Forschungsziele (englisch)

Imperial Heritage and National Identity.

The making of the National Library of Austria


The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1918 and the foundation of the Republic of Austria represent profound turning points not only for the country’s political history but also for its cultural institutions. Questions how to deal with the imperial heritage of a multinational Empire in a small and shrunken nation state led to highly controversial discussions in contemporary media of the newly founded Republic of Austria.

After the collapse of the Habsburg Empire the Imperial book collections were secured. The Imperial Court Library was transformed into a National Library and the Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek of Habsburg-Lorraine was incorporated into the National Library. This process resulted in a redefinition of the mission of the library and caused a debate and search for identity of the newly founded National Library of the Republic of Austria – a long lasting process which was started but by no means ended in the First Republic. It continued after 1945, when after the re-establishment of an independent Austrian state the National Library was renamed into “Austrian National Library” and the library contributed with research, publications and exhibitions showcasing its historical collections and treasures, to the nation’s historical identity building process. The proposed project has the overall research goal to analyse how the Imperial Court Library of the Habsburg Empire was transformed into a National Library of the Republic of Austria, when this process of making a National Library had started and why it did not end in the First Republic.

The starting point therefore will be the status of the former Court Library and the Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek in the transition period 1918–1921 with an investigation of the new Republic’s defence of the cultural heritage against foreign claims and the reorganisation of the two collections. In a further step the institutional development and the public perception of the library in the 1920s and 1930s will be examined. In its last part the project investigates in a diachronic perspective the history of the Imperial Court Library and of the National Library in their function as “national” libraries of their respective territories. This leads to the underlying research hypothesis that already in the Habsburg Monarchy the foundations for a National Library were laid and more importantly, that this process, contributed to the formation of an Austrian national identity, which is based on regional identities and the multinational heritage of the Habsburg Empire as parts of the collective memory of the Republic of Austria.

The responsible researchers Thomas Huber-Frischeis and Rainer Valenta have already demonstrated their expertise during previous projects on the history of the Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek.