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Austria, the Writing of History, and the Search for European Identity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 July 2016

Extract

In his address to the International Author's Congress held in Paris in 1935, Robert Musil—who claimed to have always held himself back from politics because, in his words, like hygiene, he had no talent for it—attempted to describe the problem of being an Austrian writer. A German author, he suggested, is unproblematically German in his writings. But an Austrian writer, he said, was in a more problematic situation. “My Austrian homeland expects from its poets that they be more or less poets of the Austrian homeland, and there are the creators of cultural history who make of show of demonstrating that an Austrian poet has always been something other as a German one.” It is perhaps the fate of Austria to have a surfeit of Kulturgeschichtskonstrukteure, of intellectuals who feel a need to build a cultural history of Austria and to project it into a distant past, and this largely in the face of the overwhelming reality that a unified cultural history of Austria is impossible, unlike, some might think, that of ancient nations such as Germany, France, or Italy.

Type
Thirty-First Annual Robert A. Kann Memorial Lecture
Copyright
Copyright © Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota 2016 

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References

1 “So erwartet zum Beispiel meine österreichische Heimat von ihren Dichtern mehr oder minder, daß sie österreichische Heimatdichter seien, und es finden sich Kulturgeschichtskonstrukteure, die uns beweisen, daß ein österreichischer Dichter immer etwas anderes gewesen sei als ein deutscher.” Robert Musil, “Rede auf dem ‘Internationalen Schriftstellerkongress zur Verteidigung der Kultur’ in Paris,” in Klaus Amann, ed., Robert Musil, Literatur und Politik: Mit einer Neuedition ausgewählter politischer Schriften aus dem Nachlass, (Reinbeck, 2007), 272.

2 “Und die Kultur ist nicht eine Überlieferung, die einfach von Hand zu Hand gegeben werden kann, wie die Traditionalisten meinen, sondern dabei ist ein merkwürdiger Vorgang im Spiel: die schöpferischen Menschen übernehmen nicht sowohl das aus anderen Zeiten und Orten Kommende als daß es vielmehr in ihnen neu geboren wird.” Ibid., 274.

3 From the voluminous literature on the discontinuous history of Austria and Austrian identity, see among others Ernst Bruckmüller, Nation Österreich: Kulturelles Bewußtsein und gesellschaftlich-politische Prozesse, 2nd ed. (Vienna, 1996); and Herwig Wolfram and Walter Pohl, eds., Probleme der Geschichte Österreichs und ihrer Darstellung (Vienna, 1991). The most successful attempt to write a history of Austria in the twentieth century is perhaps that of Ernst Hanisch, Der lange Schatten des Staates: Österreichische Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert (Vienna, 1994), which appeared as volume 9 in the series Österreichische Geschichte under the general editorship of Herwig Wolfram.

4 On the complexities of writing national history in the Habsburg monarchy see Walter Pohl, “National Origin Narratives in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy,” in Manufacturing Middle Ages: Entangled History of Medievalism in Nineteenth-Century Europe, ed. Patrick J. Geary and Gábor Klaniczay (Leiden, 2013), 13–50.

5 On the early history of the Institut see Alphons Lhotsky, Geschichte des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 1854–1954: Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung (hereafter MIÖG), Erg.-B. 17 (Vienna, 1954); and Manfred Stoy, Das Österreichische Institut für Geschichtsforschung 1929–1945. MIÖG, Erg.-B. 50 (Munich, 2007).

6 In the case of the École, this is the French Ministry of National Education, Higher Education, and Research. On the history of the École, see Yves-Marie Bercé, Olivier Guyotjeannin, and Marc Smith, L’École nationale des chartes: Histoire de l'école depuis 1821 (Paris, 1997); and, on the École in the context of French archival practice, Laura Jennifer Moore, Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820–1870 (Duluth, 2008).

7 Zöllner's dissertation, “Burgund zwischen Frankreich und Deutschland” (PhD diss., University of Vienna, 1938), was never published, although he continued his interest in Burgundian history as is seen in his Die Herkunft der Agilulfinger,” MIÖG 59 (1951): 245–64Google Scholar; and in his review of René Louis, De l'histoire à la légende: Girart, comte de Vienne in MIÖG 61 (1953): 183.

