23.2 – Spring 2010: Notes from the Editor

I would like to begin my discussion of this issue’s contents by pointing to a short essay near the end: “Who was Kosmas?” Of course some of our readers are well-versed in Czech history and know about this twelfth-century priest who wrote Chronica Boemorum (The Czech Chronicle), but it is appropriate for us

at Kosmas to remind ourselves and our readers that we can be proud of this journal as the namesake of an extraordinary man who is not only considered to be “the first true Czech chronicler” but a gifted, insightful writer. I want to thank Zdenek Salzmann for providing this very appropriate contribution.

Moving from the twelfth to the twentieth century, our issue opens with an article by Jaroslav Panek focusing on the work of the Czech historian °talc& Odlo2ilik (1899-1973), whose encounter with the Nazis brought him to the United States, where he carried on his work in Czech and Czechoslovak history—and inspired others to work in that field as well. In the following article Francis Ra§ka also deals with a figure involved with anti-fascist activities during World War II but in a very different context. As Ra§ka demonstrates, Peres’s work with a group of democratic Sudeten Germans in London and then his shifting, opportunistic allegiances is interesting indeed, pointing to complex relationships and questionable loyalties during those troubled times.

Like Panek’s study of Odlo2ilik, the next three articles also deal with Czech-American connections in one way or another. Petr Vorel explains how the name of the American “dollar” was derived from that of the old Bohemian coin “thaler.” Some Americans are vaguely aware of this derivation but very few understand its complex history, and Vorel is careful to trace this genealogy. On the one hand, some of the historical details may seem esoteric, but on the other hand, American readers will have something new to think about every time they pull out dollar bills from their wallets or purses. Marek Vlha then offers his new study of Czech-Americans in the Civil War. His survey of sources that make references to Czech-speaking soldiers should be of considerable interest not only to historians who specialize in the Civil War but to those who, in a broader sense, deal with the involvement of European immigrant groups in nineteenth-century American history and culture, as well as all our readers who care about the role of Americans of Czech heritage in the history of this country. I am pleased to note that Vlha conducted research during his residency as a Fulbright scholar here at Texas A&M University in the academic year 2008-2009, and I look forward to further publications in which he discusses his findings about Czech immigrants and their place in American history. Robert Janak’s “historical snapshot” of the small Texas Czech community of Kovar in 1910 gives us a remarkably detailed analysis of family structure, economic status, and literacy, as well as other statistical details. I think that this kind of study should have value for sociologists, as well as regional historians, and of course our “Texas Czech” readers in general.

In addition to Salzmann’s Kosmas essay, discussed above, our essay section contains contributions by Ellen Paul and Tracy Burns. Paul’s fascinating report on the Czechoslovak “Youth Hops Brigades of the 1960s,” based on research that began with her visit to Bratislava in the 1990s, will no doubt catch the attention of some of the senior members of our sponsoring organization SVU who have memories associated with the collective farm (JZD) organizations she discusses. All of us can understand the significance of this look back at the “hops brigades” as they functioned in the era prior to the Soviet invasion and crackdown of August 1968. Tracy Burns’s essay on Jachym Topol’s novel Gargling with Tar also invites the reader to revisit Czechoslovak history—from the 1948 Communist coup to the “normalization” period of the 1970s.

We are grateful to Burns for providing essays on a variety of topics in recent issues of Kosmas. In addition to the Topol essay, she reviews three books (including an additional work by Topol) in this current issue, and we are pleased to include reviews by Robert A. Fudge and Virginia Parobek, as well. Along with Topol, Vojtech Novotny, Victor Verney, Petra Holova, and Agnieszka Gutthy are among the authors and editors of the books under review.

Clinton Machann, Editor