Notre Dame historian wins NEH grant for project that seeks to disrupt understanding of why the Habsburg Empire collapsed | News | Notre Dame News

John Deak

John Deak, an associate professor of history at Notre Dame, has won a National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Fellowship for an ambitious research project that seeks to reshape perspectives on how and why the Habsburg Empire came to be. collapsed after World War I.

In partnership with historian Jonathan Gumz of the University of Birmingham in the UK, Deak’s three-year grant will support important archival work across Europe as researchers explore how the imposition of Wartime martial law crushed local political authority and ultimately wiped out a 600-year-old empire. off map.

“This collaboration is bold, and this grant makes it all possible,” Deak said. “Without this, we will only be writing about a smaller part of the empire, which is normally possible. Writing about this monarchy as a real, collapsing state requires extensive travel, and we are grateful to the NEH for allowing us to do so.

Encompassing Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia and other Eastern European countries, the Habsburg Empire dates back to the 13th century but came to an end after its defeat, along with Germany and Turkey , during the First World War.

For decades, Deak said, the conventional historical narrative — including textbooks, both in the United States and even in countries of the former Habsburg Empire — has been that the Austro-Hungarian system of government was embroiled in internal strife and out of breath at first. 20th century, and the war was just the strong wind that toppled the ruined house.

Deak and Gumz, however, believe the empire was not doomed – except for a fatal flaw in the constitutions of its member states allowing for a wartime declaration of emergency and a seizure military control of the justice system. When the empire entered the war, the military began trying civilians and local officials under martial law in order to eliminate opposition or settle petty political scores.

John Deak and Gumz
John Deak (right) and Jonathan Gumz in an archive in Trieste, Italy, in June 2019.

“When you disrupt politics, you disrupt the means by which people can talk to each other and sort things out – and the military had extreme ideas of how things should be run and forced voters back into a box where they’re just following orders,” Deak mentioned. “The Austro-Hungarians put the state in the hands of the army, which even intimidated the emperor and basically invaded him.

“What the military did while controlling much of civilian life actually delegitimized the constitutional state in many corners of the empire. These are important facets of the First World War experience. that require further attention.

To get a better sense of the impact the military takeover had on public life, Deak and Gumz will explore the archives of several of the successor states of the former Habsburg Empire. Public administration and court records of the time, many of which have still been sealed and unopened for almost a century, were scattered all over the place after the fall of the empire. Poland, for example, requested all documents relating to the administration of the provinces that became part of Poland after the war.

Document John Deak
Deak and Gumz scour archives across Europe for documents like this one, which details the imposition of martial law on civilians, to help explain the impact a military takeover had on the life in the Habsburg Empire.

Knowing where documents like these are and how to find them is part of the fun but also the difficulty of researching this topic, Deak said.

Military records, court decisions and planning documents will give historians a better idea of ​​where these wartime emergency laws came from, how they were implemented and what happened. happened when civilian officials tried to oppose and repel them.

In some cases, opponents were conscripted and sent to the front. In others, a protracted battle has ensued between civilian officials, local politicians and their military counterparts. All of this was disruptive and added to the already significant sacrifices the peoples of the empire made to the war effort.

The research duo divide the hunt for records according to the languages ​​they know or can learn – Deak reads Czech and Polish and is perfecting his Italian. From May, he will spend as much time abroad as EU visa regulations and COVID-19 protocols allow.

The initial phases of Deak’s research project were supported by grants from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies. This funding allowed him to spend eight weeks getting an idea of ​​the documents that exist in the archives of Vienna, Ljubljana, Warsaw, Innsbruck and Trieste, where he will now return for longer and more focused research.

As Deak and Gumz seek to disrupt and reframe modern understandings of the Habsburg Empire in a new book and journal articles, their research also offers an opportunity to shed new light on the civil-military relationship – a tension that Deak says has plagued countries around the world. 19th and 20th centuries on several continents.

“It’s a story about what happens when a constitution is suspended and the military is given full control over the administration of justice, the people and the police,” Deak said. “It’s amazing how this can happen in a constitutional state – and even a lot of people who work in this field will think what we’re discovering is amazing.”

Originally posted by Josh Weinhold at to March 28.

Comments are closed.