The Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek of Habsburg-Lorraine - Transitions of a library (1835-1921)

In 1921 the Habsburg-Lothringische Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek was incorporated into the new founded National Library of the Republic of Austria, the successor of the Imperial Court Library of the Austrian Monarchy. The Fideikommissbibliothek is a rare example of a dynastic family library that has been largely preserved as a whole containing a variety of all types of documents (such as manuscripts, books, drawings, paintings, graphic arts, photography and maps, donations and dedications to the Emperor, extensive archival sources and documents on the Imperial Family).

In the course of its history this library underwent various transitions: from a unique private book and arts collection into a new legal entity (Fideikommiss); subsequently the transformation into a memory space for the Austrian Empire and its ruling dynasty with close relations to major political, social and cultural events between 1835 and 1918; and finally the treatment of the Imperial heritage as a national treasure.

The forthcoming project intends to study in depth this transition process. It therefore aims to make significant contributions in different scientific fields: library history, library and information science, the history of art and architecture, the history of Austria and the House of Habsburg as well as the cultural and political history of Europe. In introducing the field of visual history and content analysis in library history the project will broaden the scope of library history and try to close the gap between a classical approach of library history focused on reconstruction and collection development and a more social and cultural oriented approach focused on the usage and social relevance.

The overall research objective is based on a concept of transition, which has the potential of significantly modifying the history of princely and national libraries and their relation to the history of national identities and collective memory spaces. The history of national libraries so far has been based on the concept of the nation-state emerging in the 19th century. Evidently this concept is in conflict not only with the multinational Habsburg Empire and the collections of its Court Library, but also with the concept of dynastic identity the Habsburg Family tried to impose as the common ground of the House of Austria and their Family Library. To study the Transitions of princely libraries which have been incorporated or transformed in National libraries rather than asking for their origins aims at creating a new research field on National libraries research.

The project will foster co-operations and create a broad international network of experts and research institutions many of which have already accepted to contribute in proposed research workshops and in the dissemination of results.