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Professor Mark Cornwall 

Professor of Modern European History, PGR Coordinator, semester 1

Professor Mark Cornwall's photo

Mark Cornwall is Professor of Modern European History at the University of Southampton, and the UK’s leading historian of the late Habsburg Empire.

My field of study is East-Central Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here my focus has often been on the Czech and Yugoslav regions, understanding the rise and fall of twentieth-century Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. I spent many years studying the so-called Sudeten problem (the subject of my last book, The Devil’s Wall: The Nationalist Youth Mission of Heinz Rutha, 2012). I am also chair of the UK Forum for Czech and Slovak Studies which seeks to promote academic research on central Europe: basees website.

I am now writing a history of treason in the late Habsburg empire (1848-1918) for Oxford University Press. I use the concept of treason as a way of rethinking the security and stability of Austria-Hungary, integrating case studies in the Czech, Croatian and Hungarian languages. I also have interests in the LGBT history of central Europe (research and teaching) and organize the annual Southampton Stonewall Lecture in February each year.

I joined Southampton in 2004 and was head of the History department in 2006-9. Previously I taught at the Universities of Dundee, Exeter, Oxford and LSE. I was a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College Oxford (1986-91) and then moved to teach at the University of Dundee (1991-2004). In 2009-13, I was on the Council of the Royal Historical Society.

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Research interests

Key research projects at the moment are:

1. Treason and Disloyalty in the Late Habsburg Monarchy (1848-1918). This project builds on my previous research into the collapse of Austria-Hungary: The Undermining of Austria-Hungary (2000) and The Last Years of Austria-Hungary (2002: republished by Liverpool UP 2015).

• This is a major case study in modern treason, exploring ‘treason’ as a legal and rhetorical concept. I use this as an innovative way to explore and reinterpret the stability of the late Habsburg monarchy and the changing security issues faced by the imperial elite. The book focuses especially on the last thirty years of the empire, with case studies in the Czech, Croatian and Hungarian languages. It therefore seeks to compare how the state perceived loyalty/disloyalty under peacetime and wartime conditions with several chapters on Austria-Hungary in the First World War.

• In 2017 I will be a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, to pursue this project.

2. Nationalism, Youth and Fascism in the Bohemian Lands. This project resulted in a monograph, The Devil’s Wall: The Nationalist Youth Mission of Heinz Rutha (Harvard UP, 2012). [Harvard University Press website The Devil's Wall publication]. It won the 2013 book prize of the Czechoslovak Studies Association. Through the short life of Heinz Rutha (1897-1937) I explore the impact of the Great War on a generation of Sudeten German young men, and challenge many historical stereotypes about interwar Czechoslovakia and the background to the Munich crisis of 1938:

• The book opens up the question of homosexuality in the context of Czech-German relations: through the homoerotic Sudeten German youth movement, through Rutha’s own sexuality, and through his youth mission to train a cohort of young men as the vanguard of a Sudeten national revival in Czech space. It is the only book in English which examines homosexuality in the Czech lands.

• As Rutha was the ‘Sudeten foreign minister’ of Konrad Henlein (1935-7), his career also explains much about the Czech international crisis of these years and why Great Britain viewed the Sudeten German nationalists as having a just cause.

• Apart from oral history, the book uses archive material in the Czech, German and Hungarian languages. It is a radically new interpretation of how German and Czech identities were constructed after the First World War. “To get right to the point, The Devil’s Wall is without doubt one of the most interesting and innovative books on German-Czech history published in recent years” (Journal of Modern History).

3. Sarajevo 1914: Spark and Impact. This project emerged from the Great War anniversary events which I coordinated at the University of Southampton in 2014-15.

• The book I am editing is a new study of the South Slav question in early twentieth-century Europe, using the events of Sarajevo 1914 as a focus for explaining the volatility and dangers of the ‘South Slav problem’ in Europe. The book contains a dozen essays, examining the South Slav problem from different angles (regional, social, international). It includes the latest research by Serbian, Austrian, Croatian, Slovenian, German, Czech and British historians.

4. The Legacy of the Last Habsburg War. This is a study of the commemoration, memory and impact of the First World War in the interwar successor states of the Habsburg empire. The project was funded by the AHRC as ‘The Male Wartime Generation in the Successor States’. It has now resulted in a book, Sacrifice and Rebirth: The Legacy of the Habsburgs’ Last War (Berghahn, 2016), edited with John Paul Newman: [berghahn website Sacrifice and Rebirth publication]

• The volume contains 12 essays comparing how the war was remembered across East-Central Europe. It focuses especially on war veterans and how they made the transition from the Habsburg Empire to living in independent ‘national states’.

5. Homosexuality in East-Central Europe. This is an ongoing interest and so far has produced many unpublished papers which I will bring together in a book on the theme of homosexuality in the ‘Czech lands’. It includes work on Czech lesbians, violence in the homosexual world, and the reference points of the ‘Czech homosexual’.

• See also the LGBT Research Community website for further information about LGBT research at the University of Southampton.

• I organize the annual Southampton Stonewall Lecture at the university, devoted to LGBT history. The latest speaker (February 2016) was Professor Elise Chenier, Simon Fraser University.

Professional work:

Forum for Czech and Slovak Studies (UK): I am chair of this academic society which is affiliated to the British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES).

• Created in 2000 by the Czech ambassador to the UK, Dr Pavel Seifter, the Forum’s purpose is to promote the academic study of the Czech and Slovak regions in the UK, and particularly to coordinate academic ties and cooperation.

• Through its links to Czech and Slovak historians, it has held six international conferences: Dundee (2002), Pardubice (2004), Topolcianky (2006), Oxford (2009), Prague (2013). It also hosts the annual Masaryk public lecture at the Czech or Slovak embassies in London.

• In 2015 the Forum was re-launched in order to broaden its appeal to any academics who study the Czech or Slovak lands (history, language, politics, literature, music etc).

Great War: Unknown War: In 2014-15, I coordinated a range of events at the University of Southampton on the anniversary of the First World War. These included a special conference on ‘Sarajevo 1914’ introduce by Prof Chris Clark; musical concerts; a lecture series: ‘Unknown War’; special exhibitions; and several study days for students and the general public. A second similar programme of events is being planned for 2017-18.


Click here to hear Professor Cornwall talking about his inaugural lecture.

The Devil's Wall book cover
The Devil's Wall book cover

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Book Chapters


Areas where I can offer postgraduate supervision:

I can offer supervision in most areas of East-Central European History in the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular I welcome research on:

  • Any aspect of the Habsburg Empire (1780-1918), nationalism and national identity in the eastern half of Europe.
  • The Successor States: especially Czechoslovakia (including the Sudeten Germans), Hungary, and the rise and fall of Yugoslavia in the 20th century.
  • The origins of the First World War, the war and the Peace Settlement of 1919-1920 (I currently have postgraduates working on memory and commemoration of the war in the Successor States of Austria-Hungary).
  • Gender history (especially masculinity); Diplomatic history; interdisciplinary work on the Czech, Hungarian or Yugoslav regions.
Professor Mark Cornwall
Building 65 Faculty of Arts and Humanities University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Southampton SO17 1BF United Kingdom

Room Number: 65/2071

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