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Review December 2023

Slovaks in America, 1914-1948

Review by Lukáš Perutka
Michael R. Cude, 2022
ISBN 9780822947028
298 Pages
Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press
Photo credit: Flickr/ Jon Dawson (CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED)

For a long time, transatlantic migration studies suffered from what English historian Frank Thistlethwaite eloquently called the salt-water curtain.1 In Central Europe, this problem was aggravated by the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Historians in the Americas focused on the expatriates and their communities, and their counterparts in Central Europe on the institutions and decision-making. However, in recent years, we can observe a development as scholars tend to research migration from a more complex (transatlantic) perspective. Michael R. Cude’s The Slovak Question: A Transatlantic Perspective 1914-1948 is a significant addition to this approach, at least conceptually.

The title is a bit misleading, as the book is US-centric and ignores other Slovak communities across the Atlantic (for example in Canada, Argentina, or Uruguay). Cude, an Assistant Professor of History at Schreiner University in Texas, presents here his doctoral research, which focused on the so-called Slovak question (the status of Slovaks in the nascent state of Czechoslovakia) from the perspective of the largest community of Slovaks in the Americas. He carefully analyzes the expatriates but always puts them into the context of Czechoslovak history, which must be beneficial for the US reader usually unfamiliar with the developments in Central Europe. 

The two world conflicts of the 20th century and their aftermath constitute the core of the book, as the Slovak question was a debated issue then. It is not surprising that the author dedicates five of the seven chapters to those times (1-2 and 4-6). Part three deals with the interwar period and is surprisingly brief when we consider that it covers almost 20 years of history. The last chapter is entitled “Slovak Americans in Czechoslovakia’s Communist Era”. However, it covers only the years 1947 and 1948 adequately. The rest of the communist era (1948-1989) is presented only as a general overview as the author probably wished to pave his road to the year 1993, when the Slovak question was finally solved by the breakup of Czechoslovakia into two republics, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is a pity that the Cold War is covered in this way because the topic received a new dynamic as the communist government made immense diplomatic and propagandist efforts to silence the Slovaks in the Americas. Similarly, the book surprisingly disregards the military affairs of the Slovaks abroad in both World Wars, even though they had an impact on the Slovak question.

Thanks to his careful analytical work, he has uncovered rifts within the Slovak community in the United States, personal antagonisms, cooperation with the Czechs (both expatriates and the government), and other intriguing topics.

Overall, I agree with other reviewers’ opinions that this book is a necessary addition to the scholarship because the role of Slovak Americans in formulating, maintaining, and influencing the Slovak question was invaluable. It is essential that Cude approached the theme in detail and did not just “shed light” on the vaguely researched matter. Thanks to his careful analytical work, he has uncovered rifts within the Slovak community in the United States, personal antagonisms, cooperation with the Czechs (both expatriates and the government), and other intriguing topics.

However, the monograph presents only one piece of the puzzle in the complex topic of the Slovak question. The author decided to use predominantly English-language literature and omits works of Czech and Slovak historiography.2 I find it curious that the author overlooked the national production in the 21st century concerning the topic. Similarly, the archival collections in Prague and Bratislava are also absent, even though some of this material is available online. If the author wishes to properly analyze and understand topics such as the Czechoslovak government in exile and the Slovak Question or the Exile government and the United States, he can barely do so using just private correspondence and not governmental documents.

I would understand the language and geographical barriers, but to make matters worse, the collections from the Archives of Czechs and Slovaks Abroad (ACASA) based in Chicago are also omitted, even though this collection offers invaluable information on both communities in the 20th century, including their relations and interactions. It is also an obligatory starting point for researchers on the Czech and Slovak diaspora in the US. 

The book is an excellent addition to Czechoslovak migration history, however, ignoring crucial materials of Czech, Slovak, and US origin presents limits to the relevance of this monograph. In this sense, it never effectively overcomes the salt-water curtain as it adequately examines only the US-based part of the Slovak question. After all, to paraphrase Max Paul Friedman, one-sided research tends to produce one-sided explanations.

Lukáš Perutka is an Assistant Professor at the Palacký University in Olomouc and an Assistant Professor and postdoc at Charles University in Prague. He has teaching experience at the Institute of Technology in Monterrey, Mexico, and the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include the triangular relations between the United States, Europe, and Latin America, as well as migration from Central Europe to the Americas. He has published numerous articles and two monographs: Checoslovaquia, Guatemala y México en el período de la Revolución guatemalteca, and Za to spasitelské moře. Emigrace Rožnovanů do Texasu. Currently, he is finalizing the manuscript for another book: México y la sociedad checa, 1821-1939.


1 Frank Thistlethwaite. “Migration from Europe Overseas in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.“Rapports du XIe Congrès International des Sciences Historiques, 1960, n. 5, p. 34.

2 The historiographical production on the Slovak question is relatively abundant, but it is worth mentioning here at least some pivotal works: Rychlík, Jan. Češi a Slováci ve 20. století, Bratislava: Academic Electronic Press Bratislava a Ústav T. G. Masaryka Praha, 1997. Rychlík, Jan. Češi a Slováci ve 20. století: česko-slovenské vztahy 1945-1992, Bratislava: Academic Electronic Press Bratislava a Ústav T. G. Masaryka Praha, 1998; Dejmek, Jindřich et al. Československo. Dějiny státu, Prague: Libri, 2018; Šolc, Jaroslav. Slovensko v českej politike, Banská Bystrica: M. O. Enterprise, 1993; Lacko, Martin. Slovenská republika 1939-1945, Bratislava: Perfekt, 2008; and Zemko, Milan and Valerián Bystrický eds. Slovensko v Československu 1918-1938, Bratislava: VEDA, 2004.