Charles Explorer logo

The World in Prague: Witness to History

Class at Faculty of Arts |


* Weeks 1 - 2

Slavic roots and sentiments

* Feb. 23: History (Dr. Pa?ez)

The Early Middle Ages.

The migration of "the nations": Czech or Bohemian? Great Moravia and Christianity in Bohemian lands. The P?emyslid state and the P?emyslid legacy. The Bohemian heaven: St Ludmila, St Wenceslas, St Adalbert - Myths and facts.

* Required reading for the whole semestr:

Hugh Agnew: The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, Stanford University 2004

Mikuláš Teich (ed.): Bohemia in History, Cambridge (UK) 1998

Josef Polišenský: History of Czechoslovakia in Outline, Prague 1991

* Feb. 25: Fine Arts and Music (Dr. Záruba)

Culture of the Great Moravia and Early Middle Ages in Bohemian Lands. How to distinguish the Greek and Latin Christian tradition in Fine Arts? Can we trace eastern influences or concepts in the Czech medieval Culture? Various objects and jewels from the early Middle Ages show the mixing of pagan and Christian motifs at the time of early middle Ages. This imagery served to Alfons Mucha to make his special designs at the turn of the 19th century: Alfons Mucha and his cycle "Slavic Epic" is the gift to the city of Prague (1928) and one of the most important pieces of Art Nuveau style. It shows great myths of Slavic nations and their glorification in the cycle. We will mention panslavism in Music of Antonin Dvo?ák and Leoš Janá?ek (Mša Glagolskaja, oratorio "Baptism of St. Ludmila")

* Main Art source on the web for the whole semester:

The Grove Dictionary of Art, .Oxford University Press 2004. On line edition:

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press 2003. On line edition:

* Obligatory Reading:

Barford, P. M. , The early Slavs : culture and society in early medieval Eastern Europe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2001

* March 2: Literature (prof. Bílek)

Mythologies and mythologizations: Ancient source of modern Czech identity

Alois Jirásek: (from) Old Czech Legends (1894). The iconic late 19th century version of the foundation story. The ideology of Czech-ness and the Hegelian concept of coherent narrative history of causes and effects.

* Required reading:

Alois Jirásek: (from) Old Czech Legends (1894)

* Week 2 - 3

The Gothic Era: The Golden époque of Czech History

* March 4: History (Dr. Pa?ez)

The Bohemian Lands as the part of the Holy Roman Empire. Luxembourg dynasty and Charles IV. Gothic era from Czech and international perspective. The breaking point: the Hussite revolution - our contribution to the reforms of the Western Christianity. Warriors of God and their legacy. New "saints" - Jan Hus and Jan Žižka. Hussite King George of Pod?brady and the Jagellonian dynasty.

* March 9: Fine Arts and Music (Dr. Záruba)

Saint Agnes Cloister. The History of the 14th century panel painting. We will deal with medieval symbolism in various panel paintings, Master of Hohenfurth (Vyšší Brod), Theodoricus (Theodorik) , and Wittingau (T?ebo?). We will interpret the closed grave in the Altarpiece from T?ebo? as the visual support to the transubstantiation doctrine. On the way back we will look at the entrance portal of the Tyn Church with destroyed sculptures.

* Required reading:

Drake-Boehm Barbara: Prague, The Crown of Bohemia. 2005, catalogue of the NY exhibition

* March 11: Fine Arts and Music (Dr. Záruba)

* The Czech Women The place of a woman in Art and Culture of Czechs is rather exotic for a foreign visitor. Easter whip of women is the most controversial tradition. The Myth of the Maidens war is another example supporting the female submission. This legend inspired several music compositions (Smetana, Janá?ek, Fibich) Endless examples of female allegories decorate the rooms of the National Theater. The role of woman in Art of Central Europe is explored recently in the special character of Art in medieval convent and German female mysticism. (Krone und Schleier Essen) Medieval nun was the bride of Christ, showing by faith, performance and Art the corporeal presence of Jesus. (Passionale from the St. Georg Convent (1320) and the life of St Hedwig of Silesia (1350))Required reading:

Bynum Caroline Walker, Fragmentation and Redemption. Zone Books 1992

Jeffrey F. Hamburger. The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany. New York: Zone Books, 1998.

* Week 4

Art lover on the throne

* March 16: History (Dr. Pa?ez)

Formation of the Habsburg Central European monarchy. Religious and political bipolarization of Europe. Unity of Bohemian Brethern - our way of Christianity, and its special role in our history. Prague as a center of arts and science under Rudolf II. Establishing of an unique religious tolerance in the Lands of the Crown of Bohemia and its fall in the Thirty Years War. John Amos Comenius - the Bohemian intellectual in exile.

