanist), Otakar Nejedlý and Jaroslav Hněvkovský (painters who lived in India for several years and wrote extensively about the country and their experiences there), Otakar Pertold (Indologist), and the explorer and widely published traveler Enrique Stanko Vráz.67

The limited amount of literature in Czech also had very practical implications, as the knowledge of foreign languages determined the accessibility of knowledge about those regions. The Czech school system, however, was focused entirely on Central European needs and traditions: in the Bohemian lands, language education concentrated mainly on German as well as on French in higher education. This focus continued throughout the interwar period. Proficiency in English, on the other hand, was limited to a small minority. In fact, English was not a mandatory school subject throughout the interwar period. The consequences of this educational decision in a global perspective were implied by Bohumil Pospíšil, a frequent traveler to Asia, when he warned in 1935 about the lack of interest in the English language at home and an ignorance toward its growing importance in a globalized world: “English was, is and will be the Alpha and Omega of all success east of Suez and west of Gibraltar. No declaration in French by our academics—[only] half savants in all practical matters—will be able to replace that.”68

Czech Choices in the Face of an Imperial World

In describing and debating their role as tourists in international contexts, Czech travelers reflected on their cultural and national identity and argued for an understanding quite different from that of an “imperial traveler.” It was in this discourse—led both in travelogues and in contributions to journals and magazines—that the Czech identity was drafted in contrast to the imperial (rather than the non-European) “Other,” both in social and in political terms.

A first vector in the discussion of national identity related to considerations on social status. Paired with a moral claim, the prototypical Czech tourist tended to stress his middle-class identity in open contrast to wealth and lavishness, but also to the political power of the imperial traveler. This was strongly linked to the more modest mode of traveling chosen by most middle-class tourists. The decision to stay in unassuming boarding houses rather than in grand hotels, to travel second class rather than first, as discussed above, may have been a financial necessity, but in the travelogues, it was presented as a moral choice. This is most evident in those passages in which Czech tourists write specifically about their choice of the small, yet comfortable boarding house over the luxurious hotels,69 or when a tourist opted for the cheaper mode of transportation, as did the engineer Josef Zdeněk Raušar on his way from Djelfa in Algeria to an oasis lying to the south in 1930. Choosing between two buses with different equipment, he stated that for Czech tourists, “the smaller one, the normal [bus] will do.”70 Other travelers stressed that they chose consciously and “with pride” second- or even third-class tickets for both train and boat passages.71 The specificity and singularity of this way of traveling was emphasized when as early as 1892 another traveler described how he tried to obtain a second-class ticket for the boat passage from Asyut in Middle Egypt up the Nile River—in vain, as it turned out: the captain persuaded him to go first class instead, as “for a European,” anything but traveling first class was inappropriate.72 Other travelers—if only a few—forewent European amenities altogether, as the writer Bohumil Pospíšil, who during his trip to China in 1935 stayed at local hostels, and explicitly called out this breach of expected behavior for European travelers when he stated that he “reduced the reputation of the white race” by living “like a native.”73 The refusal to accept certain norms as laid down for the imperial traveler, and therefore ignoring the maintenance of power as expected of metropolitan tourists, was frequently emphasized by various Czech tourists.74

This general insistence on traveling second class allowed a second interpretation that usually connected this form of traveling with a widespread topos in Czech national self-perception during the interwar period, namely its democratic identity, strongly linked with the topos of a “small nation.”75 In the travelogues, the Czech “democratic principle” (demokratičnost)76 was argued as a world view that held all people as equal. More than once did this idea come up in a debate over a ride in a rickshaw; arguing that a “democratic” Czech should not be pulled by another human being, as Karel Cvrk noted in 1923 on his trip through Ceylon: “A Czech, who is used to equality-liberty-fraternity, is usurped by a strange feeling when here in Colombo he is supposed to be pulled by a man.”77 In the same year, but this time in Japan, the journalist František Václav Krejčí commented similarly about a rickshaw runner that “it is contrary to our Czech democratic principle to see a man doing the work of a horse for us.”78 In these quotes, an understanding of democracy and equality that encompassed all men across the globe was highlighted as an inherent feature of Czech nationality.

