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Empty Signs, Historical Imaginaries: The Entangled Nationalization of Names and Naming in a Late Habsburg Borderland

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Volume 27

Austrian and Habsburg Studies

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Empty Signs, Historical Imaginaries

The Entangled Nationalization of Names and Naming in a Late Habsburg Borderland

Ágoston Berecz

350 pages, 14 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78920-634-0 $149.00/£110.00 / Hb / Published (March 2020)

eISBN 978-1-78920-635-7 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit  Buy the eBook! $34.95info on epub formatRequest a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


“While the annual output of nationalism studies may fill entire libraries, one rarely encounters such a thoroughly researched and original study as Empty Signs, Historical Imaginaries. The book is a must-read for all scholars interested in nationalism, the making of the modern state, and the change in rural societies. Moreover, linguists studying language design and policy will also appreciate the depth of this study and its convincing contextualization.” • Hungarian Studies Review

“The research was extensive and, I can imagine, difficult. In addition to linguistic complications, religious affiliation, nationalism, and class distinction make the interpretation of data (differences between rural and urban, state employees, and intelligentsia) challenging. …Berecz’s study is an important addition to a growing corpus of research and historiographical debates that are sure to continue in the future.” • Journal of Romanian Studies

“Berecz proves to be an erudite and sure-footed guide to a complex and hard-to-interpret body of data… Overall, Berecz has written a rich and fascinating work, which brings much not just to historians interested in onomastics and toponymy, but to those wanting to understand the complex social worlds behind the development of modern national identities in east central Europe in the crucial period before the First World War.” • Slavic Review

“The result of his research is not only a source of useful information for researchers interested in this subject, but also the outcome of the new trend of historiography, characterized by approaching innovative sources and methods which are quite difficult to relate to the history of nationalities, in order to finally bring a fresh perspective upon some much researched topics.” • Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai Ser Historia

“…a fine scholarly work.” • Slavonic & East European Review

“This fascinating monograph provides an exhaustive and remarkably archival-based discussion of the sociocultural history of competing and intertwined nationalizing processes…While it is devoted to a seemingly narrow subject, Berecz’s monograph calls attention to the crucial symbolic relevance of the nationalization of proper names. It thus constitutes a major contribution to the study of nationhood and nationalism.” • Hungarian Historical Review

“This book remains an outstanding piece of scholarship. Berecz, who previously published a superb study of efforts to Magyarize Transylvanian schools, has established himself not only as an important expert on late Habsburg Transylvania, but as the leading authority on Magyarization.” • Central European History

“An impressive and stunningly original study that makes a significant contribution to the field, using hitherto entirely unexplored source material.” • Monika Baár, Leiden University

“With Empty Signs, Historical Imaginaries, Berecz raises the methodological bar for future generations of nationalism scholars and commendably trailblazes new paths of inquiry. This is a meticulously researched, tightly argued, and brilliantly executed work on a subject too often neglected.” • Tomasz Kamusella, University of St. Andrews


Set in a multiethnic region of the nineteenth-century Habsburg Empire, this thoroughly interdisciplinary study maps out how the competing Romanian, Hungarian and German nationalization projects dealt with proper names. With particular attention to their function as symbols of national histories, Berecz makes a case for names as ideal guides for understanding historical imaginaries and how they operate socially. In tracing the changing fortunes of nationalization movements and the ways in which their efforts were received by mass constituencies, he provides an innovative and compelling account of the historical utilization, manipulation, and contestation of names.

Ágoston Berecz is Research Fellow at Pasts, Inc., Center for Historical Studies, Budapest.

Subject: History: 18th/19th Century
Area: Central/Eastern Europe


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