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Gerstmeyer auch Gerstmajer, Joseph - Gessmann, Albert (11/25)
Geschäftsfähigkeit Geschichtsvereine

Geschichte Österreichs

History, Austrian: Unlike the history of the individual Austrian provinces, the history of Austria as a whole largely depends on the various stages of expansion of the former monarchy. Concerning pre-historic and ancient times historical research focuses on the territory of present-day Austria, since no predecessor state existed in those times. The fact that the Kingdom of Noricum of pre-Roman times and the present state are roughly coextensive is purely coincidental.

In the high Middle Ages ties with the Bavarian (or Alemannic) dukedom gradually loosened and the first signs of an Austrian common law developed; subsequently several lands joined together under a single ruler. The Habsburgs soon aspired to territories beyond Austria, Rudolf III to Bohemia and Albrecht I and Friedrich III to the German throne. From the time of Duke Albrecht V they managed to remain in power for centuries as German kings and Holy Roman emperors. It was their duty to represent not only the interests of their own lands, but also those of the Empire.

Until 1918, the history of Austria from the late 15th century onwards was largely seen as the history of the Habsburg rule. It started when the House of Austria under Maximilian I extended to the Low Countries and later to Spain. In 1526, when the rulers finally inherited the Bohemian and Hungarian lands, for which they had been preparing for decades, the interests of the House of Habsburg assumed another dimension: Central Europe and the fight against the Ottoman Empire for Hungary. From that time (and even earlier) until 1918 it was quite natural to deal with the historical developments in the countries as a unit. A good example for this point of view is the "Handbuch der Geschichte Österreich-Ungarns" (a Handbook of the History of Austria-Hungary) by K. and M. Uhlirz, who adhered to this approach in the 2nd edition (1963) as well.

Since the time of the Thirty Years' War the House of Austria represented the Empire, especially vis-à-vis France on the Rhine border, where it had to fight many wars. These struggles culminated in the fight over the issue of the Spanish succession in Italy and in the Netherlands; the acquisition of Hungary, large parts of the Balkans, Italian provinces and the Spanish Netherlands by the Habsburgs at the end of this conflict was of great importance for the historical development of Austria and should therefore be considered when writing about the history of Austria.

Maria Theresia fought against Prussia over Silesia, acquired Galicia and Bukovina, after her father, Karl VI, had established the monarchy as an integral, undivided whole under a single sovereign by the Pragmatic Sanction. Joseph II intended to create a centralized state, but failed because of massive opposition. The Napoleonic Wars resulted in an adjustment of the Habsburg realm and the loss of distant possessions, but, on the other hand, in close ties with the German Confederation and, through the kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, with Italy. Most political activities during these centuries took place outside the territory of today's republic, hence the countries concerned and their importance for the former empire are a relevant factor in Austrian history.

Similarly, the history of the 2nd half of the 19th century cannot be understood without knowledge about the circumstances in the former Crownlands and in Hungary; the same holds true for the history of World War I.

Since 1918 historical writing has focused on the territory of the Republic, emphasis being laid on social and cultural developments and the role of the House of Habsburg being excluded whenever possible. After 1945 Austrian historians tried to give a balanced view of the state and the Habsburg rulers. The question to what extent historical analysis of former times should be confined to the territory of present-day Austria, has remained unresolved. Cultural phenomena (architecture, art, literature, music) and social history can more easily be explained within this narrower scope than issues of economic history.

