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BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
The Habsburg Empire: Politics, Society, and Culture in Central Europe, 1867-1914

Unit code HIST32141
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


In 1913, Vienna, the Habsburg imperial capital, was considered the epitome of the modern metropolis. It was also the (temporary) home of Freud, Hitler, Stalin, Tito, and Trotsky. A year later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo, leading to World War I and the Empire’s collapse. Was the empire doomed to fail due to the rise of ideologies such as nationalism, populism, and anti-Semitism? What was the role of the dynasty, the political elite, and German, Hungarian, Czech, or Serbian nationalist activists? How did modernisation, urbanisation, and migration shape attitudes to class, gender, and political participation? Was the creative culture of Vienna really so decadent that it contributed to the empire’s collapse? From the role of elite political actors to aspects of everyday life, the course explores the crisis of the Habsburg Empire, an important chapter in the turbulent history of East Central Europe.


HIST32141 is restricted to History programmes and History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


1. To explore the political, social, and cultural history of the Habsburg Empire from the middle of the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.
2. To analyse the major, often competing, traditions of the historiography of the Habsburg Empire, and to think critically about the debates and agendas of research(ers) in this field.
3. To introduce students to a broad range of key (translated) primary sources for this subject.
4. To develop a critical understanding of the Empire’s crisis. 

Knowledge and understanding

1. The history of the Habsburg Empire from the late 19th to the early 20th century.
2. The complex and changing political and ethno-national map of Central Europe and the Habsburg Empire in the modern period.
3. The shifting relationship between dynastic, national, and imperial loyalties.
4. The background of the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. 
5. A historically sensitive positioning of the Habsburg legacy in a comparative perspective within the broader studies of the empire.

Intellectual skills

1. Critical understanding of the competing traditions of the historiography of the Habsburg Empire.
2. Skills to evaluate the Habsburg legacy in a transnational and comparative perspective within broader histories of nationalism and empire.
3. Skills to evaluate a variety of primary sources, both textual and visual, offering divergent perspectives and interpretations.

Practical skills

1. Articulating critical written and oral responses to historical sources (primary and secondary) as well as to comments by lecturer and other students.
2. A set of methodological skills to analyse primary sources from diverse regions of Central Europe.
3. Researching historical questions and communicating findings convincingly and concisely in the form of an essay.
4. Developing a research topic on the politics, society, and/or culture of the Habsburg Empire using primary sources and relevant historiography.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

1. Close analysis of a wide range of source material.
2. Organisation of research into coherent argument.
3. Presenting a written argument in essay writing.
4. Coherent communication of ideas both orally and in writing.
5. Reflection on own learning and understanding across the module.

Employability skills

- research planning and organisation; - critical analysis; - communication and presentation (orally and in writing); - argument and debate; - time management.

Assessment methods

Primary Source Commentary



Essay proposal






Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback (in seminars and office hours)


Peer and instructor feedback (oral) on essay proposal


Written feedback on source commentary and essay (Turnitin)


Recommended reading

S. Beller, The Habsburg Monarchy 1815-1918 (Cambridge, 2018).
A. Freifeld, Nationalism and the Crowd in Liberal Hungary, 1848-1914 (Washington and Baltimore, 2000).
B. Hamann, Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship (Oxford, 1999).
M. Healy, ‘A Thursday Before the War: 28 May 1914 in Vienna’, Austrian History Yearbook 45 (2014): 134-149.
P. Judson and M. L. Rozenblit, eds. Constructing Nationalities in East Central Europe (Oxford, 2005).
P. Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History (Cambridge, MA, 2016).
A. Ko¿uchowski, The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary: The Image of the Habsburg Empire in Interwar Europe (Pittsburgh, 2013).
C. E. Schorske, Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (London, 1980).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Katalin Straner Unit coordinator

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