Pieter M. Judson. the Habsburg Empire: A New History

By Weston, Nathaniel Parker | Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

Pieter M. Judson. the Habsburg Empire: A New History


Weston, Nathaniel Parker, Teaching History: A Journal of Methods


Pieter M. Judson. The Habsburg Empire: A New History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. Pp. 567. Cloth, $35.00.

By focusing on the policies of imperial government and their effect on the different peoples in the second-largest state in Europe, The Habsburg Empire: A New History offers a new lens through which to view the history of the Habsburg Monarchy. It synthesizes scholarship from the past thirty years to provide an alternative to previous conceptions of the empire that portrayed it as a backward relic of the old regime that barely held together in the face of nationalist eruptions within its territories. If nationalism operates as a sense of communal belonging, then this book compellingly illustrates similar feelings toward the Habsburg Monarchy among several constituencies, complicating notions of how people identify with political entities. Instead of repeating the traditional dichotomy of East against West, this book urges readers to consider the empire as a viable multinational government still unique, but not so unlike other modern European states and societies.

The author consistently draws our attention to the liberal features of the Habsburg Monarchy at key moments in its history: the origins of imperial reform began under the reign of Maria Theresa whose centralizing policies increased state revenue in response to mid-eighteenth-century European military conflicts. The changes in economic, legal, and educational policies that continued under her successors were only strengthened by French revolutionary ideas of national citizenship. Even in the post-Napoleonic era, administrative innovation persisted amid renewed conservatism, particularly surrounding industrialization, which surfaced unevenly and sporadically across the Habsburg lands. Despite fiscal challenges, the imperial government supported the expansion of transport and trade, although the pace of change failed to keep up with the demands of middle and peasant classes and led directly to the short-lived 1848 revolutions.

Following the defeat of the constitutionalist movement, the empire nonetheless retained a number of liberal platforms, including the abolition of feudalism, equality under the law, and investment in railroads. At the same time, the crown banned all political activity and instituted police surveillance over the citizenry, revealing that modernization of government could simultaneously blend certain reactionary and progressive elements. Military defeats and the threat of economic collapse led to the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, which continued reform via secularized education, expansion of communication and transportation networks, and local and imperial parliamentarization. …

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