General representations of Austrian history have existed since the 19th century. Before that time, from the Middle Ages onward, provincial and dynastic approaches were more important. The Augustinian monk from Vienna, Leopold Stainreuter, an exponent of medieval historical writing, established a chain of 81 generations of legendary rulers linking "Osterland" and Austria with ancient and biblical figures in his "Chronik von den 95 Herrschaften" ("Chronicle of the 95 Realms"). The most outstanding personality of late-medieval historical writing was Thomas Ebendorfer. First critical approaches appeared during the age of Humanism. The "Austria", a work by Johannes Cuspinianus, provided biographies of the Babenbergs and Habsburgs in its first part, and dealt with cultural and historical aspects in its second. Printed in 1553, the work paid homage to the dynasty, but followed a territory-oriented approach. H. J. Fugger's "Ehrenspiegel des Hauses Österreich" (Mirror of Honour of the House of Austria) was written in honour of the Habsburg dynasty, while the country served as backdrop for the actions of the rulers. This kind of historical writing was continued in the Baroque, for instance by E. M. Lichnowsky (1789-1845), whose 8 volume-work (1836-1844) ends abruptly with the year 1490. The 2nd half of the 18th century brought about a change towards a more rational form of description, but still no overall representation of history was produced. J. F. Schneller's (1777-1832) work "Staatsgeschichte des Kaisertums Österreichs von der Geburt Christi bis zum Sturz Napoleons" ("History of Austria from the Birth of Christ to the Fall of Napoleon") had 4 volumes (1817-1819), the last of which was banned by the censors; hence the whole work was not published until 1828. The "Geschichte des österreichischen Kaiserstaates" ("History of the Austrian Empire", 5 vols., 1834-1854) by J. Majlath (1786-1855) covers the period up to 1850, the "Geschichte Österreichs" ("History of Austria", 6 vols., 1842-1850) by H. G. Meynert is rich in detail, but lacking in academic rigour. Some Czech works, were also produced, such as W. Tomek's "Geschichte des österreichischen Kaiserstaates" ("History of the Austrian Imperial State", 1853) and "Handbuch der Geschichte des österreichischen Kaiserstaates" ("Handbook of the History of the Austrian Imperial State", 1858, which covers the period up to 1526 and gives special emphasis to the position of the Slavic peoples). Another non-scholarly work was published in 1863: "Österreichische Geschichte für das Volk" (Austrian History for the People", 17 vols.), produced by A. von Helfert together with 17 colleagues.

In the 2nd half of the 19th century three historians gained significance with their comprehensive representations of Austrian history: F. M. Mayer, F. v. Krones and A. Huber. Mayer was of German-Bohemian origin, taught in Graz and published "Geschichte Österreichs mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Kulturlebens" ("History of Austria with special regard to Cultural Life") in 1874. His work included contemporary history and was characterized by a moderate German-liberal leaning. Its 2nd edition was published in 1900, the 3rd in 1909. A new edition by R. Kaindl and H. Pirchegger was published in 3 volumes 1935-1937. After World War II the work was revised by A. Klein (5th /6th ed., 3 vols., 1967-1974). F. von Krones, Professor at the University of Graz, published a "Handbuch der österreichischen Geschichte" ("Handbook of Austrian History") in 1876-1879, as well as a "Grundriß der österreichischen Geschichte mit besonderer Rücksicht auf Quellen und Literaturkunde" ("Outline of Austrian History with special regard to sources and literature") in 1882. A. Huber wrote 5 vols. of a history of Austria (1885-1896), covering history until 1658, but with no references to cultural life. O. Redlich continued this work up to the year 1740. K. and M. Uhlirz tried to give an overall description of the monarchy in their work "Handbuch der Geschichte Österreichs und seiner Nachbarländer Böhmen und Ungarn" ("Handbook of the History of Austria and its neighbours Bohemia and Hungary", 1927-1944), in which only the 19th century is dealt with in great detail (1941), whereas the 1st part provides a historical outline up to 1790. The new edition of the 1st part (1963) goes back as far as 1526. A further work on Austrian history was written in 1936 by H. Hantsch. After 1950 a new edition in two volumes was published (1st vol. 41959, 2nd vol. 31962). The most important general description was produced by E. Zöllner, who deliberately confined his research to the territory of the Republic (1961, 81990). A History of Austria in ten volumes, edited by H. Wolfram a collective work of 20 authors, has been published since 1994.

Literature: Probleme der Geschichte Österreichs und ihrer Darstellung, Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für die Geschichte Österreichs der Akademie der Wissenschaften 18, 1991.

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