The Shadow of the Habsburgs: Memory and National Identity in Austrian Politics and Education, 1918-1955

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2006-06-01

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This dissertation examines how the people of Austria portrayed their past as part of the centuries-old, multinational Habsburg Monarchy in order to conduct a public debate about what it meant to be an "Austrian" during a tumultuous era in Europe's history. As its main sources, It draws upon the public writings of Austrian politicians and intellectuals, as well as on educational laws, curricula and history textbooks used by the different Austrian governments of the era in order to describe how Austrian leaders portrayed Austria's past in an attempt to define its national future, even as Austrian schools tried to disseminate those national and historical ideals to the next generation of Austrian citizens in a practical sense. The first section describes how the leaders of the Austrian First Republic saw Austria's newfound independence after 1918 as a clean break with its Habsburg past, and consequently pursued a union with Germany which was frustrated by the political interests of the victors of World War I. The second section details the rise of an "Austro-fascist" dictatorship in Austria during the mid-1930s which promoted an Austrian patriotism grounded in a positive portrayal of the Habsburg Monarchy in order to remain independent from Nazi Germany. The third section examines Austria's forcible incorporation into the Nazi German state, and the effort by the Third Reich to completely eradicate the existence of a distinctive Austrian identity by casting the Habsburg era in a negative light. The final section describes the rebirth of an independent Austrian state at the insistence of the Allied powers after World War II, and the manner in which the leaders of the Austrian Second Republic used memories of the Habsburg Past in order to portray Austrians as the victims of foreign German aggression who bore no responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich. This study ultimately shows that national identity was variable in post-Habsburg Austria, and that Austrian leaders and educators were able to construct narratives regarding their past which at times argued both for and against Austrian Germanness in response to the changing demands of the European balance of power.

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