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Changing Places

Society, Culture, and Territory in the Saxon-Bohemian Borderlands, 1870-1946

Caitlin E. Murdock

Publication Year: 2010

Changing Places is an interesting meditation on the varying identities and rights claimed by residents of borderlands, the limits placed on the capacities of nation-states to police their borders and enforce national identities, and the persistence of such contact zones in the past and present. It is an extremely well-written and engaging study, and an absolute pleasure to read. ---Dennis Sweeney, University of Alberta "Changing Places offers a brilliantly transnational approach to its subject, the kind that historians perennially demand of themselves but almost never accomplish in practice." ---Pieter M. Judson, Swarthmore College Changing Places is a transnational history of the birth, life, and death of a modern borderland and of frontier peoples' changing relationships to nations, states, and territorial belonging. The cross-border region between Germany and Habsburg Austria---and after 1918 between Germany and Czechoslovakia---became an international showcase for modern state building, nationalist agitation, and local pragmatism after World War I, in the 1930s, and again after 1945. Caitlin Murdock uses wide-ranging archival and published sources from Germany and the Czech Republic to tell a truly transnational story of how state, regional, and local historical actors created, and eventually destroyed, a cross-border region. Changing Places demonstrates the persistence of national fluidity, ambiguity, and ambivalence in Germany long after unification and even under fascism. It shows how the 1938 Nazi annexation of the Czechoslovak "Sudetenland" became imaginable to local actors and political leaders alike. At the same time, it illustrates that the Czech-German nationalist conflict and Hitler's Anschluss are only a small part of the larger, more complex borderland story that continues to shape local identities and international politics today. Caitlin E. Murdock is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach. Jacket Credit: Cover art courtesy of the author

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol


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pp. ix-x

I first encountered the Saxon-Bohemian borderlands as a Fulbright fellow sent to Chemnitz, shortly after it ceased to be called Karl-Marx-Stadt. People in the United States and even the host family that collected me at the Chemnitz train station asked me what on earth I was doing there. Surely, they suggested, there were better places to be. But in retrospect, few


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-16

“People who live in a borderland . . . know that the frontier gives you a peculiar perspective. You see the influence of two states and cultures come up against one another even as people move back and forth between the two sides,” wrote folklorist Curt Müller-Löbau in his 1920 collection of stories...

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1. Birth of a Borderland

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pp. 17-32

“I still see the great open place in the forest, ringed with vast spruce trees, where we were told that we had crossed the border,” wrote twenty-six-year-old Hans Christian Andersen after his 1831 trip to Saxony and Bohemia.1 Andersen was impressed that a state border, an institution that stood out impressively on maps, appeared invisible—almost irrelevant—on the...

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2. A Region on the Move: Labor Migration and the Rethinking of Space, 1870–1914

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pp. 33-56

In the 1890s, “a colorful crowd peopled the highways,” including “tramps, tinkers, gypsies, players, and beggars”—so wrote August Friedel about his travels in northern Bohemia and southern Germany.1 Czech- and German-speaking Bohemians, Prussians and Saxons, seasonal laborers, factory workers, and skilled craftspeople were crisscrossing the Saxon-Bohemian...

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3. “Every reason to be on their guard!”: German Nationalism across the Frontier, 1880–1914

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pp. 57-80

Between the 1880s and 1914, a new kind of politics emerged in the borderlands. Geographic and social mobility, mass communication, and an expanding political franchise made formal politics relevant to a broader swath of society than ever before. At the same time, they politicized society itself. Social Democrats were the greatest beneficiaries of this new, multi-...

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4. What's in a State?: Citizens, Sovereignty, and Territory in the Great War, 1914–19

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pp. 81-111

In July 1914, central governments in Berlin, Vienna, London, and St. Petersburg launched World War I. Throughout the war, the Saxon-Bohemian frontier remained a military hinterland—the object neither of anyone’s war aims nor of military action. Yet the war devastated the region. It intensified existing economic and political problems; highlighted the weak-...

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5. The Ties That Bind: Economic Mobility, Economic Crisis, and Geographies of Instability, 1919–29

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pp. 112-130

In November 1919, the Saxon district government in Schwarzenberg noted a new ban on cross-border traffic: “With the many exceptional measures that the war and the difficult political and economic situation have made necessary, one comes to accept things that would once have set off a storm of indignation.”1 Cross-border mobility never flowed freely during the war,...

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6. Connecting People to Places: Foreigners and Citizens in Frontier Society, 1919–32

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pp. 131-157

After World War I, frontier people and governments sought new ways to define who belonged to the borderlands. At the same time, they were also determining the borderlands’ geographic and economic limits. The relationship of populations to territories played out in debates over foreign labor, citizenship, cultural practices, and political action. Foreign workers,...

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7. Borderlands in Crisis, 1929–33

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pp. 158-180

The Great Depression destroyed the cautious cooperation that had emerged between Germany and Czechoslovakia, between state authorities and local populations, and among national groups. It propelled nationalists back to the forefront of popular and political debates. It also turned the borderlands into a fault line where the first tremors shook the foundations of the...

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8. “No border is eternal”: The Road to Dissolution, 1933–38

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pp. 181-201

In May 1934, the Sudetendeutsche Heimatbund (SHB), a Sudeten German nationalist organization in Austria and the German Reich, held a conference in Dresden. The closing ceremonies took place in Meissen, in the Albrechtsburg, hung with red and black Nazi draperies. Participants entered the church to find the pulpit decorated with Sudeten German colors; behind...

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Epilogue: Occupation, Expulsion, and Resurrection

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pp. 202-211

Some frontier residents celebrated this Anschluss by attacking the stones that had marked the political border for centuries. But far from endorsing such popular enthusiasm for the grossdeutsche Reich, the Saxon Ministry of the Interior admonished local officials to stop the destruction. The ministry maintained, “Since the homecoming of the Sudeten German areas...


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pp. 213-252

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 253-264


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pp. 265-275

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027019
E-ISBN-10: 0472027018
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117222
Print-ISBN-10: 047211722X

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 4 maps
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol
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OCLC Number: 655258748
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Changing Places

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Subject Headings

  • Bohemia (Czech Republic) -- Politics and government.
  • Borderlands -- Germany -- Saxony -- History.
  • Saxony (Germany) -- Boundaries -- Czech Republic -- Bohemia.
  • Nationalism -- History.
  • Saxony (Germany) -- Social conditions.
  • Bohemia (Czech Republic) -- Social conditions.
  • Saxony (Germany) -- Politics and government.
  • Transnationalism -- History.
  • Borderlands -- Czech Republic -- Bohemia -- History.
  • Bohemia (Czech Republic) -- Boundaries -- Germany -- Saxony.
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