Moravia is an Ideal Type of Historical Land

Josef Válka

Europe has long been a continent divided into states and “historical lands” and this division will continue irrespective of its further unification. Historical lands have proven to be the most lasting and stable form of political and administrative organisation. The period of glory for historical lands was the Middle Ages and Early Modern times, when lands fulfilled a number of roles which are today the preserve of the state. Some historical lands developed into modern states and nations, while others merged with those already existing. The firm standing of historical lands throughout the history of Europe was apparently based on their territorial suitability for an intermediate level of social and political organisation between dominion and town on the one hand and dynastic medieval empire and crown on the other. A typical historical lands area is that of Central Europe, where modern empires and states developed as conglomerates governed from a single centre (e.g. the Czech crown, the Habsburg monarchy, the German empire, the Ottoman empire). Historical lands mostly developed from specific natural areas delimited by river basins or mountains, living their own lives and obeying specific laws and institutions which survived all the changes and reversals affecting monarchies and empires. Detailed enumeration of the historical lands possessed, and of respective titles, was a way for any medieval emperor to demonstrate power and respectability. An intense “we-feeling” and local patriotism evolved throughout the centuries of existence of most European countries, and this survived until the formation of modern nations and the rise of nationalism, and in some cases even exists to this day. Historical lands are a manifestation of one of the historical pluralities which provide European civilisation and culture with a unique historical character and charm.

Notwithstanding the value we attribute to regional consciousness as a historical and cultural phenomenon, current historical research does not pursue any revival or even abuse of regional patriotism. Historical lands in Central Europe have long been an ideal object for historical research, and this statement applies both to the Middle Ages and to Modern times. Ever since historical lands became consolidated as political and administrative units, i.e. they delimited their territories and formed their own institutions and laws, and ever since written records began, lands’ archives have been kept and extended. Regional consciousness and patriotism found an expression in regional historiography from its primitive stage in the Middle Ages to its heyday in the era of the baroque and humanism. Historical archives of towns, monasteries and regions gradually covered the territories of historical lands, providing today a comprehensive basis for the study of the history of individual lands or general issues. In the 20th century, the study of historical lands went through a “scientific revolution,” i.e. a transition from traditional, partly amateur “local history and geography studies” to “modern historical studies”. The territory of historical lands became a starting point for the study of historical demography, social history, economics and culture. However, modern research into historical lands is not restricted to territorial aspects: historical lands are approached as territories in which Europe’s demographic, economic, social and cultural trends, together with its processes and situations, materialised.

Moravia is an ideal type of historical land. It is located in the geographical centre of Europe (the European watershed) and it is an open land. It connects the centre of Europe with the North-East and South-East of the continent, primarily with the Danube waterway. It has been a crossing point for European ethnicities and cultures since prehistoric times; it has served as a bridge for armies, as well as for waves in medieval and modern culture, since its political consolidation in the 8th and 9th centuries. After the failed attempt to create an early-medieval realm in the 10th century, Moravia merged politically, ethnically, linguistically and culturally with Bohemia and became a constituent of the Czech state and the Czech nation. In 1526 it became one of the lands of the Habsburg monarchy and of its Czech-Austrian core. Unlike Bohemia, it has no leading political and cultural centre, with its southern part linked to Vienna and Italy and its northern part to Silesia and Poland. The nation-neutral, historically land-based “Moravian” identity of the local Slavic and Germanic population persisted on the territory of Moravia even at the time of the formation of modern nations. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that the population split into Czech- and German-speaking, to become involved in the tragic events of the 20th century. Modern historiography has studied anew the vast bulk of land history, including political, economic and cultural contacts with neighbouring lands, and comparative studies of their social structures and political cultures (following the example of Professor Josef Macůrek, a prominent expert in the history of Central and Eastern Europe). The results of the studies (collected in a series of themed volumes on Moravian History and Geography which has yet to be completed) and the potential of the geographical position of Moravia and its scientific institutions, as well as growing international scientific cooperation, have created conditions which enable the project team to approach the phenomenon of historical lands within the history of Central Europe and in a general historical context, applying current scientific paradigms.

More than an object of study, historical lands remain by right an integral part of historical memory, of social and human identity and of a cultural heritage that is both national and European. At a time when Europe is going global and uniting, history may serve to alienate or else to encourage peoples to return to their roots and to stability; it may become part of a cheap mass culture or else of enlightened thought. Interest in history is ongoing, one of the major cultural phenomena of the present time. Studies in historical lands may benefit from this and give it a rational orientation. The history of lands remains fertile ground for work in historiography and cooperation. It is our wish to perpetuate the tradition.