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What does it mean to be 'Austrian'?

Posted by Brian from Shawnee on November 09, 2003

In Reply to: What does it mean to be 'Austrian'? posted by GPP on November 08, 2003

: : : : : : : : : : : In the November 2003 issue of Boys' Life, which is the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, Ernst Mach is identified only as a "European scientist" who did expmeriments with sound and whom the speed of sound is named after. So I'm left thinking, "Hmm, probably German, but could be Swiss or Austrian." I have a feeling that this specific fact was hidden from me on purpose, but I don't know what the purpose could be.

: : : : : : : : : : : Is this a new trend? Is it the next logical step after losing the specific identifiers "Chinese", "Japanese", etc., for Asians? Is it an American thing?

: : : : : : : : : : I don't think so. Probably a writer who was too lazy to find out the exact country.

: : : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : : Surely everybody knows that Ernst Mach was Irish. I put all this confused thinking down to the poor quality of US University education.

: : : : : : : : Excuse me?

: : : : : : : Two comments: One, this is Boy's Life we're talking about, which is trying to present some interesting information to a young audience without making it overly complicated. And two, if anyone would bother to look before they speak, they would find that Mach WAS a 'European' scientist. He was born in Brno, studied in Vienna, joined the faculty at Graz, and finally returned to Prague. It has long been common for European scientists to move around from country to country; many studied in Germany, particularly.

: : : : : : : I thought Patrick's irony was funny--AND to the point. (Even though Mach was of course not Irish at all.)

: : : : : : no, no, no - the Mach was named after MachDonald the European very fast food entrepreneur.

: : : : : : "The trouble with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur"...GWB

: : : : : I'll accept the explanation that European scientists move around so much that it makes their nationality hard to figure out. But I'd like to go on record as saying that I'd prefer some other way of saying it. Maybe my real problem is with the Boys' Life style guide...

: : : : I have probably met a dozen writers while working at a university library. I know some of them often borrowed a word or phrase form some reference source. Whomever wrote "European ..." may have simply taken it from a reference book. The fact that people increasingly move around makes words such as European or American increasingly meaningless. How many years did Einstein spend in the US? In Europe?

: : : Using references from the opposite side of the pond is often used to add credibility -in both Europe and America, actually. Each side thinks the other is more advanced in some ways and hopelessly backward in others. Usually though, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

: : For Einstein, "German-born scientist" or perhaps "Albert Einstein, of Princeton University", depending on context. Otherwise, what would he be, a "Euro-American scientist"? That would be technically correct but I'd be rankled by it.

: : I looked up Ernst Mach on the internet, because I really did not know what country he came from. He was identified as "Austrian" by two sites, and "Moravian" by another. (Funny, I thought Moravian was a religion, and I thought I knew a lot about geography.) I'd have to go with Austrian if I was writing an article that mentioned him. I do believe the orignal writer of the Boys' Life article had that information available and either he or the editor chose "European".

: Mach was born in 1838, near rather than 'in' Brno, the capital city of Moravia. Moravia is east of Bohemia, the capital city of which is Prague. Both of these provinces are now part of the Czech Republic. In 1838, they, and much else of Central Europe, were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There was at that time no such thing as 'Germany'; most of what we now think of as being Germany was then the Holy Roman Empire.

: Mach spoke and wrote in German. According to an older edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, in 1879-80 he fought against the introduction of the Czech language at the University of Prague[]. In nearly all reference sources he is identified as being Austrian, and doubtless he must have thought of himself as being Austrian. In 1901 he was made a member of the Austrian House of Peers. But virtually all of his active career was spent in Czech-speaking Prague. He died in 1916 in what was by then a unified Germany. (About 20 years later the Austrian Reichskanzler of Germany, having absorbed what was left of Austria into Germany, did a deal with the British PM allowing him to 'protect' the people of German and German-speaking heritage living in what was at that time Czechoslovakia from the Czechs and the Slovaks, to bring "peace with honour", "peace for our time".)

: But what does it mean to be 'Austrian'? You tell a kid that today, and he, being a Boy Scout, finds a map of Austria and sees a pretty small country. So how come if Mach was born in the Czech Republic, and spent most of his life there, is he Austrian?

: This is not to suggest that the author of the Boys' Life article did his homework; maybe, maybe not. But after all, isn't 'European' just as good a description?

: ('Moravian': a religious sect called the United Brethren, an offshoot of the Hussites in Bohemia [].)

I can't agree that "European" is just as good as any other description. "A scientist from what is now the Czech Republic" is more acceptable to me. In fact I think I've seen many references like that one, with all the geographical changes in Europe in the past decade and a half.

I recognize that this is a matter of personal taste, and I understand that "European" is a technically accurate description.