Finally, colonial life—the social etiquette of the European upper classes in imperial centers—was distinctly criticized. Czech tourists noted not only the strict dress codes for Europeans that seemed inadequate for the local climate, but also the restrictive social rules that prohibited even superficial contact between men and women in public, or the tediousness of colonial life.79 The sculptor František Foit noted in 1930 with some annoyance on his trip from Cairo to Cape town via the British-dominated city of Omdurman in Sudan that “nothing is allowed, everything is guarded and there is a fake morale everywhere.”80

This general skepticism toward local practices of European behavior in China, in Egypt, or in Algeria—though not necessarily shared by all travelers—was quite a common feature in Czech travelogues and is traceable beginning in the late nineteenth century until the end of the interwar period. This did not, however, imply a fundamental criticism toward imperial outreach or colonialism as such. Rather, the legitimacy of European involvement abroad was only rarely discussed and even less criticized; the political status quo was rarely questioned. This might be somewhat surprising as, since the late nineteenth century, the Czech national movement had been strongly based on an anti-Habsburg sentiment that declared the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to be a “prison of nations” and therefore phrased itself often as oppressed. Only to a limited extent would this interpretation influence the perspective of European imperial involvement abroad.

Generally, most tourists acknowledged the benefits of modernization for the purpose of travel in vast regions of Africa and Asia, and connected these to the influence of the European imperial powers: railroads, tourist infrastructure and technology were clearly marked as a European influence on otherwise “medieval”81 or backward regions of “silence, sadness and hunger.”82

In the end, it was an in-between position that was taken by most travelers, who neither went “native” nor identified wholly with the imperial powers. As the zoologist Jiří Baum confessed in 1933:


The Czech nation can probably only sympathize with the natives, who were deprived of independence and the right to self-determination by the colonial governments, but on the other hand it is hard to dismiss that it is more comfortable to travel in all those world regions where the higher positions are held by Europeans.83


The “golden age of travel” saw the expansion of European tourism to most continents. The spread of the railroad network and tourist infrastructure in many ways streamlined travel as it created transportation hubs and tourist centers in certain parts of the world while others were—for the time being—left aside. Imperial endeavor was the motor of this homogenizing development, and in many cases it coined destinations, transport and lodging as well as food, rule and etiquette. Tourist infrastructure in colonial or imperial settings largely catered to “imperial travelers,” offering the familiar in the exotic while avoiding the “uncomfortable immersion in non-European cultures.”84

Non-imperial travelers, however, could not access all the infrastructure and especially the identity politics connected to “imperial tourism.” As generalized as some of the arguments had to be—not all British travelers were supporting imperial interests, not all Czech tourists were opposed to a higher level of comfort—the argument could be made that a different relationship to imperial power influenced the practices and experience of traveling in an imperial context, and therefore offered a different appropriation of these global processes. Economic means, language skills and access to knowledge influenced the choice of travel destinations as well as the travel mode: Czech tourists often shunned the luxury hotels and the elegant social events and rather opted for the less costly pension or boarding house and chose a second-class ticket instead of first class for their voyage. However, these choices were not based purely on economic considerations. Rather, the travelogues suggest a cultural argument, as they were debating the suitability of behavior abroad in the light of national identity. The self-understanding as a democratic and largely middle-class nation seemed for instance to demand the choice of simple, second-class travel. This also entailed a certain skepticism toward imperial rule, although its benefits for tourism were readily acknowledged, as modernization in the form of railroad tracks and imperialism were viewed as intrinsically linked. This discrepancy was not resolved during the travels. Instead, Czech tourists generally opted to stay outside colonial society and rather associated with fellow compatriots or Central European emigrants who frequented the same hostels or restaurants.

