The Austrian Society for Eighteenth Century Studies

  1  1982: The goal and idea behind the foundation of the society

The prospect of creating a scientific society dedicated exclusively to the study of the Eighteenth Century arose in 1981/1982 when, in Vienna, four people, who all had a common interest in problems concerned with the literature, history, art, music, politics and society of the 18th century, came together informally. The participants were Moritz Csáky, Edith Rosenstrauch, Irène Montjoye, and Horst Haselsteiner.[6] During these meetings two considerations manifested themselves:

  • the remittent interest in the study of the Eighteenth Century in Austria;
  • the need to find out “Who, where, how scholars work and research to the Eighteenth century?” and thus to consolidate research of various disciplines as well as private and public endeavours.[7]

Soon it became apparent that a more public setting for private debates had to be established outside of the institutional sphere. The solution was the foundation of a scientific society with the aim to be firstly a place of debates and networking within the Austrian scientific community as well as interested public, secondly to shape a common awareness among the Eighteenth Century researcher, and lastly to coordinate and promote research in this field national as well as cross-border. The last goal refers especially to the up to 1982 existing problem that owing to the lack of a national society for Eighteenth Century Studies scholars were forced to join foreign societies which, although it promoted the international debate, did so at the expense of the Austrian one. Before the Austrian foundation the Eighteenth Century Studies were firstly conveyed in the proceedings and publications of the Société Française d’Étude du XVIIIe Siècle (founded in 1964)[8] and later corresponding national organisations in the Netherlands (1968), USA (1969), Great Britain (1971), Canada (1971), Germany (1975)[9], and Italy (1978). The initiative to the first national foundation goes back to the First International Congress of Enlightenment in Geneva in 1963, organised by the director of the Institut et Musée Voltaire Theodore Bestermann. His idea was to build an international cooperation for Eighteenth Century Studies based on national societies.

According to the mission statement on its website the ÖGE 18 as an Austrian national society “is focusing its endeavours on interdisciplinary research on the multinational and multicultural Habsburg Monarchy of the 18th century. At that time the Habsburg Monarchy was a leading political and cultural power in the centre of Europe, a power that exerted influence on all the territories of this continent, and, by turns, was influenced as well. Knowledge of these interdependencies as well as of the internal structures of the Habsburg Monarchy is therefore fundamental to the view on the European 18th century and the developments resulting from it – not only in Europe.”[10] Thus the foundation of the Austrian society and its specific research approach meant a further force in the worldwide research net of already existing societies for Eighteenth Century Studies.

Using the French society as its model, the inaugural meeting on June 6th, 1982 took place in the rooms of the Institut Français de Vienne and the opening lecture gave the historian Beatrice Fink from the University of Maryland on the topic “The political dimensions of the French art of cooking in the 18th century”. In memory of its beginning the twentieth jubilee in 2002 was celebrated at the Institut Français de Vienne again and the president of the Société Française d’Étude du XVIIIe Siècle Jean Mondot from the Université de Bordeaux spoke about “The actuality of the Enlightenment in the 21st century[11]. The society, under the guidance of its fourth president Wolfgang Schmale, honoured all active founding members with the Maria Theresa thaler. Beatrice Fink and Irène Montjoye were among the invited guests.

In 1982 the first officers elected were: Moritz Csáky as president, Edith Rosenstrauch as vice-president, Gottfried Stangler as treasurer and Irène Montjoye as secretary. The term of each board always lasts two years. Besides the minimum elected executive in 1982 there were also two further board members: Theophil Antonicek, scholar of musicology at the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna, and Jean Ferrari from the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon. The first auditors were the historians Horst Haselsteiner and Johannes Dörflinger.

All together four presidents headed the society: the historian Moritz Csáky in Vienna-Graz (1982-1990), the New Modern Greek professor Gunnar Hering in Vienna (1990-1994), Southeastern Europe historian Harald Heppner in Graz (1994-2001) and Early Modern and Contemporary historian Wolfgang Schmale in Vienna (2001-present). In the years to come the size of the board altered several times.[12] The biggest change came in 2002 when the board established a scientific advisory board.[13] The objectives by introducing this additional function within the society were firstly the support of the board in its scientific ventures and secondly to strengthen the different disciplines as well as the regional distribution in Austria. Members of the first advisory board were: its former president Harald Heppner, historian Gerhard Ammerer (Salzburg); historian Alfred Weiss (Salzburg); historian Peter Urbanitsch (Vienna); Art historian Christian Benedik (Vienna); specialist in German Studies Johannes Frimmel (Vienna).[14]

[6] See Müller-Kampel, Lebensstationen, 73f.

[7] See Csáky, Gesellschaft, 1.

[8] See Société, siècle, 5.

[9] See Neugebauer-Wölk, 25 Jahre.

[10] See the society’s mission statement online:<http://www.oege18.org/en/about.html> (14.02.2010).

[11] See Mondot, 415–429.

[12] For example, during the general assembly on November 30th, 1992 the board was enlarged from nine to twelve members. Then already two years later with the election of Harald Heppner as president in the general assembly on November 23rd, 1994, the board was downsized to five members again.

[13] The introduction of an advisory board was firstly discussed in 1996 and 1997. Its responsibility should have been mainly the yearbook. But it was never realized in this form.

[14] „Die Einrichtung des wissenschaftlichen Beirats habe sich sehr bewährt.“ ÖGE 18 board minutes from November 25th, 2005.

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