The Intersection of Gender and Nationalism

Purdue University Press spoke with editor Marta Verginella about her new book Women, Nationalism, and Social Networks in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1848–1918, a perfect read for Women’s History Month.

Q: Could you give a brief description of your book?

Women, Nationalism, and Social Networks in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1848–1918 focuses on the lives of women in Southeastern Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, exploring the intersection of gender and nationalism. It sheds light to women’s agency as individuals and members of the social networks, and their roles in cultural, ethnic, and political movements in pluralistic societies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Q: What is the goal of your book? What motivated you to write it?

The book was motivated by the intention to include some multicultural geopolitical areas that have a relatively modest presence in history, yet they offer a great explanatory potential for understanding the past. It aimed also at contributing to Habsburg studies with aspects of women and gender perspectives at the border areas.

Q: What are a few things that are being studied for the first time in this book?

The book took advantage of the transnational approach, which enriched the history of women’s movements and women’s activities in the Habsburg context from the 2nd half of the 19th century till its demise in 1918. It addresses the concept of friendships and social networks through intensively observed biographical perspectives.

Q: How do you think the role of women in nationalism differed or were similar in various regions of the world at the time of this book?

On the multicultural margins of the Habsburg Monarchy, the intensification of national rivalry was occurring, which however also opened up a space for feminism. The models of women’s emancipation came not only from the West (Western Europe and the USA) but also from the East (Russia).

Q: Do women have a role in the continuation of national identities today? Is it the same or different as in the past? How does it differ by region?

Patterns of nationalism from the 19th and 20th centuries have been perpetuated to the present day, and they especially appear in minority milieus, border areas and diaspora environments.

Q: Is there anything that shocked or surprised you while working on this project?

The most surprising turned to be a dispersion of women’s networks that connected the periphery with the most important economic and cultural centers of the monarchy. There were networks that spread even between Habsburg Monarchy and Russia.

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