Czech Genealogy: Prelude to Our Next Exclusive Translation
If you have worked on your Bohemian (Czech) genealogy back into the later 1800s you have almost certainly come across the 1895 Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition held in Prague.
The Revolution of 1848 in Bohemia had been crushed by the Habsburgs with their iron fist. While they continued their attempts to annihilate the Bohemian people and their culture their continued a powerful force for a national identity among many of the Bohemian people.
By the later 1800s there was rising interest in folk culture across Europe and in the United States. This combination of latent nationalism and the awakening of the importance of folk culture came together in Prague in 1895 with the holding of the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition.
This exhibition was held from May to October of that year and attracted the astounding number of some 2 million visitors. This event brought together Czech architecture, costumes, handicrafts, performance art, and customs to show off the abilities and talents of the Czech-speaking people of Bohemia and Moravia.
Interestingly, although Bohemia and Moravia were under the thumb of the Habsburg power, this event showcased only things that focused on the ethnic identity of Czech speaking peoples. No German influences. No Austrian influence. Just Czech.
The idea for this Czechoslavic extravaganza was a man by the name of Adolf Šubert who was at the time the director of the National Theatre in Prague. His organizing ‘committee’ was composed of Czech professors of aesthetics, ethnography, and anthropology. Plus Czech politicians, Czech nobility, and some additional Czech landowners. They then recruited regional organizers across Bohemia and Moravia to select objects of interest from villages, local museums, schools, and town archives.
Even the name “Czechoslavic” was purposely chosen as Slavic delegations of Poles, Serbs, Slovenes, Bulgarians, and Sorbs were invited. The Slovaks, while invited withheld their support and participation due to their desire not to upset their Hungarian government overseers.
American Czechs were also invited to send delegations and to participate in this event, which they did with gusto.
The official poster, which you can see here from my copy, depicts the conjoining of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. There is a Bohemian woman in a folk costume from the Chodsko region, a Vlach, and a Slovak in a fur coat. This poster was originally painted by Czech artist Vojtěch Hynais and was inspired by other paintings of Bohemian folk culture by Joža Uprka.
The focus of the Exposition was the common people and their customs, which played well with those attending. As Professor Luboš Niederle of Prague University said:
“It was the people of the plain Czech villages that rose four and a half hundred years ago to … shake off the burden of foreign oppression from the homeland’s shoulders. It was the same people … who for hundreds of years carried not only their own language, buy also the customs and traditions of the ancestors to such an extent that this deprived and almost extinct nation could bne awakened to a new life..”
So it was that Bohemians across their homeland and from their new homelands, often across the seas, were feted at this wonderful and very popular event.
This event was so anticipated that in the United States Bohemian immigrants began to make plans, well in advance, to attend the event if they were wealthy enough or to prepare materials to send to Prague to be included in the Exhibition. One such exhibition included actual Native Americans who went to live at the Exhibition and were wildly popular.
One undertaking was the writing of a book by Czech newspaperman and author Hugo Chotek, which was the very first historical accounting of any Bohemian immigrant settlement in the United States. His book has been translated to English and can be found exclusively here at Onward To Our Past.
The Exhibition also made its way, not surprisingly, into the annual journal, Amerikán Národní Kalendář. Tomorrow we unveil another exclusive translation here for you. The article on the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition from the 1896 edition of Amerikán Národní Kalendář.
It’s a good one that we know you will enjoy.