8 Erich Zöllner, Die politische Stellung der Völker im Frankenreich (Vienna, 1950).

9 On Zöllner's family background and its influence on his work see Dienst, Heidi, “Nachruf / Erich Zöllner,” MIÖG 105 (1997): 533–42Google Scholar, esp. 534. Although his mother was Jewish, Zöllner, like other threatened scholars in the Institute, was protected by his professors, even including the National Socialist Heinrich Brunner, whom Zöllner credited for his support and protection. See Stoy, Das Österreichische Institut, 315.

10 Erich Zöllner, Geschichte der Franken bis zur Mitte des sechsten Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1970). Zöllner's reliance on Schmidt and the archaeologist Joachim Werner is clear in the supplemental information on the title page: “Auf der Grundlage des Werkes von Ludwig Schmidt unter Mitwirkung von Joachim Werner.”

11 “Der fränkische Stammesbund—von einem solchen ist unbedingt zu sprechen, nicht von einem politisch oder ethnisch von Anfang an einheitlich organisierten Stammesverband—bildete sich aus dem Zusammenwirken von Kleinstämmen der Istwäonengruppe.” Zöllner, Geschichte der Franken, 2.

12 Erich Zöllner, Geschichte Österreichs: Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Munich, 1966).

13 Erich Zöllner, Der Österreichbegriff: Formen und Wandlungen in der Geschichte (Vienna, 1988).

14 “Die Abgrenzungen der Österreicher mußten im Laufe der Zeit naturgemäß wegen der mehrfachen Wandlungen von Umfang und Inhalt des Österreichbegriffs und des Österreichbewußtseins schwanken.” Erich Zöllner, “Formen und Wandlungen des österreichbegriffs: Einige Diskussionsbeiträge,” in Probleme der Geschichte Österreichs, ed. Wolfram and Pohl, 71–78, at 72.

15 Ibid., 72–73.

16 On Fichtenau see Andreas Schwarcz and Katharina Kaska, eds. Urkunden—Schriften—Lebensordnungen: Neue Beiträge zur Mediävistik (Vienna, 2015).

17 Heinrich Fichtenau, Das karolingische Imperium: Soziale und geistige Problematik eines Grossreiches (Zurich, 1949). On the reaction to Fichtenau's book see Patrick J. Geary, “Heinrich Fichtenau im Ausland,” in Urkunden—Schriften—Lebensordnungen, ed. Schwarcz and Kaska, 345–54, esp. 347–48; and Janet Nelson, “Why ‘Das karolingische Imperium’ Still Needs to Be Read,” in ibid., 113–22.

18 Heinrich Fichtenau, Das Urkundenwesen in Österreich (Vienna, 1971).

19 Reinhard Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung: Das Werden der frühmittelalterlichen gentes (Vienna, 1977).

20 Collectively republished as Herwig Wolfram, Gotische Studien: Volk und Herrschaft im frühen Mittelalter (Munich, 2005).

21 Herwig Wolfram, Geschichte der Goten: Von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des sechsten Jahrhunderts: Entwurf einer historischen Ethnographie (Munich, 1979).

22 Wenskus introduced the idea of the Traditionskern as an alternative to racial ideas of medieval peoples: “So viele dürfte deutlich geworden sein, daß in alle Fällen eine kleiner traditionstragender Kern zum Kristallisationspunkt einer Großstammbildung wurde.” Stammesbildung und Verfassung, 75. Wolfram, following him, wrote “Nicht ganze Völker, sondern Träger von erfolgreichen Traditionen wandern aus und werden zu Gründern neuer Ethnika.” Geschichte der Goten, 37.

23 Jordanes, De origine actibusque Getarum, ed. Theodor Mommsen, MGH Auctores Antiquissimi 5.1 (Berlin, 1882), 53–138. Further on Origo accounts, see Wolfram, , “ Origo et Religio: Ethnic Traditions and Literature in Early Medieval Texts,” Early Medieval Europe 3 (1994): 1938 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Walter Goffart has been among the foremost critics of Wolfram's approach, particularly in his The Narrators of Barbarian History: Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, 1988), in which he argues that narratives such as that of Jordanes are essentially literary traditions drawing exclusively on Roman sources and containing nothing of historical value concerning the prehistory of the Goths. Peter Heather, The Goths (Oxford, 1996), likewise criticized the suggestion of a kernel of tradition reaching into the distant past, but argued that the migration of the Goths was indeed a “large-scale migration of more or less the traditionally envisaged kind” (171–72).

