History of the Habsburg Empire

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 



A study of the Habsburg Empire and its relationship with the states of Central Europe and the peoples living there through an analysis of crucial points in their common history through the end of World War I. The course presents this history as an essential background for understanding present day Austria. Topics include the medieval origin and the enlargement of the Habsburg Empire; the attempt to modernize and centralize the Habsburg lands under the auspices of enlightened absolutism; the consequences of the stagnation of reform caused by the shock of the French Revolution; the Napoleonic Wars and the revolutions of 1848; the Habsburg attempt to cope with the economic and social change through industrialization and the rising tide of nationalism; the Compromise with Hungary and constitutionalism as chance and failure to preserve the multi-national empire; and the eventual breakup of the Habsburg Empire under the strain of World War I.

Attendance policy: 

IES Abroad Vienna requires attendance at all class sessions, including field study excursions, internship meetings, scheduled rehearsals, and exams. Attendance will be monitored and unexcused absences will affect the student’s grade via the “Participation” component of each course’s final grade.

Excused Absences

  • Excused absences are permitted only when a student is ill, when class is held on a recognized religious holiday traditionally observed by the particular student, or in the case of a grave incident affecting family members.
  • To be granted an excused absence, the student must write an email to his/her professor in a timely manner stating the reason for the absence (and, if appropriate, how long they expect to be away) with a cc to Center administrative staff. In an emergency, the student may call Student Services or the Front Desk. If the student is unable to send an email (too sick, no computer), he/she may call the Student Assistant at the front desk (01/512 2601-11) who will then write the email described above and send it to said parties as stated above, with a cc to the student.
  • If a student is absent 3 consecutive days or more, he/she will need to obtain a doctor’s note and then submit this to the Registrar’s office.
Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Understand the historical foundations of present-day Austria
  • Be aware of the historical complexity of Central Europe
  • Be able to name the principal historical develompents of Austria’s history
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Discussion
  • Assigned readings
  • Excursions
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Written midterm - 30%
  • Written final - 30%
  • Excursion journal with reflection and analysis - 20%
  • class participation - 20%

The midterm will consist of 3-4 general questions. You will have to combine the information you read, heard in class and saw on the excursions. The questions need to be answered in the form of short, essay-like paragraphs. Time: 60 minutes

The final will consist of three statements about the course content, of which you can choose one. You will have to write an essay (introduction, three arguments, conclusion) about one of these statements agreeing, partly agreeing or disagreeing with it. Time: 60 minutes

Furthermore, you are supposed to take notes during the excursions, analyzing them in the end and creating a fluent story that contains the main points of the excursions related to the reading assignments and the course content. This excursion journal should be about five to six pages.

Class Participation
In class at the beginning of each lesson, there will be a short discussion of primary sources handed out (e.g. photographs) one week before. You are required to examine the sources according to guidlines discussed during the first lesson and share your thoughts and findings with your colleagues.

Week Content Reading Excursion
Week 1
  • Introduction, presentation of the course, discussion of
    possible excursions and goals.
  • The “Poor Counts” and Life in the Middle Ages The
    “Wild East”: Austria as a Border Area throughout
    History Education: “Privilege of Clergy” Feudalism:
    Running an Empire without Cash
  • None
  • Imperial Treasury
Week 2
  • Emperors, Kings, Dukes and Counts – and who else?
  • Life during the „Age of the Cathedrals“.
  • A Swiss Moves East: Rudolf I. 14th Century: The
    Plague and the Years in the Wilderness
  • Wandruszka 33-49
  • 1st district of Vienna: Roman ruins,
    medieval quarters: ancient legends
    and their reality
Week 3
  • 15th Century: The Habsburg Comeback and the Last Knight
  • “The Empire Where the Sun Never Sets”
  • The Good News: You, lucky Austria, Marry! The Bad News:
    Religious Discord
  • Wandruszka 88-102
  • Imperial Collection of Arms and Armour
Week 4
  • From Civil War to World War: The Thirty Years War
  • The Storm from the East: the Turks - A Baroque
  • Ingrao 23-53
  • Historical Museum of the City of
    Vienna I
Week 5
  • Great Power Politics: Charles VI’s Struggle to Bequeath
    an Empire
  • Ingrao 105-149
  •  Belvedere
Week 6
  • The Double Eagle during the „Age of Revolutions“
  • The House of Lorraine and Enlightened Absolutism –
    Fighting the French Revolution: Napoleon’s Whipping Boy
    and “A World Restored”
  • Ingrao 220-241
  • Museum of the Battle of Aspern
    (First Defeat of Napoleon)
Week 7
  • Repression and Retreat into the Home: The Biedermeier -
    Liberalism and Nationalism Divide and Rule I: 1848 and
    the Historic Nations – Neo-Absolutism – Bankruptcy and
  • Taylor 47-70
  • Historical Museum of the City of Vienna II
Week 8
  • 1866 and Dualism – Divide and Rule II: “Well-Tempered
    Discontent” – Economic Progress and Political Deadlock
  • Post-Liberalism: Fin de siècle Vienna and Mass Democracy
  • Taylor 123-140
  • The Politics behind the Ringstrasse
Week 9
  • Fossils in a Modern Age: The Least of the Great Powers –
    The Non-Imperialist Empire – The Aggressive Empire:
    Preventive Wars, the more the merrier?
  • Taylor 214-232
  • Imperial Crypt and the Augustinerkirche
Week 10
  • 1914: Sarajevo and the “Third Balkan War” – “The Lights
    Went Out”: Total War and War- Time Socialism - 1918:
    Defeat and Dissolution – Pseudo-Nation-States: The
    Successor States
  • Taylor 233-252
  • Museum of Military History


Required readings: 
  • Ingrao, Charles. The Habsburg Monarchy 1620-1815. 1994.
  • Taylor, A.J.P. The Habsburg Monarchy 1809 to 1918. 1955.
  • Wandruszka, Adam. The House of Habsburg. 1964.