Modern Austria in Central Europe

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 
  • HS 352: none
  • HS 452: History major or permission of the instructor
  • For some research topics, an advanced knowledge of German is highly desirable



The course attempts to analyse the development of present-day Austria from the multi- national Habsburg Empire at the beginning of the 20th century to a new multi-national “Empire”, the European Union, at the beginning of the 21st century. It will start with a look at the political system and ethnic tensions within the Habsburg Empire and discuss the way these tensions contributed to the decision to start a war in 1914 that effectively killed the cosy liberal middle-class world of the 19th century. German-speaking Austrians who had dominated the Habsburg Empire regarded themselves as the real losers of that war: They had lost great power-status; their claims to self-determination went largely unheeded; inflation had done away with their savings; war-time controls had effectively converted the economy into a socialist one; defeat in 1918 was followed by outbreaks of revolutionary violence.

The brief period of stabilization from 1922 to 1929 was shattered by the Great Depression that exacerbated social tensions between rival political camps (“Lager”) that were armed to the teeth. During the 1930’s Austria was caught between rival authoritarian and totalitarian movements, became a dictatorship in 1933, suffered two civil wars in 1934 and was finally taken over by Adolf Hitler in 1938. Austrians formed a more or less normal part of Hitler’s Third Reich but were encouraged to set up shop again as an independent state by the victorious allies in 1945.

Post-war Austria was able to avoid partition along German lines, received generous help under the Marshall-Plan and was established as a neutral buffer state between East and West in 1955. In contrast to the divisive politics of the “First Republic”, the “Second Republic” was characterized by an unusual, almost suffocating system of consensus between the two biggest parties and a “shadow government” of organized interest groups (“Social Partnership”) that presided over an economy with a large element of state control. Fairly successful during the “Reconstruction” years, this “neo-corporatist” system showed signs of strain from the 1980’s onwards when faced with the challenges of uneven growth, immigration and “globalisation”. Internationally, the collapse of the Soviet Empire allowed Austria to join the EU in 1994; domestically, the growth of new political movements (from the Greens to Jörg Haider’s version of the Freedom Party) challenged the old-established duopoly of power and helped to bring Austria into line with European developments.


Attendance policy: 

Only justified absence from a course unit (actual illness, emergencies) is tolerated; unjustified absences affect the grade negatively. In case of a justified absence you need to write an e-mail to [email protected] with a CC to the Registrar and to the Head of Student Services in order to be excused.

Learning outcomes: 

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

  • Name and assess the principal historical developments of Austria’s history in the 20th century, including the historical foundations of present-day Austria
  • Articulate the main points of the scholarly debate about certain aspects of Austria's contemporary history
  • 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: 
  • Lecture
  • Discussion
  • Assigned readings
  • Excursions


Field study: 

Date and topic to be announced according to class progress. Possible locations include the only (and unfinished) atomic power plant in Zwentendorf or the Austrian Parliament or the Austrian Economic Museum.


Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Written midterm - 30%
  • Final exam - 30%
  • Term Paper - 20%
  • Presentation - 10%
  • Class participation - 10%

The midterm and final examination will each consist of several short 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.

Furthermore, you are required to write a short paper (with references) and give a short presentation about one aspect of the course (e.g. Austrian Jews and the Shoa, Nationalities of Austria-Hungary, Austria in the European Union, ...). Length: 15-20 minutes/1500 words.

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.


Topic Content Readings
  • The Old Empire: “Historic Nations”
  • “Well-tempered Discontent”?
  • Checks and Balances: Authoritarian liberals and anti-liberal Democrats
  • Fin-de-siecle Vienna: “The Conditions of excellence”.
  • Hausmaninger 1-18; Kuprian in Bischof  11-35; Anderson 140-191; Höbelt 47-74.
  • World War I, the Seminal Catastrophe:  “To Die Honourably”
  • 1914 and the Frightened Aggressor;
  • “Tyranny plus Sloth”: The war-time economy
  • 1918: Neither German Unity nor Proletarian Revolution
  • Cornwall 167-196; Kann 468-520; Rauchensteiner 36-44
  • The First Republic: The Parties and the State
  • Territorial Losses from the Sudeten lands to South Tyrol
  • Ignaz Seipel, the Machiavellian Healer: Foreign Controls and Domestic Virtue.
  • Jelavich 144-191
  • The Crisis Years: The After-Effects of the War and the Crisis of Capitalism
  • The Totalitarian Temptation: Fascism as a post-democratic Phenomenon
  • The End of the Bourgeois Cabinets and the Slide into Dictatorship
  • Jelavich 192-224
  • Maderthaner in Bischof 45-71
  • Binder in Bischof 72-84
  • Steininger in BIschof 85-114
  • The Third Reich: The Nazi Version of Fascism
  • “Anschluss”: Elation and Employment
  • Totalitarianism in Practice: Party, Police and Persecution
  • Holocaust and Heroics: Austrians in WW II.

Before the Midterm Week:

  • Mandatory excursion to the Austrian Army Museum
  • Jelavich 224-244
  • The Second Republic: Stalin, Renner and the Usurpation of the old Elites
  • The Four Powers, Reconstruction and De-Nazification
  • Barrier between North and South: The State Treaty of 1955
  • Midterm
  • Jelavich 245-268
  • Rathkolb 168-189
  • Eisterer in Bischof 190-211
  • Neo-Corporatism: Great Coalition and Social Partnership
  • Bruno Kreisky and the “Austrian Way”
  • Inverted Fronts: The Elitist Left and the Populist Right
  • Sully 3-12
  • Rathkolb in Bischof 263-293
  • Bischof 78-130
  • Mathis in Bischof 212-234
  • Far from the End of History: Waldheim and the Passing of the War Generation: Coming to Terms with World War Two
  • Possible mandatory excursion to the Labour Day Parade and the Public Housing Blocks of the “Red Vienna”, dependig on weather and class progress.
  • Sully 77-95
  • Rathkolb 237-266
  • The End of the post-war World and the reunification of Europe
  • The Politics of Immigration and Identity
  • Austria in the European Union
  • 21st Century: From Consensus to Competition?
  • Johnson 249-275
  • Rathkolb 1-29
  • Gehler and Kaiser in Bischof 294-320
  • Austria as it is Today: Current Issues and their Roots
  • Society, Politics and Economy
  • Future Trends.
  • Rathkolb 267-282
  • Pelinka in Bischof 321-341


Required readings: 
  • Anderson, M.C. The Ascendancy of Europe. Aspects of European History 1815-1914.   1972.
  • Bischof, Günther (Ed.). Austria in the Twentieth Century. 2002.
  • Bischof, Günther (Ed.). The Kreisky Era in Austria. 1994.
  • Cornwall, Marc (Ed.). The Last Years of Austria-Hungary. 2002.
  • Hausmanninger, Herbert. The Austrian Legal System. 2000.
  • Jelavich, Barbara. Modern Austria. Empire and Republic, 1815-1986. 1987.
  • Johnson, Lonnie. Central Europe. Enemies, Neighbours, Friends. 1996.
  • Kann, Robert. A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918. (2nd ed.) 1977.
  • Rathkolb, Oliver. The Paradoxical Republic. Austria 1945-2005. 2010.
  • Sully, Melanie. A Contemporary History of Austria. 1990