Cultural Encounters in the Heart of Prague: Café Society, Salons, and the The Minerva Girls' Gymnasium

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2023-08

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Abstract

Young Czechs, Germans, and Jews living in Prague around 1900 came of age during a period of rapid social, cultural, and political transformation that promoted a high degree of curiosity for new modes of expression and anticipation of a new era unencumbered by the strict social and cultural separation that characterized the city in the nineteenth century. The cultural geographies of Prague at the turn of the century – including the promenade, cafes, universities – functioned as sites of collaboration, friendship, and rebellion where young Praguers explored their position within the supranational Austro-Hungarian Empire and developed a new form of belonging centered around their shared Bohemian identity. Czech intellectual salons of the nineteenth century and the fight for higher girls’ education in the 1890s were carefully designed to uplift Czech women for the benefit of the soon-to-be nation, but disillusionment with nationalist rhetoric, modernist modes of expression, and frustration with strict social separation in the imperial city became motivating factors that led many young Praguers to engage across ethnic divisions. While ardent Czech nationalists were focused on trying to maintain their newly revived control of the region through parliamentary chess, German nationalists espoused increasingly ethno-nationalist sentiments that turned away German-Jews and other ambiguous bodies. And so, young people turned towards one another to explore their shared geographies and affinity for the region. This thesis seeks to examine the ways young Praguers navigated these complicated questions of self while also maintaining a strong sense of pride for their city and region.

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Keywords

Nineteenth Century, Nationalism, Bohemia, Prague, Women's Education, Milena Jesenská, Salons

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