Annual Workshop: Cultural Histories of the Habsburg Empire c. 1800—1920

Friday 3rd March 2017, Senior Parlour, Gonville & Caius College, 1:30-6.30 pm

Supported by the DAAD with funds from the Federal Foreign Office (FFO)

Even those who take a very negative view of the development of the Habsburg Empire agree that its cultural productivity was extraordinary. Our 2017 workshop will explore the manifold forms of high and low culture that developed in the last century of Habsburg rule. Were they manifestations of decline or signs of continuing vitality? To what extent was Vienna, the focus of so much scholarship in recent decades, really the dominant centre? Was there really such a thing as ‘the Austrian mentality’ or should one speak rather of a ‘Dual Monarchy mentality’? Our workshop will question assumptions about centre and periphery, explore the ramifications of urban development, and seek to re-map the culture of the Habsburg Empire between its foundation in 1804 and its dissolution in 1918.

No registration is necessary; all are welcome to attend this free event. The agenda for the afternoon is as follows:



The Habsburg Empire Under Foreign Eyes: British Travellers and their Experiences in Central Europe, c. 1815-1860s

In his seminal study Inventing Eastern Europe Larry Wolff argued that Eastern Europe was created in the Enlightenment era and conceptualized along a dividing line stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic. This line would have divided the Habsburg Empire in Eastern and Western halves. This paper examines how British and German-speaking travellers from outside the Habsburg Empire perceived it in the period between 1815 and the late 1860s, when, according to Wolff, the division must have been firmly established. This paper concentrates on two main aspects. Firstly it will focus on travelogues published by British travellers and discuss their sociocultural background and the ‘beaten tracks’ within the Empire. Furthermore, the challenges but also benefits of travelogues as a source for historical research will be examined. Of course, these publications were not simply read, but fed into a broader discourse. Thus, the second aspect addresses the travellers’ ‘mental maps.’ Analysing travelogues allows for a better understanding of the delimitations of conceptual spaces such as ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western Europe’ and thus test Wolff’s thesis.


Staging the National Bankruptcy of 1810: Economic Realities in Viennese Suburban Theater Plays

Theatre censorship under Franz II is considered one of the harshest systems of censorship in European history. The Habsburg government was well aware of the massive impact theatre had on its audience during the aftermath of the French Revolution. Contradicting most scholars on the topic, I argue that the playwrights of the ‘Wiener Volkstheater’ were not apolitically affirmative of the system but used specific ways of poetic codification to ‘say what they wanted to say without saying it’. After a brief illustration of the cultural-political situation in Vienna during the early 19th century, including a quick spotlight on the first Austrian Bankruptcy, I will focus on the surprisingly critical play Die Kursspekulanten by Adolf Bäuerle, a popular Viennese playwright in his day now deemed irrelevant by contemporary theatre studies. Die Kursspekulanten has only recently been found and challenges the view on the genre of ‘Wiener Volkstheater’ as non-political.


The City, its Art, and its Publics: Art Museums of Habsburg Central Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century

This paper will present some of the preliminary research outcomes of the Leverhulme-funded research project ‘Promoting National and Imperial Identities: Museums in Austria-Hungary’ (University of Birmingham). The project looks beyond the well-researched national narratives of the foundation of art museums in the Habsburg Empire at the late nineteenth century. It examines continuities and ruptures within the small cohort of enthusiasts who stood behind the early initiatives and later public museums. It analyses how exhibitionary practices were used by imperial centres in Vienna and Budapest to promote state-sanctioned visions of cultural, social and political identity and, at the same time, how other groups, especially municipal governments in cities such as Prague, Cracow or Zagreb, as well as numerous local commercial and civil associations and influential individuals used museums and exhibitions to convey counter-discourses and practices. Questioning the applicability of Bennett’s ‘exhibitionary complex’ to Habsburg Central Europe, it calls for the re-evaluation of the role of diverse actors in the shaping of the museums’ complex agendas and their capacity to reach out to the broader urban public.

3:40 – 4pm COFFEE BREAK


‘Portrait of the Artist’: Arthur Schnitzlerʼs Staged Authorship in Photography of fin-de-siècle Vienna [in German]

The Viennese writer Arthur Schnitzler was not only a ‘poet of modernity’ but also a ‘modern poet’ in a very concrete sense: His affinity for technical developments of his time such as stereoscopic entertain­ment and film has been well researched recently. Hardly known, however, is his intense and almost lifelong relationship to the medium of photography. This is astonishing insofar as the choice of the studio and the mode of representation reveals a lot about Schnitzlerʼs self-image and self-staging as one of the leading poets of Vienna at the turn of the century. Among the photographers for whom he sat for his portrait (Josef Löwy, Aura Hertwig and Ferdinand Schmutzer, inter alia), the ‘photo pioneer’ and Perscheid student Madame dʼOra (1881–1963) emerges: She captured the poet in the decade of his artistic climax from 1908 to 1915, when he wrote principal works such as Der junge Medardus (1910), Das weite Land (1911) or Professor Bernhardi (1912), and created the iconic Schnitzler portraits to this day.


O du mein liebes Österreich! Epistemic Genre and Literary Pathography in Arthur Schnitzler’s Professor Bernhardi

Four of the five acts of Arthur Schnitzler’s medical play Professor Bernhardi (1912) begin with scenes of writing or acts of filing paperwork. Patients and dead bodies are administered to solely as textual bodies in different institutionalised contexts, primarily in the institution of the hospital. The meeting of medicine and literature, or more precisely anatomical pathology and dramatic text, explores the theatricality of institutions in an exemplary way. The dramatic structure of Schnitzler’s hard-edged comedy puts emphasis on spatial relations and instances when bodily actions become text and discourse. This movement of ‘vertexten’ is initiated through the play’s key scene when Bernhardi prevents a Catholic priest entering the ward of a young woman who is unaware that she is dying. Moments of physicality, such as Bernhardi’s gesture of refusal, gently touching the priest, are countered by institutionalised texting, creating an omnipresent textuality, where almost all communications are institutionalised. Schnitzler’s theatre makes us aware of being drawn in a highly textual, discursive, rhetorical world, one within which each text has a meta-text. No certainty is attained. The upshot is a deeply ironic comedy about the entrapment in textuality of the institutionalized human self. This paper explores Bernhardi’s final written intervention, his writing a book about his case in a prison cell, in relation to Schnitzler’s own writing process of the drama and his account of the history of its development. It offers a poetological reading of Act V of Schnitzler’s Professor Bernhardi which presents a case of Schnitzler working on Schnitzler or rather auto-anatomy as much as a dramatic text which enacts its own pathogenesis drawing on epistemic genre, such as a patient’s dissection report and medical history.


Streetscapes of War and Revolution: The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Empire in Prague, 1914-1920

This paper examines wartime life in Prague, the third largest city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time.  It focuses especially on the social mobilization for the Austro-Hungarian war effort, which was present in urban space in the first years of the conflict, despite strong Czech nationalism. The patriotism mobilized during the war could be framed in local, national, or imperial terms. The subsequent loss of legitimacy of the Habsburg state linked to the food crisis in 1917 and 1918 should not be seen as standing in contrast to the population’s previous attitude towards the war: it is precisely because of the great sacrifices made by Praguers during the conflict that the state’s responses in the realm of welfare were perceived as inadequate.