Concern for Transition During and After Empire: The Local Historical Work of Anton (Antonín) Vrbka, 1890s–1930s.
The regional historical work of historian Anton (Antonín) Vrbka (1860–1939) has not been extensively analyzed in Czech-language historiography, nor examined to any extent in German-language or English-language works on the history of historiography produced in Bohemia, Moravia, or Silesia. Certainly, Vrbka’s Gedenkbuch der Stadt Znaim, 1226–1926 (Nikolsburg/Mikulov, 1927) is often cited in contemporary local-historical publications on Znojmo and southern Moravia, but neither this work nor the rest of his scholarly corpus have been subjected to historiographic critique. As a first step down this path, one must take into account the fact that Vrbka was a practitioner of Heimatkunde and Kulturgeschichte, that he centered his works locally on Znojmo/Znaim and southern Moravia, and that he worked on his topics in what we now call the longue durée. He also wrote predominantly in German before and after the First World War. Yet, this final fact does not seem to have resulted in his intellectual captivity to German nationalist ideals, nor did it mean that he ‘claimed’ the city and region for the German nation as other local German intellectuals and elites did at the end of 1918. Rather, as a historian and museologist, he had an intellectual concern for preserving cultural heritage of this agrarian and multilingual region and narrating its history. In his works, then, ‘the nation’ seems to fall out as a key factor characterizing the culture and development of Znojmo/Znaim and southern Moravia more widely. In his Gedenkbuch, for example, it was rather the intertwined processes of embourgeoisement and proletarianization which Vrbka noted as the particularly salient features marking the region’s then-recent history. While giving most attention to the ways in which Vrbka conceptualized and narrated the character of post-imperial transition at the local level in southern Moravia, this presentation will also widen the frame and ask to what extent he concerned himself with ‘transition’—both as analytic concept and discursive trope—in his prewar work from the turn of the century.