* March 18: Fine Arts and Music (Dr. Záruba)

Rudolf II and Vaclav Havel had not only the passion to the female breast in common. It is also a certain sense for perverse obscurity of the detail, often dealing with an intellectual pleasure of each particular situation. These two important figures at the Prague Castle have gathered groups of Artists with very similar esthetical ideas:

Art historians use very often the term mannerism to describe work of art by Šípek, Ji?i?ná, Pišt?k etc. as well as the pieces by Giuseppe Arcimboldo or Adrian de Vries from the time round 1600. The art was used for political purposes as well - we may explore designs of Giuseppe Arcimboldo or Bo?ek Šípek for the state occasions and conferences, or Havel's visual poetry - protesting against the political system during the communism.

* Required reading:

Rudolf II and Prague, Thames and Hudson, London, 1997

* Week 5

The Baroque Re-shaping of Europe: Modern States and Nations

* March 23: History (Dr. Pa?ez)

* The Baroque in Europe and the Czech Lands

The Baroque absolutism of Habsburgs - decline of independence of the Bohemian Crownlands, recatholicisation, decline of Czech literature. Looking for the new Catholic identity - can we call this period the Dark Ages? Maria Theresa and Joseph II: Reforms of Enlightened absolutism.

* March 25: Fine Arts and Music (Dr. Záruba)

* The ornament and its refusal

We will visit the Czech Music Museum, which is former cloister church, abolished by the emperor Josef II. and The Church of Saint Nicholas at the Lesser town. Comparing the esthetics of these two spaces may bring some link to the ideas of enlightment. In the Czech Music Museum we will listen to the baroque ornamentation in music and to the classical music samples. On the way back we will look at various 19 cent. facades and we will talk about ornament in the Habsburg Empire - especially so called "Kaiserstil", and its modernist refusal. The discussion may provoke ideas on the problem of ornamentality in different cultures.

* Required reading:

Vlnas, Vít, The Glory of the Baroque in Bohemia. National Gallery, Prague 2001

Adolf Loss, Ornament and crime (1908) - see below

* Week 6

The 19th century Era of the "National Revivals": Coining Nations as Cultural Constructs

* March 30: History (Dr. Pa?ez)

* 19th century Europe and the Czech Lands

Process of emancipation of the Czech people within the Habsburg monarchy. Roots of police state in the pre-March period and after 1848. Revolutionary year 1848 in Europe, Habsburg Empire and transformation of the Czech national Revival into the political movement. Austro-Hungarian dualism of 1867: political ambitions of Czechs put on side. Industrial and cultural advancement of Czechs. Political parties before WW I.

* April 1: Literature (prof. Bílek)

* Czech National Revival and its Ideology

Analysis of rather quick and surprisingly successful process of construction of the Czech nation via its literature and culture. Concepts of mother tongue, homeland, and fine qualities of Czechs. Collective national identity slowly clashing with the identity of a local community and eventually also personal indenty.

* Required reading:

Ján Kollár: Prelude to The Daughter of Slavs

Extracts from the ideological essays on the qualities of the Czech nation

Božena N?mcová: Four Seasons

Jan Neruda: How Mr. Vorel Broke in his Meerschaum

* Week 7

The "slow" 19th century challenged by the quick arrival of industrialization: Modernity crisis and Modernism

* April 6, 8: Literature (prof. Bílek)

Franz Kafka and his generation of "men without qualities". A physical walk through the Old Town Square Area of Prague and former Jewish Quarter and a virtual walk through early 20th century literature and culture

* Required reading:

Gustav Meyrink: GM

Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis, Before the Law, Passers By, On the Tram, An Old Manuscript, A Hunger Artist

Georg Simmel: Metropolis and Mental Life

Gilles Deleuze: Postscript on the Societies of Control

* Week 8 - 9

The World War I and another re-shaping of Europe: Independent Czechoslovakia established

* April 15: History (Dr. Pa?ez)

Tomáš G. Masaryk and his struggle for independent state in exile. Role of intellectuals in the czech history (Hus, Comenius, TGM, Havel). Czechoslovak legion in Russia, France, and Italy and its role. The idea of the Czechoslovak nation. Creation of the Czechoslovak Republik 1918, new constitution, attitude of German speaking Bohemians to the new state. Human rights of minorities in Czechoslovakia.

* April 20: Fine Arts and Music (Dr. Záruba)

* Birth of a True Shape

Many foreign visitors point out very strong iconic quality of avant-garde painting in Central Europe. We will try to search traces why this


The course will cover the development of Europe from the perspective of Prague, emphasizing Prague's role in the

European culture and history. Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of Prague is like walking on the pages of a history book. Located in the Center of Europe - and thus - unfortunately a prized possession for many great powers throughout history - many of Europe's major cultural, political, literary, artistic, and social developments either took place here or had visible consequences for this city and Czechs.

This team taught course will be offered by a team of Czech professors from different disciplines: prof. Petr Bílek

(history of literature, culture, and mass media), Dr. Jan Parez (Czech and European history), and Dr. Josef Záruba (history of fine arts).