A Transnational and Global Habsburg Empire

Friday, January 3, 2020: 4:30 PM
Mercury Ballroom (New York Hilton)
Pieter M. Judson, European University Institute
A near universal enthusiasm for transnational approaches to historical questions has given Habsburg History a robust centrality to histories of Europe, especially with regard to migration, borderland studies, and to the concept of national indifference. This move to the transnational has also increasingly caused historians of the Habsburg Empire to question the confining model of the empire as merely “continental,” in order to explore the global dimensions of an empire that held no extra-European colonies (save for a neighborhood concession in Tianjin China). The Empire of the Habsburgs may not have constituted a global economic or political power but even if its government self-consciously eschewed a global role, its businesses and manufacturers, along with individual scholars, entrepreneurs, military experts, scientists and adventurers initiated a range of what we could call “informal imperial ventures.” In terms of commerce, the Austrian Lloyd came to dominate European trade and passenger travel to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, while companies like the Bohemian munitions producer Škoda negotiated contracts in Latin America and China. Austrian explorers could be found in scientific expeditions around the world. Many of the individuals involved in these practices of informal empire were themselves shaped by particularly Austrian understandings of cultural and geographic diversity. As Deborah Coen and others have recently argued, Habsburg natural and social scientists deployed distinct systems of scale in their work that differed greatly from those used by their nation-state counterparts. Habsburg scientists validated local forms of diversity while linking them to broader global levels of analysis to understand local and imperial patterns in terms of each other. In the same way, entrepreneurs, scholars, and adventurers, especially in the mid 19thcentury envisioned and sought to realize global possibilities for Imperial Austria based on their experience with and knowledge of cultural, social, and bio diversity.
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