In hindsight, the interwar period turned out to be the most suitable for getting to know the world, as Vladimír Hýl suggested in the quote appearing at the beginning of this article. By the time the “golden age of travel” came to an end just before World War II, the coordinates of travel had shifted, changing from leisure to flight. Some of the most popular tourist destinations on the African, Asian and American continents now became safe havens for those lucky enough to escape Central Europe. The postwar era saw new milestones in the history of public transportation, but it did not, however, see an upsurge in intercontinental tourism. By the time Mr. Hýl had turned 50 years of age in 1948, flying had become a frequent mode of traveling across the Atlantic, with its duration reduced to a mere 15 hours. At the same time, however, he might have had a hard time getting a travel permit: in the face of increasing political tensions, travel across the descending “Iron Curtain” became highly curtailed and strongly controlled. Freedom of movement was regained only in 1989, though is now again restricted mainly by economic means.



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1 All translations by the author. Hýl, Ze tří dílů světa, 150.

2 This article is based on research for the following book: Lemmen, Tschechen auf Reisen.

3 The following travelogues were among those in which contemporaries commented on the growing number of tourists to non-European locations: Matiegková, V objetí sfingy, 58–59; Nordan, “V zemi pyramid,” 585. The history of European tourism beyond Europe is reflected in Withey, Grand Tours and Cook’s Tours, especially Chapters 8–10.

4 Robertson, “Glokalisierung.”

5 Gregory, The Golden Age of Travel.

6 As an example of general agreement on the entanglement of “tourism and empire,” see the round table discussion among leading historians published in the Journal of Tourism History. Baranowski et al., “Tourism and Empire,” 1–2, 100–30. For further literature cf. footnote 8.

7 Cf. Hunter, “Tourism and Empire.”

8 From a growing literature, see as examples Berghoff, Harvie, Korte, and Schneider, The Making of Modern Tourism; Canton, From Cairo to Baghdad; Clifford, “A Truthful Impression of the Country;” Dupée, British Travel Writers in China; Lowe, Critical Terrains; Nash, From Empire to Orient; Youngs, Travellers in Africa; Furlough, “Une leçon des choses;” Martin, “German and French Perceptions.”

9 See Gordon Pirie’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 106.

10 Ibid.

11 James Canton suggests that travel and travel writing were so intricately linked that even the number of published travelogues on certain regions were in correlation to the outreach of the British empire. Canton, From Cairo to Baghdad, 2.

12 Barkan, preface in Dupée, British Travel Writers, here viii. Research on British travel has generally concentrated on the long nineteenth century, mostly setting aside the question of how long-distance tourism changed during the interwar period, when the social composition of long-distance tourists was slowly changing to a broader range of middle- and upper-class representatives. Conceptual research on travel abroad during the interwar period, however, seems to suggest that imperial outreach was still a vital driving force. Foregoing the British empire in favor of other world regions, cf. for example, Skwiot, “Itineraries of Empire”; Furlough, “Une leçon des choses,” 443.

13 Pirie’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 106. For the French case, cf. also Furlough, “Une leçon des choses,” 443.

14 Travel and tourism in the Czech lands and the First Czechoslovak Republic is a growing research field, although tourism outside Europe (and many European tourist destinations) have not been sufficiently researched yet. Michael Borovička, Cestovatelství; Rychlík, Cestování do ciziny v habsburské monarchii; Štemberk, Fenomén cestovního ruchu. Post-1945 tourism is contemplated in Mücke, Šťastnou cestu . . . ?!. As an example of a popular tourist destination abroad, see Tchoukarine, “‘The Sea Connects,” 139–57. Other Central European histories of tourism include Keller, Apostles of the Alps; Haid, “‘Eternally Will Austria Stand’.” Judson, “‘Every German Visitor’.”

15 Shelley Baranowski’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 117.

16 It is not surprising, then, that—as has often been noted—for locals the nationality of the foreigner was quite irrelevant, and therefore, as Edward W. Said stated, “the non-European [. . .] saw the European only as imperial.” Italics in the original. Said, Culture and Imperialism, 196.

