Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




At the start of the twentieth century, America was inundated with unskilled workers eager to fuel the engines of the new economy. The South Slavs of the Balkans joined countless others from the furthest corners of the European continent during the final years of the nineteenth century and first two decades of the twentieth. Millions of foreign and unfamiliar faces, outlandishly clad, replaced the previous fair-haired and fair-skinned Western Europeans that originally populated the nation. These innumerably diverse peoples of eastern and southern European origin redefined the character of twentieth-century America.

The vast majority of South Slavic immigrants arrived in the United States between 1890 and 1924. Emigration was a practical response to the profound economic, social and political changes occurring in the Balkans. The experience as émigrés and exiles allowed the South Slavs to discover, develop, and articulate novel modes of individual and collective identify. The experience of life in Chicago allowed Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes to imagine a new Jugoslav identity where none had previously existed. The experience of immigration ultimately defined South Slavic life in Chicago during the early twentieth century, as increased national awareness and the growing support for Jugoslavism--the unification of all South Slavs--profoundly affected events back in the Balkans.

Immigration and exile increased awareness and articulation of national and supra-national identity among the South Slavs of Chicago. This process was advanced by modernization and industrialization alongside traditional institutions and structures that were transplanted from the Balkans to America. The shared working-class experience of life in the United States combined with educational efforts within the community and the spread of print media in the form of the South Slavic foreign-language press in Chicago supported the development of both competing nationalisms and the articulation of Jugoslavism. The experience of immigration to the United States ultimately contributed to the development of a pluralistic worldview where South Slavs embraced their newly ascribed hyphenated-American and increasingly working-class identities alongside their newly emerging Croat, Serb, Slovene, and Jugoslav identities.

Nationalism in Europe during the nineteenth century laid the ideological foundations for South Slavic cultural and political institutions transplanted to America. After their arrival, Croat, Serb, and Slovene immigrants adapted these traditional structures to their new environment, which then allowed emergent national identities to take hold throughout the émigré community of Chicago. South Slavic fraternal groups, benevolent associations, and the foreign-language press were modeled after nineteenth-century citaonicas (reading rooms), maticas (literary societies), and literary journals that dominated nationalist discourse throughout the Balkans. Croat, Serb, and Slovene émigrés were not integrated into their respective national identities but rather remained fixed within their own separate local, regional, and religious worlds. The urban, immigrant experience of the predominately rural South Slavs in Chicago contributed to their growing identification, first with their fellow Croat, Serb, and Slovene nations, and then collectively as Jugoslavs, in a similar fashion that gradual urbanization and the spread of print media from urban to rural France transformed peasants into Frenchmen.

The nationalist awakening of the South Slavs was ultimately achieved through the immigrant experience in Chicago. Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes had limited awareness of themselves let alone one another prior to their collective experience in America. The process of South Slavic unification began with the recognition of common local, regional, and religious affiliations present in the Balkans existed between Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes within the city. These attachments combined with their shared working-class experience allowed South Slavic cooperation through fraternal and benevolent organizations, churches, families, socialist groups, and the foreign-language press. Modernization, industrialization, and the spread of print media were crucial to the task of national integration, although for the South Slavs the process occurred outside their homeland. Their experience in America gave rise to a shared working-class identity that was congruent with traditional nationalist identities as well as an emergent Jugoslav identity promoted by certain organizations in Chicago.

The development of working-class consciousness was fundamental to the mobilization of South Slavic national identity. Their experience as laborers and the ongoing struggle between various organizations and institutions within the community spurred increased national awareness. However, working-class consciousness did not replace ethnonational identity but reinforced it and introduced it to those who were unaware of their shared collective identities as Croats, Serbs and Slovenes. Oppositional structures in the form of the traditional families, fraternal groups, benevolent associations, the church, and socialist organizations worked in concert allowing Chicago's South Slavs to embrace Jugoslav national identity. This transformation was abetted by the industrial environment and working-class experience in Chicago, and driven by political events back home that served as a transnational catalyst in the development of South Slavic immigrant identity. The nationalizing programs that began in the Balkans did not stop in Chicago. Although they employed much of the same tools--literature, intellectual elites, and political organizations--nationalist mobilization within the United States was unique in that it was profoundly influenced by the conditions the encountered in America. For the South Slavs of Chicago, their nationalist awakening was ultimately achieved through the immigrant experience. In the most profound way, exile proved to be the nursery for South Slavic nationalisms.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.