Building cultural nations

On 15 and 16 February 2012 NISE organized the workshop Building cultural nations. The matica and equivalent intermediary structures in Europe, in collaboration with the Central European University (CEU) and the SPIN project (University of Amsterdam). This scientific meeting was held in Budapest.

Scholars from all over Europe discussed the ideas behind and functioning of these cultural associations, how they influenced each other and in what sense they were driven by nationalist aspirations. It was the first time that a comprehensive comparative study on a European scale of this theme was undertaken.

The old Tekelijanum in Budapest

The programme had different sessions, analyzing both the cultural transfers in Eastern and Central Europe and the parallel developments elsewhere on the continent. Precirculated papers enabled thought-provoking debates during which the specificity and dynamics of the model of the matica were questioned. They resulted in discussions whether the matice represented a specific form of cultural institution or if it was only an emotionally effective name covering very different institutions and programs. The workshop approached the topic from new perspectives: transnational history and the history of institutional and cultural transfers. By bringing together specialists from ‘East’ and ‘West’, who presented information about the structured efforts to cultivate, at the stage of national agitation, the first steps of new national literatures and languages, the workshop contributed to overcoming the isolationist tradition with West and East Europe history being treated separately.

The case studies analyzed parameters as the ideological and cultural content, the historical representation, the social composition of activists, donors and patrons, organizational and financial aspects etc. Typological patterns (constants and variables) in different countries, as well as the ‘cultural transfers’, for instance through programmatic documents, containing references to her institutions, were equally taken into account. Furthermore, the workshop examined the geographical spread and changing functions within and between countries, relating to the broader political setting, i.e. how a particular institution was perceived by the different-level authorities as well as by the culturally/politically dominant group (e.g. the imperial context); also the overlap and exchange between those institutions and other national-cultural practices constituted a topic. The contributions also assessed the state of play of the historiography on the subject as well as the situation for the sources (archives, bibliography).

The workshop was organised by
– the Department of History of the Central European University (CEU), Nador u. 9
H-1051 Budapest, Hungary (
– the study platform SPIN (Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms), Spuistraat 134, 1012 VB Amsterdam, the Netherlands (
– the cooperative network NISE (National movements and Intermediary Structures in Europe), c/o ADVN, Lange Leemstraat 26, B-2018 Antwerp, Belgium (

Miroslav Hroch, Alexei Miller and Louis Vos acted as chairmen; Joep Leerssen and John Neubauer formulated the first conclusions at the end of the meeting. Papers and debates will result in a publication. This will not only reflect the result of the discussions but consequently design the outlines for follow-up research activities, including cases not represented at the workshop and involving more young researchers to work in the archives. These activities should be incorporated in a full-scale European project on the role of organizations like matice in the cultural national movements and nation building in Europe and are to be coordinated by the three organising institutes (CEU, SPIN and NISE).

For more information, please contact NISE conference manager Andreas Stynen (