TheatLandIdent aims at analysing the negotiation of cultural identities in a multiethnic and multilingual sphere. It identifies theatre as a major scene of this negotiation in relation to local, regional and national frames of reference, thus questioning the colonial logic of centre and periphery.
In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy during the 19th Century, a German-speaking municipal theatre became a city’s most important institution for proving its contribution to high culture, its modernity and its inclusion in the field of German culture. My main thesis is that the process of modernisation was not a simple cultural transfer from the centre to the so-called periphery. Instead, the Monarchy’s multiethnic regions had their own logic of circulation, thereby maintaining a reciprocally interdependent relationship with the centre. In this relationship, the region of Bohemia and Moravia was ‘inventing’ itself as a theatrical landscape in which the theatres functioned as stepping stones for artists who later became famous in Vienna or Berlin.
My project takes a close look at the ways in which the cities and theatres construed this theatrical landscape. It analyses both the cultural and social practices performed in and between the theatres and the narratives of this landscape. The temporal outline stretches from the Austro-Prussian war in 1866 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. For the Habsburg Monarchy, these two dates mark decisive points for the understanding of German identity which became a concept under negotiation. Nationalism’s pursuit of hegemony downgraded the productive liminal sphere of the multiethnic periphery into a border or frontier region. The historical example of this theatrical landscape helps to better understand how identities are formed through cultural and social practices. TheatLandIdent therefore provides valuable insights for Europe’s current efforts to encourage regional identities across the frontiers of the nation states.
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