May 20th, 2020
We talked to Scott O. Moore, an assistant professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University and author of Teaching the Empire: Education and State Loyalty in Late Habsburg Austria.
Teaching the Empire explores how Habsburg Austria utilized education to cultivate the patriotism of its people.
Q: What got you interested in studying and writing about civic education in Late Habsburg Austria?
Scott O. Moore: I’ve always been fascinated by the issue of identity – how people think about themselves and others. This interest is part of the reason why I’ve always been attracted to the history of the Habsburg Monarchy. It was such a diverse country, and culturally it was defined by forces pulling its people together, but also pulling them apart. Because of the Monarchy’s collapse after World War I, historians have usually focused on the things that diminished the cohesion of Habsburg society. There has also been an enormous amount of interest in the development of national and ethnic identity, but not so much the development of a Habsburg or Austrian. Because of these trends, I thought it would be interesting to look at what was tying the Monarchy’s citizens together. That led me to look at civic education. I wanted to explore the way institutions, like schools, helped create a sense of cohesion and “togetherness” among the Monarchy’s population, even when that population spoke different languages, followed different religions, or adhered to different cultural customs.
Q: What was unique about Habsburg Austria’s system of civic education?
Moore: One of the most interesting things I discovered in my research is how similar Habsburg civic education was to its neighbors. Because the Monarchy was a multinational state, there has always been an assumption that it couldn’t develop civic education in the same way its more ethnically homogeneous neighbors did. The thought was that without language and culture to tie people together, it would be harder to make them share common heroes, a common view of their history, or share common values. I discovered the opposite. Like other European countries and the US, Habsburg Austria consciously used schools to teach a common, patriotic version of the past. It used holidays and public celebrations to enhance a sense of belonging. It also utilized all the tools of the modern state to achieve these goals. Habsburg civic education was a consciously crafted, well-engineered process. What was unique, of course, was that officials attempted to reach these goals in a multinational state, where they couldn’t rely on a common language or culture. Because of this, the teaching of things like history and civic values actually became more important. Habsburg officials wanted students to realize that even if their neighbors spoke a different language, everyone was bound by a common, shared history, that everyone who lived in Austria shared the common goal of making the state strong, that everyone had a common purpose.
Q: Do you feel there is a comparable civic education system now?
Moore: If you look at schools in the US, I think we can see the legacy of traditional civic education. We still use holidays, like President’s Day or the Fourth of July, to enhance the patriotism of students; we still teach civics and government with the hope of making well-informed citizens; and many would argue (much to the frustration of many professional historians) that teaching history in schools is a patriotic exercise. Obviously there are considerable differences, but I think that public schools still share many of the missions they had when they were created in the 19th century. That said, as Europe and the United States become increasingly diverse, I think that policy makers could learn from exploring the history of the Habsburg Monarchy. Prior to World War I, it was the only European state that embraced a multi-national, multi-ethnic identity, challenging the notion that linguistic or cultural unity was the best way to forge a sense of community.
Thank you so much to Scott for his time! If you would like to know more about the book you can get your own copy or request it from your local library.
You can get 40% off Teaching the Empire and any other Purdue University Press book by ordering from our website and using the code PURDUE40 at checkout.Filed under: PUP if(!is_single()) echo "|"; ?>