Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The Habsburg Empire: A New History

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The Habsburg Empire: A New History

Article excerpt

PIETER M. JUDSON The Habsburg Empire: A New History Harvard University Press, 2016, 592 pp.

In this excellently-researched volume, Pieter Judson marshals a wealth of secondary sources, presenting his readers with a history that takes "empire" seriously both as a unit of analysis, as a subject of historical inquiry in its own right, and as a narrative frame for reinterpreting concepts more typically seen as antithetical to it, such as "nationalism". Despite its breadth of scope, the volume is not an introductory overview to its subject matter, but manages to provide a truly novel perspective, by foregrounding various dynamics of interplay between centre and periphery. Giving due consideration to the agency of historical actors - both from above and below - the narrative also traces the diachronic emergence of self-perpetuating structural constraints and their often contingent effects. Judson achieves this through a constant yet deft jeu d'échelles, from regional case-studies of peasant resistance against local elites and allegiance to the imperial core, to discussions of absolutist monarchs' penchant for "micromanaging" legislation and the implementation thereof. This is one of Judson's key insights into rendering empire intelligible - the reflexive focus on the interplay between the historian's scales of analysis must be doubled by a focus on how historical actors themselves imagined the scales on which change could be effected. The author amply demonstrates how "empire" was a productive, flexible and often necessary framing device for historical actors high and low, and that its disappearance from their political ontology was as much a product of historical happenstance as the initial transformation of a pan-European assemblage of Habsburg holdings into a recognisably territorialised state. One provocative yet convincing argument is that the birth of "nationalism" was the effect of - rather than a reaction to - the interplay between forms of intra-imperial allegiance, the ebb and flow of (de)centralisation in institution-building, and the gradual emergence of party-based mass politics. …

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