Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire: Total War and Everyday Life in the World War I
by Maureen Healy
Maureen Healy's research covers the reasons why the Habsburg Empire fell. The uniqueness of the research is she does it not from a top, but from the bottom of the state structure. The historian focused her investigation on different aspects of everyday life in the capital of the Empire and showed that there were different reasons why the Habsburg Empire was doomed for the collapse.
An innovation of the project is the object of the research. Healy focused her attention not on the activities of political leaders, the struggle of external and internal enemies, but on the processes of decentralization which were provoked by WWI. From the perspective of this research it seems that the Habsburg Empire died by natural causes. It could not accomplish the main hopes of the inhabitants: to provide the bread and circuses on the everyday basis.
The first part of the book analyzes the issue of daily bread, entertainment and the attempt to regulate and control inhabitants. The second part says about the most dependent from the state categories and how they had to deal in the circumstances of the Total War.
Essentially Healy described the revolution situation when the masses of people with different social and class status, diverse ethnic background could not and did not want to live as the Empire invokes for using the all type propaganda tools: media control, the National Exhibition, patriotic exhortation women and children to work in the name of Victory, in the name of Empire.
The book concentrated mostly on the life mode of the capital, the everyday habits of the people. This makes the research unique and powerful. Healy dug out the different contradictions between people. When the general situations became hard people demonstrated lack of solidarity and took care of own interests. Healy proved inhabitants of Vienna were not united nation. They did not have the national solidarity as it was in Germany or in France. As result was the collapse of the Habsburg state.
The research is innovative in a way of using different kinds of sources: police reports, denunciations, rumors, white spaces in the newspaper, different contradictions connected with the women's status and citizenship found own place in the analysis and showed the psychological atmosphere of the capital. Examples provided by the author make the book colorful and pleasant to read. In the same time they strengthen the main argument of the book about the role of human factor in the fall of the Habsburg Empire.
Quite often Healy compares the situation in the Habsburgs with the situation in Germany, which is natural because of the language and with France as the main enemy in the War. In the same time she does not took an attention into the Russian Empire and the UK. I understand it might be possible because of the different objective factors like access to the sources, language issue (in a case of Russian) but I think the comparison with the empire capitals might make it more relevant, because of the typology.
Another critic point is the structure of the book. I understand such diverse material is difficult to structure in the plenty narration, but I would not be separate food from the women's issue, and propaganda from the educational purposes. For me it might go together, but it is the free choice of the author and everybody creates own paradigmatic matrix of the research.
Department of Slavic and Baltic Languages and Literatures,
UIC (University of Illinois in Chicago)