Of Mind and Matter: The Duality of National Identity in the German-Danish Borderlands (Central European Studies) (Paperback)

Of Mind and Matter: The Duality of National Identity in the German-Danish Borderlands (Central European Studies) By Peter Thaler Cover Image

Of Mind and Matter: The Duality of National Identity in the German-Danish Borderlands (Central European Studies) (Paperback)


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Of Mind and Matter analyzes identity formation in the multicultural border region of Sleswig. It highlights the changeability of national sentiments and explores what has motivated local inhabitants to define themselves as Germans or Danes. The analysis focuses especially on the respective national minorities, among whom the transitional and flexible aspects of Sleswig identity surface most clearly. The study investigates national sentiments in a border region from a theoretical and comparative perspective. It relies on diverse forms of historical evidence, including quantitative sources such as language statistics and election results, but also more subjective sources such as personal life stories and interviews. The study pays equal attention to German and Danish source material. Of Mind and Matter adds important new angles to the literature on national identity in border areas and fills a conspicuous gap in English-language historiography, which completely lacks modern analyses of Sleswig history.
Peter Thaler is associate professor of history at the University of Southern Denmark. He holds a Ph.D. in history and a Ph.D. in Scandinavian studies from the University of Minnesota, as well as, a doctorate of law from the University of Vienna.
Product Details ISBN: 9781557535245
ISBN-10: 1557535248
Publisher: Purdue University Press
Publication Date: November 15th, 2009
Pages: 220
Language: English
Series: Central European Studies

Of Mind and Matter is an ambitious work that seeks not only to capture the experience of Schleswig as a region with a  composite  identity, but to query many of the theories of nationalism, while also placing the Schleswig experience in a comparative framework. This sweeping macrohistorical design, the author hopes, will help inspire more microhistorical studies of the region. The results of Peter Thaler s approach are mixed: he demonstrates a keen awareness of the complexities and at times fluidity of border identities; his case studies, though, done in rapid brush strokes, are far more suggestive than definitive. 

            Thaler s opening chapter quickly lays out the changing historiography on Schleswig before turning to an overview of the literature of nationalism. While Thaler sees positive elements in differing theories of nationalism, he argues that too much of the field remains mired in the dichotomy of Staatsnation versus Kulturnation. Moreover, many of the established approaches, whether the  instrumentalist  approach of scholars such as Benedict Anderson or Eric Hobsbawn, or ethno-national approach of Connor Walker or Anthony Smith, fail to take into account the subjective choices about national belonging. Here, Thaler harkens back to Ernst Renan s notion of the nation as a daily plebiscite. This subjectivity, as Thaler terms it, also points us back to the  mind  of the title; the  matter  are objective circumstances, such as language or religion that can shape, but do not necessarily determine, national identity, especially in a border region.


            Thaler then offers a brief synopsis of the broad sweep of Schleswig s history, including linguistic and cultural developments, before moving to his narrow case studies. Chapter four examines three minority groups, the Danes in the German Kaiserreich, Germans in interwar northern Schleswig, and the Danish minority of post-1945 German Schleswig. Thaler sees the first group as a rather  classic  minority (i.e., Danish nationalists left on the wrong side of a border shift), while the other two are more unusual. For the German interwar minority, this claim seems less substantiated or at least poorly explained; why wouldn t some in the northern part of Schleswig continue to adhere to Germany? One wishes Thaler had detailed this group s

post-1945 fate a bit more clearly as well. In contrast, the post-1945 Danes certainly were unusual as their numbers were swelled in the war s aftermath by Germans who for a variety of reasons economics, disgust with Germany, etc. chose to identify with the Danish minority, particularly in the decade after World War II. It is also interesting that, as Thaler notes, some German parents have continued to send their children to Danish schools.

Here, Thaler might have pondered at greater length what composite border identities in an integrating Europe mean. The ensuing chapter explores the subjective nature of composite identities primarily by analyzing the life histories of several Schleswigers: legal scholars Nicolaus Falck and Christian Paulsen, the journalist Siegfried Matlok, and the Frisian Schleswiger Cornelius Petersen. Of these, Petersen best exemplifies Thaler s conception of a  voluntarist  identity. A Frisian raised in a family that leaned German nationally, Peterson sought to fuse a Schleswig-German identity with an acceptance to Danish rule after the border shift of 1920, only to skirt the sympathy the edges had for National Socialism before his death in the 1930s. Yet, these examples almost all persons likely to think about issues of identity tell us less about how, or whether, these experiences were typical of most Schleswigers. 

            In a parallel fashion, Thaler s final chapter is more suggestive than definitive; here the author selects a handful of border regions parts of the German-Polish borderland, Lithuania, and the Austro-Slavic borderland of Styria to consider the idea of  composite  border identities more broadly. Thaler argues in several of these cases that objective factors, such as language and religion, did not always prove determinative of national belonging. Thaler thus fulfills his design to leave the door open for more narrow studies that explore the extent to which the average Schleswiger really could, or did, adapt identities to shifting circumstance and how far one can apply his conceptual framework to the other borderlands of Europe. 


 Indiana State University