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The Theatrical Landscape of Bohemia and Moravia as a Space of Negotiating Cultural Identities

Final Report Summary - THEATLANDIDENT (The Theatrical Landscape of Bohemia and Moravia as a Space of Negotiating Cultural Identities)

TheatLandIdent examined the German-speaking theatre landscape in the Bohemian lands in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The project aimed to analyse this network of theatres as an important scene for negotiating the cultural identities of the region's German-speaking inhabitants, arguing that the process of 'inventing' this region as a theatrical landscape was an important task in the shaping of the region's cultural identity. Instead of understanding the cultural history of this 'peripheric' region as dependent on developments in the centre, the project turned this colonial viewpoint around to recognise the logic of circulation and cultural mobility as significant factors for the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy's multiethnic and multilingual regions.
After the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, German identity in the Habsburg Monarchy became a concept under negotiation. Theatre played a vivid part in these negotiations – but with an ongoing focus of theatre historians on the metropolises, the theatre life of the provinces remains largely unrecognised. In the 19th Century, especially in smaller and middle-sized towns, theatre had gained an importance that went far beyond its role as a place to stage plays. The bourgeois society that during the process of modernisation relied, in many aspects, on strategies of incorporation and representation, chose theatre as a significant place to negotiate questions of identity and self-representation.
The project analysed not so much theatre in the Bohemian lands, but highlighted the region's construction as a theatrical landscape. To take a close look at the process of this construction, two objectives were pursued: 1) The cultural and social practices that built a network of theatres, municipal communities, directors and actors, and 2) the discourses and narratives that constructed and further pursued that 'invented region'. Discourse analysis and close reading of public debates and archive material provided the methods for the second objective, while a suitable method to pursue the first objective had to be developed during the course of the project. By combining two methodological approaches, one following the discourses and the other tracing the practices, the project avoided the one-sidedness of each of these approaches. The analysis of the cultural practices allowed for a focus on human protagonists who are usually left out by classical discourse analysis (in the end, non-human protagonists also had to be taken into consideration). On the other hand, the analyses of the discursive construction could show how these practices were placed in a major narrative that constructed the region's self-image as theatrical.
The first step was to develop a method that enabled an analysis of the practices of circulation. Starting points were the concepts of the spatial turn, which highlight the fact that space is as constructed as identity, and the recent awareness in Cultural Studies of the crucial importance of cultural mobility. To be able to literally trace the movement of people, texts, and ideas, these concepts were combined with Bruno Latour's Actor-Network-Theory that allows for precise recognition of actual practices. This method was applied and further elaborated through two case studies. The first one looked closely at the circulation of technology, describing the electrification of the Brno theatre in 1882 as the creation of a space where the inhabitants of Brno could make an experience of modernity. The second case study analysed the circulation of about eighty men and women applying for the position as theatre director in Olomouc between 1874 and 1917. This example showed the professionalisation and standardisation of the careers of theatre directors in the latter third of the nineteenth century. It also identified the liminal sphere of the provincial theatres as a space providing women with possibilities and chances in stage directing, an opportunity the theatres in the metropolises didn't grant for another couple of decades. Compared to the initial proposal, the two case studies now are much more focused and far more detailed than previously planned. The main reason for this is the application of Latour's method of following the actors, which led to a dense description that includes many more actors and relations than we would have initially thought.
The project's aim was to lay the methodological ground for a theory of provincial theatre as a scene for negotiating cultural identities in multiethnic regions, thereby contributing to the understanding of these regions and their cultural productivity in general. At the same time, this methodology forms the basis for my habilitation thesis, for which the two case studies constitute the first two chapters. Furthermore, I have laid out the plan for the corresponding book, for which one more case study will be conducted.
The training activities of the project encompassed the teaching of three BA- and MA-courses, the organisation of two PhD-workshops, as well as the presentation of results at conferences.