History and Memory: Monarchy and Dictatorship in 20th Century Central Europe

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

College-level or AP course in Western and/or European History or Art History.

Additional student cost: 



Historical scholarship is divided by scholars who think that history is a science, based on laws, an unalterable set of facts which can be ascertained by archaeological or archival research, founded along the ideas of 19th century German scholars such as Theodor Mommsen and Leopold von Ranke and their contemporaries in (mostly) Western Europe.  Contemporary philosophers, post-modern theorists and „new historians” argue that there is no such a thing as „history”: much rather, people remember the past in different and individual ways, and the result is a composite mixture of their memories, ever changing, imagined, incomplete. A recent addition to this argument, by the French historian Pierre Nora, is the lieu(x) de mémoire, the place(s) where we remember the past, the display of monuments, sculptures, public spaces to remember e.g. the two World Wars, the Holocaust, national revolutions, terrorist attacks, historical figures, national heroes, and many other events and people who became relics and symbols of the past. European history, and Habsburg history in particular, underwent major changes as a result of these new philosophies and arguments. Much of what individuals, everyday people remember has entered History showing the enormous diversity and versatility of the past which we, ordinary human beings, personally shape and own – or disown.

The course presents two areas of history vs memory in particular: (1) the Habsburg Monarchy and its legacy in the nation states; (2) the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

(1) The Habsburg Monarchy, and particularly its great capital cities Vienna and Budapest, offer a rich venue to explore the changing nature of ‘History’ into histories. The dissolution of the Habsburg Empire, i.e. the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in 1919-1920, resulted in the reorganization of a vast area in the center of Europe. The survivor states of the Habsburg lands such as today’s Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine have their own histories of their Habsburg period and these different histories are combined with memories, national, regional, and personal narratives of the past.

(2) The totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union loom large in both contemporary historiography and public memory. One of the most painful parts of the legacy of Hitler’s Europe is the Holocaust, the systematic, industrialized extermination of European Jewry. The course juxtaposes the ways the Holocaust is remembered today including efforts to deny its existence.

The outcome of investigating history vs memory in Habsburg, national, and totalitarian contexts is a heightened sensitivity to we what know and what we remember, how the past survives in both scholarship and the public mind. Our knowledge of the past comes from the combination of learning and remembering, study and memory. Fact and fiction combined help us remember the past.

Attendance policy: 

Consistent and regular attendance and participation is required in accordance with Center policy. Students should be in class, on time, prepared, and attentive. Laptops are permitted exclusively for note-taking. Texting in class is not tolerated.

Learning outcomes: 

Upon completing this course the student should have acquired the ability to:

  • Understand the theoretical framework of ‘history’ vs ‘memory’;
  • Appreciate the various forms of authoritarianism, dictatorship, and totalitarianism in Europe;
  • Get to know the Habsburg Monarchy and its legacy in the survivor states;
  • Learn of the transformations of East-Central Europe in the 20th century;
  • View Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union in both contemporary historiography and public memory.
Method of presentation: 
  • Lecture and discussion format
  • Field trip to Budapest
  • Walks in Vienna
  • Readings will be posted on Moodle
Field study: 

Between Weeks 7 and 8; see lesson plan in content (details to follow in class).

Required work and form of assessment: 

The course expectations include: active participation in class discussions; completion of all readings in time for class; term paper (10 pages, topics to be assigned individually); written, in-class mid-term and final exams.

  • Midterm exam - 30%
  • Final exam - 30%
  • Term paper - 30%
  • Class participation - 10%
Week # Content Reading (films if noted)
Part I: What is history?

What is History? E. H. Carr revisited

E. H. Carr, Appleby et al.


History and Memory / histories and memories

Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe; Jacques Revel and Lynn Hunt, eds., Histories: French Constructions of the Past


Heroes’ Square in Vienna and Budapest, Étoile in Paris, the Mall in Washington, D.C., Trafalgar Square in London, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, the Red Square in Moscow

Between Memory and History: Les lieux de mémoire [places to remember] by Pierre Nora

IV Interpreting the Past: Imagined Histories

Anthony Molho and Gordon S. Wood, eds.


Visual images of the past: how far back do we see?

