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Experiencing Austria through archival research

Frederique Visser is Research Master student and Student Assistent to the Foundation for Austrian Studies. She writes about her experiences on her research trip to Austria.

In the final year of my Bachelor History, I came across some literature on nationalism and imperial loyalty in late nineteenth-century Austria-Hungary. Immediately, I was hooked. I had been searching for a thesis topic for months, but the more common themes did not seem to match my interests. Historiography on Austria-Hungary revealed a whole new world of historical research to me that had not been a part of my Bachelor. Two years later, Austria-Hungary still served as a main point of interest in the thesis for my Research Master ‘Politics, Culture, and National Identities’. I developed my original interest from nationalism and national indifference in Bohemia into the question whether various feelings of belonging in Linz demonstrate a degree of continuity between the Habsburg Empire and the First Austrian Republic (1908-1928). Although these topics seem a far stretch from each other, they are connected through my interest in the agency of ordinary people in everyday life and the influence of various socio-cultural and political developments.

My supervisor, Dr. Eric Storm, helped me structure my research, gave me many ideas on relevant source material, and encouraged me to go to Austria. In addition, Professor Monika Baár introduced me to several experts on Austrian history and informed me about the stipend of the Foundation for Austrian Studies. During this time I also became Student Assistant to the Foundation, which has allowed me to spend even more time on a wide array of Austrian topics and meet researchers and students in this field. With the help of both the Foundation for Austrian Studies and a grant from the Leiden International Study Fund (LISF), I was able to go to several archives in Linz and Vienna during an almost two-month long trip.

Even though I had been researching Austrian history and literature for nearly three years, I had never actually been to Austria. Seeing Vienna and Linz for the first time was a wonderful experience and I could now picture all the things I had read about. In Vienna I visited both the Austrian State Archive and the National Library on Heldenplatz. In the archive I searched for documents relating to Upper Austria or documents on similar developments in this period on a national scale. The National Library was particularly helpful in broadening my understanding of Austrian historiography, as the majority of these works were not available in the Netherlands. In Linz, I spent time in the Upper Austria archive and the city archive of Linz, where the bulk of my source material was gathered. I was pleasurably surprised by the welcoming people in the Upper Austrian Archive, where the staff always made sure I had everything I needed. They made time for small conversations and complemented me on my, in fact, poor German.

I am grateful to LISF and the Foundation for Austrian Studies to have given me the opportunity to spend two months in Austria. This research trip furthered my personal development, my research, and allowed me to meet new people. During my trip, I discussed my research with Professor Oliver Rathkolb and Professor Marija Wakounig, both connected to the University of Vienna. They gave me interesting perspectives on my research and new literature. Especially my contact with Professor Wakounig has been fruitful for my thesis and she invited me to present my work at the XIII. Annual Convention of the Austrian Studies Centers last October. In addition, my research proposal was nominated for the Janneke Fruin-Helb Grant by the LISF. My time in Austria has truly changed my outlook on historical research and broadened my understanding of the academic field.

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