Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

"The end of bread, the beginning of stone": environment, tourism and the Czech reconquest of the Western Carpathians, 1867-1918



Emma Nabi-Bourgois1
1 University of Oxford, UK


While it was clear for nineteenth-century scholars that a region's nature and its people were inextricably connected, modern cultural and historical geography is a new line of enquiry in Habsburg studies. To build a full picture of both subnational identities and nation-formation, we need to investigate geographical conceptualisations of belonging and reframe the nation as a space to be explored and learnt about. This paper examines Czech-language scientific knowledge production about the Western Carpathians and investigates the link between this popular knowledge base, tourism and the (re)conquest of exotic territory. To do so, I draw on a variety of textual and visual sources, such as hiking guides, travel writing, and photographs, which are analysed following an interdisciplinary methodology, including eco-criticism and Paul Readman’s 'associational value' (2018). By studying the ways cultural associations, political actors and private individuals both local and 'foreign' represented and thought of the Western Carpathians, we can make sense of the interplay between identity and geography. By studying the specificities of Czech-language materials on the region, we can not only understand the role that scientific knowledge production and tourism played in assimilating and appropriating exoticised territory, but also challenge the narrative that Eastern European intellectuals simply imported Western movements and ideas, and see how they (co)developed important concepts.