Feature films vs documentaries, history on television, video, the Internet


Films on totalitarianism: Cabaret, Julia, Mephisto; Burnt by the Sun, Sunshine

VI Mid-terms week
Part 2: Remembering the Habsburg and totalitarian past and its aftermath in Vienna and in Budapest


  1. Habsburg Past: Franz Joseph memories in Vienna, the memorial of the Empress Maria Theresa, the statues of Eugene of Savoy and Archduke Carl on Heroes’ Square, the statues of the founding fathers of the Republic of Austria around Parliament, the Arkadenhof in the Main Building of the University of Vienna.
  2. Totalitarian Past: Memorial for the 65,000 Austrian Jews and Jewesses killed in the Shoah; Gedenkstein für die Gestapo-Opfer; Memorial Against War and Fascism; Heroes Memorial for the Red Army at Schwarzenbergplatz.

Brandstätter, ed., John Lukacs (select chapters)


Budapest (Weekend field trip to Budapest)

  1. Habsburg Past: Heroes’ Square, Habsburg statues (Empress-Queen Elisabeth, Archduke Joseph), the former Royal Palace, the statue of Eugene of Savoy, Franz Joseph memories in Budapest, anti-Habsburg resistance figures.
  2. Totalitarian Past: the Statue of Liberty; the House of Terror; the 1956 memorial; the Statue Park of the Communist Era; Section 301 in the National Cemetery; Imre Nagy’s statue; parts of the Berlin Wall in Budapest.

György—Turai, eds.


Reshaping national history: The politically driven rearrangement of the past

Renaming streets, changing statues, the examples in Vienna and Budapest. (e.g. Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring to Universitätsring; Stalingrad to Volgograd; the F. D. Roosevelt memorial in Washington, D.C.; the F. D. Roosevelt and the Moscow squares in Budapest)

Contemporary historians and their debates. Can you "deny” the Holocaust?

Iggers, Rathkolb et al., John Lukacs (Chapter 7)

Is history relevant? Is it really ”a master of life”?

20th century fiction as a source of our knowledge of contemporary history

Historical texts (Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von Gestern [The World of Yesterday]; Thomas Bernhard, Heldenplatz [Heroes’ Square], Elfriede Jellinek, Die Ausgesperrten [Wonderful, Wonderful Times] Imre Kertész, Sorstalanság [Fatelessness]) (Excerpts)

Journalism, fb, twitter, ”unofficial” and ”unorthodox” histories


Personal memories relating to history

Family and friends as sources of history, personal memories, “papers in the attic”, the psychology of remembering (interviewing elderly family members, via e-mail or skype, on their personal histories)

XII Finals Exams


Required readings: 
  • Appleby, Joyce, Lynn Hunt, Margaret Jacob. Telling the Truth About History. New York-London: Norton, 1994. Chapters 7-8, 241-309.
  • Carr, E. H. What is History? London: Penguin, 1961. Chapter 1, 7-30.
  • Frank, Tibor and Frank Hadler, eds. Disputed Territories and Shared Pasts: Overlapping National Histories in Modern Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pb. 20152. 
  • Dauphin, Cécile et al. “Women’s Culture and Power”, in: Revel-Hunt, eds., 618-630.
  • Gardiner, Patrick, The Nature of Historical Explanation. Oxford University Press, 1952. Part III, 65-112.
  • György, Péter and Hedvig Turai, eds. Art and Society in the Age of Stalin. Budapest: Corvina, 1992.
  • Handlin, Oscar, Truth in History. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press; Harvard University Press, 1979. Chapters 15-17, 369-415.
  • Iggers, Georg G. and Wang, Q. Edward (with Supriya Mukherjee). A Global History of Modern Historiography. Harlow, UK etc.: Pearson-Longman, 2008. Chapters 6-8; 250-401.
  • Lukacs, John. Budapest 1900. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988. Chapter 7, 209-225.
  • Metzger, Rainer. Vienna Around 1900: “The Duration of Denial,” in: Brandstätter, Christian, ed., Vienna 1900. New York: Vendome Press, 2006. 19-32.
  • Molho, Anthony, and Gordon S. Wood, eds. Imagined Histories: American Historians Interpret the Past. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998. 85-106, 393-414.
  • Nora, Pierre. ”Between Memory and History: Les lieux de mémoire” (1984) (Representations, Nr. 26) in: Revel-Hunt, eds., 631-643.
  • Rathkolb, Oliver, Florian Wenninger, Birgit Nemec, Peter Autengruber, eds. Umstrittene Wiener Straßennamen: Ein kritisches Lesebuch. Wien: Pichler, 2014.
  • Revel, Jacques, and Lynn Hunt, eds. Histories: French Constructions of the Past.  New York: The New Press, 1995. Select chapters/articles.
  • White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1973. Introduction.