25 Walter Pohl, Die Awaren: Ein Steppenvolk in Mitteleuropa 567–822 n. Chr. (Munich, 1988).

26 Ibid., 227–28.

27 Ibid., 261–68.

28 The project was directed by Evangelos Chrysos, Javier Arce, and Ian N. Wood and ultimately produced fourteen edited volumes on late antique and early medieval society, economy, communication, thought, and political power. A complete list of the volumes, all published by Brill, is available at: http://www.brill.com/publications/transformation-roman-world (accessed 1 December 2015).

29 The four volumes edited or coedited by Pohl are vol. 1, Kingdoms of the Empire: The Integration of Barbarians in Late Antiquity (1997); vol. 2 (with Helmut Reimitz), Strategies of Distinction: The Construction of Ethnic Communities, 300–800 (1998); vol. 10 (with Ian Wood and Helmut Reimitz), The Transformation of Frontiers: From Late Antiquity to the Carolingians (2001); and vol. 13 (with Hans-Werner Goetz, Jörg Jarnut, and Sören Kaschke), Regna and Gentes: The Relationship between Late Antique and Early Medieval Peoples and Kingdoms in the Transformation of the Roman World (2003).

30 Among others: Walter Pohl and Peter Erhart, ed., Die Langobarden–Herrschaft und Identität (Vienna, 2005); Pohl, “Paulus Diaconus und die ‘Historia Langobardorum’: Text und Tradition,” in Historiographie im frühen Mittelalter, ed. Anton Scharer and Georg Scheibelreiter (Vienna, 1994), 375–405; idem, “Die Langobarden in Pannonien und Justinians Gotenkrieg,” in Ethnische und kulturelle Verhältnisse an der mittleren Donau im 6.-11.Jahrhundert, ed. Darina Bialeková and Jozef Zabojník (Bratislava, 1996), 27–36; idem, “Memory, Identity and Power in Lombard Italy,” in The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Yitzhak Hen and Matthew Innes (Cambridge, 2000), 9–28.

31 Walter Pohl, Die Völkerwanderung: Eroberung und Integration (Stuttgart, 2002); idem, Die Germanen (Munich, 2000).

32 Walter Pohl, Werkstätte der Erinnerung: Montecassino und die Gestaltung der langobardischen Vergangenheit (Vienna, 2001); and idem, “Paolo Diacono e la costruzione dell'identità longobarda,” in Paolo Diacono—uno scrittore fra tradizione longobarda e rinnovamento carolingio, ed. Paolo Chiesa (Udine, 2000), 413–26.

33 Walter Pohl, “Telling the Difference: Signs of Ethnic Identity,” in Strategies of Distinction, ed. Pohl and Reimitz, 17–69.

34 Of course these arguments have not been without their opponents, primarily the students of Walter Goffart. See the essays in Andrew Gillett, ed., On Barbarian Identity: Critical Approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages (Turnhout, 2002), which contains, along with significant essays on early medieval archaeology and ethnicity, a number of pointed attacks on the “Viennese school,” as well as a reply by Pohl: “Ethnicity, Theory, and Tradition: A Response,” 221–39.

35 Helmut Reimitz, “Nomen Francorum obscuratum: Zur Krise der fränkischen Identität zwischen der kurzen und langen Geschichte der ‘Annales regni Francorum,’” in Völker, Reiche, Namen im frühen Mittelalter, ed. Matthias Becher and Stefanie Dick (Munich, 2010), 279–96; idem, “Cultural Brokers of a Common Past: History, Identity and Ethnicity in Merovingian Historiography,” in Strategies of Identification: Ethnicity and Religion in Early Medieval Europe, ed. Walter Pohl and Gerda Heydemann (Turnhout, 2013), 257–301; idem, “Omnes Franci: Identifications and Identities of the Early Medieval Franks,” in Franks, Northmen, and Slavs: Identities and State Formation in Early Medieval Europe, ed. Ildar Garipzanov, Patrick Geary, and Przemysław Urbańczyk (Turnhout, 2008), 51–70; and, most important, Reimitz's History, Frankish Identity and the Framing of Western Ethnicity, 550–850 (Cambridge, 2015).

36 See above, note 2.

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