17 Bracewell, “The Limits of Europe,” 65.

18 Idem, “East Looks West,” 15.

19 The difference between a “traveler” and a “tourist” has already been stated by contemporaries throughout the nineteenth century, using “tourist” pejoratively as inferior to “traveler” both in status and in class terms, as John K. Walton summarizes: tourists were seen as “following guidebooks to experience prescribed sensations in shallow ways which were inferior to the deeper insights of the independent and better-educated traveler.” Walton, “British Tourism Between Industrialization and Globalization,” 113. In contrast, tourism here is understood as a cultural rather than a moral category, referring to kinds of leisure travel that rely on organization, predictability and affordability for a broader social stratum and adhere to a certain performance and social behavior in the realm of the given infrastructure of hotels, railways and travel guides. For an overview of the establishment of tourism throughout the world, see Withey, Grand Tours.

20 See the discussion on this special relationship by Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire.”

21 A term and phenomenon that is discussed in detail in Davis, Wilburn, and Robinson, Railway Imperialism.

22 Buzard, The Beaten Track.

23 Abu-Lughod, “The Origins of Modern Cairo,” 433.

24 An overview of the early history of tourism in Cairo—and the role of Muhammad Ali in its onset—appears in Anderson, “The development of British.”

25 Rossberg, Geschichte der Eisenbahn, 135.

26 Brailey, “The Railway-Oceanic Era.” Cf. also Sethia, “Railways, Raj and the Indian States.”

27 Rossberg, Geschichte der Eisenbahn, 168–86.

28 China had only about 650 kilometers of railroads by the turn of the century. By 1910, this number had increased more than tenfold, though it was still small in relation to the size of the empire. Rossberg, Geschichte der Eisenbahn, 117; Spence, In Search of Modern China, 310–12. Specifically concentrated on the impact of imperial ambitions of European powers for Chinese railroad planning is Otte, “‘The Baghdad Railway’;” Davis, “Railway Imperialism.” Worth reading is Urbansky, Kolonialer Wettstreit.

29 Stolberg, “Auf zum Pazifik.”

30 For a first (and colorful) overview of the history of the Austrian Lloyd company, see Winkler and Pawlik, Der Österreichische Lloyd.

31 Gregory, The Golden Age of Travel.

32 Quoted from Withey, Grand Tours, 262.

33 [o.A.], “Význam cestování v cizině,” 1.

34 Mayer, Egypt, 116.

35 British influence on restaurant cuisine was especially noticeable throughout the world (and beyond the borders of the empire), though not to everybody’s delight. In the interwar period, a Czech traveler to Japan noted: “English cuisine is so similar anywhere in the world that the menus in Africa, India and Japan are almost identical.” Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 41.

36 Hunter, “Tourism and Empire,” 35–36.

37 Thomas Cook offered trips around the world once a year beginning in 1872. By the 1890s, these trips included Australia and New Zealand. Withey, Grand Tours, 284 and 292.

38 Hunter, “Tourism and Empire,” 44.

39 Goodwin and Johnston, “Guidebook Publishing in the Nineteenth Century;” Hauenstein, Wegweiser durch Meyers Reisebücher; Hinrichsen, Baedekers Reisehandbücher, 163–66.

40 Wislicenus and Floeßel, Weltreise; Hauenstein, Wegweiser durch Meyers Reisebücher, 148–53.

41 Businský and Štrunc, Balkán, Palestina, Egypt.

42 Jan Kořínek writes how the Czech nature researcher Enrique Stanko Vráz in the years 1880–1883 could only travel in the clothes of a Moroccan Jewish man through Morocco. Kořínek, Maroko, 9.

43 The author František Klement went by train from Jaffa to Jerusalem only one year after this railroad line had opened in 1894. During the same year, Jiří Guth boarded a train in Algeria on a connection from Constantine to Algiers that had been introduced only shortly before. Klement, Z Jaffy do Jerusalema, 60–61; Guth, Na pokraji Sahary, 35.

44 As examples of travelogues in which the authors also describe their modes of travel, see Kořenský, Cesta kolem světa 1893–1894; Svátek, V zemi Sv. Kříže. For information about Josef Kořenský, see Kunský, Česti cestovatelé, 125–29.

