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HIST1103 The Collapse of Austria-Hungary

Module Overview

In this module you will analyse the stability and instability of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during its final decades. The module particularly investigates the forces that held the empire together and those which pushed it into domestic and international crises, and does so in two phases of peacetime and wartime (before and after 1914).

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of this module are: • To introduce the main domestic and international characteristics of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire. • To study key factors affecting the stability of the Empire during its last twenty years, both in peacetime and wartime (1897-1918). • To analyse the relationship between imperial and national loyalties, and to set this in a context of recent theories about nationalism and imperialism. • To study conflicting national/imperial perspectives through case studies of the empire in crisis (especially Hungarian, South Slav and Czech). • To approach these perspectives through a range of primary sources in translation (political, diplomatic, social but also literary).

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Key domestic and international crises in the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy
  • The way that the ‘dualist system’ of Austria-Hungary worked (or did not work).
  • The shifting balance of centripetal and centrifugal forces in the empire.
  • The way that Austria-Hungary’s domestic and foreign policies interacted.
  • The impact of total war upon pre-1914 imperial stability
  • Different national perspectives on the same problem through primary sources and literature
  • The way that Austria-Hungary’s problems were judged by key commentators at the time, and how modern research has approved or altered those viewpoints
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Research, organise and structure material to write and argue effectively.
  • Analyse critically primary and secondary material as a basis for further study of East-Central Europe.
  • Actively participate in group discussions and debate
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate the degree to which Austria-Hungary was losing its state legitimacy during its final decades.
  • Explain which national or international crises should be given most precedence by the historian
  • Explain in particular the way that the German-Austrian, Hungarian and South Slav problems could destabilise the empire
  • Interpret these crises critically on the basis of conflicting contemporary perspectives and writings.
  • Compare these perspectives to recent scholarly debates so as to reach your own conclusions about the stability of the monarchy in Europe.
  • Explain why the empire collapsed at the end of the First World War.


We begin with a study of the empire’s structure and the ‘dualist system’ which in 1867 had divided it in two, thereby giving semi-independence to Hungary. The Habsburg dynasty’s significance as the major ‘centripetal force’ is emphasised, especially its key interest in maintaining Austria-Hungary as one of the Great Powers of Europe. After establishing the ‘vital interests’ of Habsburg foreign policy at the turn of the century, the course turns to a series of case studies to illustrate pre-war domestic political and social tensions: the Hungarian constitutional crisis; nationalist German-Austrian paranoia; and the Southern Slav problem. The latter allows us to consider the monarchy’s Balkan mission, especially the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 and the events that led to the Sarajevo murders in 1914: the Habsburg elite’s decision-making in July 1914 is given special documentary scrutiny. In the second half of the course we turn to study the monarchy at war. Through the latest research in English you will explore topics such as sacrifice on the home front; imperial expansion in the Balkans and the East; and the role of external forces in exacerbating nationalism within the empire. The pre-war case studies will also be briefly followed under wartime conditions, and (as pre-1914) their importance will be weighed as contributing factors to the monarchy’s instability. Due attention during the course will be paid to concepts of imperialism and national identity/ nationalism so that the case material is given a theoretical framework. The module therefore, through its many facets, will not only equip you for further studying the complexity of multi-national East-Central Europe, but will supply a basic framework for understanding problems of national identification and state/imperial legitimacy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • A weekly two-hour class incorporating lecture and seminar elements • Lecturer-led analysis and discussion of sources Learning activities include: • Preparatory reading before each seminar • Participation in group and class discussion • Independent reading of the sources provided and of related secondary works • Short oral presentations on primary sources • Independent research of additional information and source materials Lecture elements will provide you with general knowledge and understanding about chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Biondich, M. (2000). Stjepan Radic, The Croat Peasant Party and the Politics of Mass Mobilization 1904-1928. 

Judson, P. (2006). Guardians of the Nation: Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria. 

Sondhaus, L. (2000). Franz Conrad von Hötzendrof. Architect of the Apocalypse. 

Healy, M. (2004). Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire. 

Marz, E. (1984). Austrian Banking and Financial Policy. Creditanstalt at a Turning Point 1913-1923. 

Cole, L., and Unowsky, D. (eds). (2007). The Limits of Loyalty. Imperial Symbolism, Popular Allegiances and State Patriotism in the Late Habsburg Monarchy. 

Glaise-Horstenau, E (1930). The Collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

Barkey, K., and Von Hagen, M. (eds), (1997). After Empire. Multiethnic Societies and Nation-Building. 

Cornwall, M. (2000). The Undermining of Austria-Hungary. The Battle for Hearts and Minds. 

Jászi, O (1929). The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal feedback: • You will engage in small group exercises, focusing on specific formative tasks, which will be reviewed in class. • You will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessment with your tutor. • You will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your work in progress from your tutor. • Guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you. The formal assessments will promote skills of analysis and critical thinking. They will also reinforce organisational, planning and writing skills.


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary  (1000 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Examination  (1 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

A module created by CQA team

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