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Milos Reznik

Czech Republic

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Ego-documents from the 15th to the early 20th century in Czech historiography

by Miloš Řezník (Institute of European History, University of Technology Chemnitz, Germany) 

In Czech historiography, the exploitation and researching of ego-documents for the period between the late middle ages and the early 20th century is still standing at its beginnings. On the one side, a long tradition of using ego-documents like memories, diaries, curricula, journey-descriptions etc. can be observed similarly to other European historiographies even since the 19th century. On the other side, however, there is rather no strong, representative tendency to theoretical, methodological and organized research or discussion focusing on ego-documents as the central subject.

The problems of source criticism, interpretation etc. are discussed or thematized rather occasionally. The notion „eco-documents“ („egodokumenty“ in Czech) has been used only since the late 1990s. Having been regarded with some distance at the beginning, the use of them has been spreading out only since the last decade, especially in the context of comparative historical studies and cultural history as well as historical anthropology, primarily of the early modern period. Even if the usage remains mainly little reflected outside of Czech comparative historiography (i.e. it is mostly used as a metaphor, not as a conceptual notion), one can observe a growing acceptance and popularity among a large part of historians as well as a tendency to more conceptuality. Similar trends are typical for other scienctifical disciplines dealing with the periods after 1914, like modern history of the 20th century (incl. oral history), sociology, anthropology, ethnology, gender-studies etc.

A phenomenon supporting the thematization of ego-documents is their general popularity among the public. That means that both critical and popular editions of diaries, memories etc. find relatively large attention among the readership, not only as far as the latest history of the 20th century is concerned. Despite of the general complaints among Czech historians, the possibilities of publishing editions of correspondency, memories, autobiographical records or diaries are in the present time better than ever.

An outstanding feature of the situation is the gap between a lot of editions on the one side and the very moderate usage of them in the farther research on the other. One could think that the publishing of ego-documents is often rather a purpose in itself. Anyway, the importance and influence of editorial dealing with ego-documents remains very limited so far.

Nevertheless, the growing interest and enlarging number of ego-documents edited in the past 20 years is obvious. Especially for the diaries, memories and travel diaries of early modern Bohemian and Moravian aristocracy including women is that the case, but also for other social groups (burghers, peasants, intellectuals). A special case which can be subsumed under ego-documents in some perspective is the growing research interest for early modern testaments. Often they are edited, analysed and used in the context of everyday history, microhistory, cultural history, and historical anthropology. As far as  the 19th century is concerned, some diaries, memories and correspondency have been edited already - sources originating mostly from outstanding representants of the Czech culture, politics and science in the course of the modern nation building. But especially in the context of the 19th century the use of these editions in further research remains less than moderate for the time being.

A special case is the analytical research and use of ego-documents originating from outside the Czech lands in the context of European or general cultural history, history of identies etc., but this phenomenon is characteristic almost exclusively for the Prague centre of comparative history and historians connected directly or indirectly to it. 

(February, 2009)