A union in disarray: Romanian nation building under Astra in late-nineteenth-century rural Transylvania and Hungary
Dunlap, Tanya Keller
Doctor of Philosophy
Scholarly studies of the nation as a socially constructed community, while accurate, do not explain how individuals in a predominantly agricultural society build and mobilize a national community outside of traditional political arenas and without the resources of a bureaucratic nation-state. This investigation of late-nineteenth-century Romanian nation building under the Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and the Culture of the Romanian People, or Astra, examines the educational and cultural activities Astra used to communicate nationalist messages to Romanian villagers and the responses of those villagers who funded and participated in Astra's movement. I argue that thousands of villagers participated in Astra events because Astra created a forum that addressed their needs and interests and raised their social status. Villagers never achieved equality with their social superiors in Astra, but villagers became more equal to them as Romanians than they had been as mere villagers. It was not easy to incorporate villagers into the association. As this dissertation shows, nation building is a contentious undertaking subject to diverse social pressures and full of internal conflicts and contradictions. Astra leaders hoped to build a unified and prosperous national community, but their initial attempts to transform peasants into rational and efficient farmers with academic programs mostly appealed to Romanian intellectuals. In order to retain their educated members and to attract peasants to the association, Astra leaders legitimized two competing images of the Romanian national community, one based on the values of educated Romanian professionals and one based on traditional peasant culture. The dual representations of the nation both created the impression that a unified national community existed and underscored the divisions in the community, making it possible to think of the nation as a homogeneous community while simultaneously contesting its boundaries. Resulting contestation, I argue, enabled rural Romanians to challenge Astra's professionals for more influence over the national movement and forced intellectuals to address rural interests. Although this study examines the specifics of Astra's national movement, it also offers a potentially fruitful approach for understanding nation building among other marginal groups in search of greater power and autonomy over their own lives.
European history; Modern history