45 Štemberk, Fenomén cestovního ruchu.

46 Cf. the advertisement in the journal Do světa 2 (1927).

47 For an introduction to tourist infrastructure catering to non-European regions, see Macková, “Turistické kluby.”

48 The magazines Do světa (1926–1927), Širým světem (1924–44) and Letem světem (1926–35) catered to the growing interest in worldwide tourist destinations. Literary periodicals included travel reports on a regular basis, such as Světozor (1904–43) or Zlatá Praha (1884–1929).

49 [N.a.], “Význam cestování v cizině,” 1.

50 Furlough, “Une leçon des choses,” 443.

51 Most literature on travel during this period is, in fact, on imperial travel. An exception is Perkins, “So Near and Yet So Far.”

52 Slapnicka, “Die böhmischen Länder,” 49, and Lacina, Zlatá léta československého hospodařství, 233.

53 Drahomír Jančík gives the following numbers: while a university professor in Prague earned 3,250 to 5,500 Kčs, his colleague in Berlin earned the equivalent of 9,600 Kčs and in New York even 11,200 to 16,800 Kčs. Similar relations are to be found for the teaching profession, with an income of about 1,500 Kčs in Prague, 3,040 Kčs in Berlin and 4,960 Kčs in New York. Jančík, “Vnitřní obchod,” 193.

54 As advertised in 1927: “Naše výpravy. Čtvrtá výprava do Egypta a Palestyny,” Do světa 1/4 (1927): 25–26.

55 “Výlet na Saharu,” Do světa 1/4 (1927): 26–28. Similar prices are given for trips with the Prague-based Klub přátel Orientu [Club of the Friends of the Orient], which in the 1930s offered package tours to the Near East for 6,950 Kčs. Letter to the regional authorities dated July 9, 1935. Archiv hlavního města Prahy [Prague City Archives], Fonds Klub Přátel Orientu 1930–1939.

56 Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 40.

57 Ibid., 26; Domin, Dvacet tisíc mil po souši a po moři, 3, 23; Foit, Autem napříč Afrikou, 74; Mayer, Egypt, 78; Raušar, K palmovému háji, 33.

58 Kořínek, Maroko, 12.

59 Pospíšil, Čínou za revolučního varu, 118.

60 Sayer, The Coasts of Bohemia, 96.

61 [N.a.], “Afrika (výzkumy)”; [N.a.], “Amerika (dějiny)”; [N.a.], “Asie (dějiny objevení),” 875.

62 [N.a.], “Afrika”; [-le], “Amerika,”; [-le.], “Asie,” 294. A more detailed analysis appears in Lemmen, Tschechen auf Reisen, 127–33.

63 [p.], “Asie (dějiny objevení),” 875; [-le.], “Asie,” 294.

64 Kořenský, Cesta kolem světa 1, 421, 472, 474.

65 Vráz, Cesty světem, 190.

66 Foit, Autem napřič Afrikou 1, III.

67 Přikryl, Putování po Cejlonu, 7–8.

68 Pospíšil, Čínou, 164.

69 Doubek, Dvě cesty Spexoru do Afriky a Asie, 31; Foit, Autem napříč Afrikou 1, 17.

70 Raušar, K palmovému háji, 27.

71 Jiřík, K pyramidám, 13.

72 Fait, “Na vlnách nilských,” 9.

73 Pospíšil, Čínou, 4.

74 Shelley Baranowski’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 117.

75 The topos of democracy has been strongly linked to Czech national identity, as Peter Bugge has shown. Bugge, “Czech Democracy 1918–1938.”

76 As used by Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 5.

77 Cvrk, Cestování po světě, 126.

78 Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 5.

79 Especially critical is Foit, Autem napříč Afrikou 1, 140.

80 Ibid.

81 Novák, Indické povidky, 7.

82 The state to which these regions would revert if European influence were to recede, according to one of the travelers, the diplomat Zdeněk Němeček. Němeček, Dopisy ze Senegambie, 125.

83 Baum, Africkou divočinou, 43.

84 Comments by Shelley Baranowski in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 116.