Advanced Topics in History of the Habsburg Empire

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
  • History major or permission of the instructor.
  • For some research topics an advanced knowledge of German or French is highly desirable.

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.

Note: This course is taught in conjunction with HS351 History of the Habsburg Empire. Only HS452 students will have additional sessions and work, as detailed below.

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 will be able to:

  • analyze the historical foundations of present-day modern Austria as well as the principal historical developments of Austria’s history
  • provide an overview of Habsburg history that reflects the numerous cultural and historical characteristics of this empire
  • identify areas in this history worthy of further consideration and, within this, identify a specific topic of sufficient weight yet manageable size
  • engage in an investigation of primary sources, including navigating research facilities as well as identifying and acquiring the materials necessary for historical analysis,
  • formulate the right questions in the face of a wide range of evidence and to marshal this information into cogent, defensible conclusions
  • articulate these key issues, provide full documentation, formulate arguments, and reach insightful conclusions in written form (for instance, in a history term paper)
  • lay out the background and details of these historical findings in an aural presentation
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Discussion
  • Presentations
  • Excursions
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Written midterm - 20%
  • Written final - 20%
  • Excursion journal with reflection and analysis - 10%
  • Class participation - 10%
  • Paper - 20%
  • Presentation of the special assignment - 20%

The midterm will consist of several short 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.

Excursion Journal
Furthermore, you are to take notes during the excursions, analyze them at the end of the course and create a fluent story that contains the main points of the excursions as they relate to the reading assignments and the course content. This excursion journal should be five to six pages in length.

Class Participation
At the beginning of each class session, there will be a short discussion of primary sources (e.g. photographs or texts) handed out the previous week. You are required to examine the sources according to guidelines discussed during the first lesson and share your thoughts and findings with your colleagues. Remember that participation in class discussions and short quizzes or homework are part of the grade. Please read and prepare the required readings for every session as indicated below in the section about content. In addition, only justified absence from a course unit (actual illness, emergencies) is tolerated; unjustified absences may affect the grade negatively.

Research Project
Students will choose between two research projects:
a) Habsburg Debated: Many aspects of the Habsburg Empire are still subject to debate. Issues such as the personal life of some family members, nationalism in the late 19th century or Austria-Hungary's role before and in World War One can produce heated discussions among scholars on both sides of the ocean. Together with the professor the students will identify a topic and relevant readings (in addition to one article all 400-level students are required to read: Lhotsky, Alphons. Geschichtsforschung und Geschichtsschreibung in Österreich. In: Historische Zeitschrift 189,1959 pp. 379-449 and the relevant Volume of Rumpler, Helmut, Urbanitsch, Peter(Eds.)
Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848 bis 1918) of about 300-500 pages, e.g. from the prestigious “Austrian History Yearbook” or the numerous publications about the Habsburg Empire in English (see below). Then, the students will have to identify the main contrasting opinions of the debate as well as weak points in the arguments of both sides that would need more research. The findings are to be presented in class (presentation length: 15-20 minutes) and to be laid down in a paper of about 8000-10000 words.
b) Deep inside the Archives: Students with an advanced level of German or French will have the opportunity to do short, punctual guided research about one topic of interest. This can include, for example, the personal life of the Habsburgs as it is reflected in the many letters preserved in the Austrian State Archives or the reconstruction of single key events in history as they are reflected in a set of official documents. The students will get to know the archival landscape of Vienna, one of the most important research sites for Central European history. After identifying a topic and assigning additional reading (200-400 pages per student), the professor will guide the student during their archival research. The additional reading will consist of one article all 400-level students are required to read (Lhotsky, Alphons. Geschichtsforschung und Geschichtsschreibung in Österreich. In: Historische Zeitschrift 189,1959 pp. 379-449) and further readings tailored to the chosen topic, for example one monograph and two peer-reviewed articles. Since the readings are different for each topic and the topic is determined together with the student, they are to be determined by the end of the second week of class. After finishing the work, the student will have to present their findings in class and write a paper about it (presentation: 15-20 minutes, paper length: 8000-10000 words).

Possible primary sources include (but are not limited to) the personal letters of the Habsburg rulers (French, German, Italian), documents from the Austrian War Archive (reports, diaries), interrogation records of trials (e.g. witch trials), files of various offices suitable for researching social history (Austrian Court Finance Archives), Diplomatic Reports of Habsburg Diplomats (French, German) and others.

Both assignments include 90 minutes extra in class and/or two hours in the archives each week. The extra readings in this syllabus will be discussed separately with the students.

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.
  • Bérenger 20-36
  • Wessely 14-66
  • 1st district of Vienna: Roman ruins, medieval quarters; ancient legends and their reality
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.
  • Bérenger 8-19
  • Wandruszka 33-79
  • Imperial Treasury
Week 3
  • 15th/16th 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
  • Bérenger 123-164
  • Imperial Collection of Arms and Armour
Week 4
  • From Civil War to World War: The Thirty Years War
  • The Storm from the East: the
  • A Baroque World.
  • Ingrao 23-53
  • Kann 25-53
  • Hochedlinger 43-88
  • The Historical Museum of the City of Vienna
Week 5
  • Great Power Politics: Charles VI’s Struggle to Bequeath an Empire.
  • Ingrao 105-149
  • Hochedlinger 246-275
  • None
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
  • “A World Restored”.
  • Ingrao 220-241
  • Kann 208-242
  • Hochedlinger 401-444
  • None
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 Constitutions.
  • Taylor 47-80
  • Anderson 140-191
  • Imperial Furniture Collection
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 123-160
  • Höbelt (in Cornwall) 47-70
  • None
Week 9
  • A Fossil in a Modern Age: The Least of the Great Powers
  • The Non-Imperialist Empire;
  • The Aggressive Empire: Preventive Wars, the more the merrier?
  • None
  • None


Required readings: 
  • Anderson, M.C. The Ascendancy of Europe. Aspects of European History 1815-1914. 1972.
  • Bérenger, Jean. A History of the Habsburg Empire: 1273-1700. 1994.
  • Cornwall, Marc (Ed.). The Last Years of Austria-Hungary (2nd ed.). 2003.
  • Hochedlinger, Michael. Austria’s Wars of Emergence 1683-1797. 2003.
  • Ingrao, Charles. The Habsburg Monarchy 1620-1815. 1994.
  • Jelavich, Barbara. Modern Austria. Empire and Republic 1815-1986. 1987.
  • Kann, Robert. A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918. (2nd ed.) 1977.
  • Taylor, A.J.P. The Habsburg Monarchy 1809 to 1918. 1955.
  • Wandruszka, Adam. The House of Habsburg. 1964.
  • Wessely, Christine (Ed.). The Babenbergs – and What They Left to Us.  1975.