A Small Town’s Quest for Modernity in the Shadow of the Big City: The Case of Senj and Fiume
Research Centre for the Humanities
Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 4 (2021):706-736 DOI 10.38145/2021.4.706
Most of the theories concerning modernization and a number of trends in the historiography treat the big city as the most important arena of modernization, an arena which, thanks to our grasp of an array of social and economic transformations, can be made the ideal subject of studies on the processes and consequences of modernization. From this perspective, the small town becomes a kind of abstraction for backwardness, failed attempts to catch up, or a community that simply has remained unaffected by modernization. Thus, the study of the dynamics of modernization in smaller urban settlements from a new perspective which attributes genuine agency to them may well offer new findings and insights. In the historiography concerning the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the recent imperial turn has shown a perfectly natural interest in the peripheries of the empire, as it has striven to untangle the intertwining strands of local, regional, national, and imperial loyalties found there. The research on which this article is based, which focuses on Senj (Zengg), a small seaside Croatian city, is shaped by this dual interest. Senj’s resistance and adaptation to top-down initiatives of modernization can be captured through its conflict with the city of Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia), which is not far from Senj and which before World War I belonged to Hungary. In this story, Fiume represents the “mainstream” manner of big-city modernization: it became the tenth most active port city in Europe over the course of a few decades. The area surrounding the city, however, was not able to keep up with this rapid pace of development. In this article, I present the distinctive program for modernization adopted by the elites of Senj, as well as their critique of modernization. Furthermore, the history of the city towards the end of the nineteenth century sheds light on the interdependencies among the cities of Austria–Hungary, interdependencies which were independent of legal or administrative borders. By analyzing relations between Senj and Fiume, I seek to offer a nuanced interpretation of the conflict between the two cities, which tends to be portrayed simply as a consequence of national antagonisms.
Keywords: anti-modernism, scaling urban modernity, urban history, Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Fiume, Senj