The Austrian Society for Eighteenth Century Studies

3 The scientific field of activity of the ÖGE 18

Looking back on the past three decades of the society’s activities a wide variety of congresses, workshops and jour fixes can be accounted for. A coordinated research in terms of having a coherent concept of research for the Eighteenth Century was and is very difficult to accomplish due to the diversity of interests of its members and the changing board. The reconstruction of the activities manifests at the one hand the content related diversity and the interdisciplinary approach, and on the other hand a geographical expansion of its activities from mainly in Vienna (1980s), to the national level (1990s) and finally also to the international stage (since 2002). The two main objectives of the society have been since its foundation in 1982 the period of time and the geographical focus on the Habsburg Monarchy. While the former was mandatory, the latter was handled in a more flexible way. The ÖGE 18 as many societies before her has always been dedicated to mediate between scholars of various disciplines within the scientific community as well as between the scientific community itself and the broader public in an international, disciplinary, and content related open way. The topics discussed corresponded mostly with the interest of the board members, but also suggestions of members were considered and sometimes a call for papers was initiated.

The following account of the society’s scientific scope of action focuses on the jour-fixe system, the congresses, the publications, and on some web projects in a mainly descriptive way. Although the questions of the role and relevance of a society such as the ÖGE 18 for the Eighteenth Century Studies in Austria and abroad would be very fruitful and interesting to answer, the multidisciplinarity, the wide variety of subjects presented and discussed and their quantity would necessitate an author team from various discipline for a successful methodical evaluation. Thus the aim of this account will be to lay down the ground facts in a more descriptive nature and show the major developments and changes. Owing to the limited space of this paper I would like to refer to the ÖGE 18 website[26] for more detailed information on most of the activities such as programme, structure, and dates.

3.1       The jour-fixe system from 1982 till 2000 and the activities afterwards

The jour-fixe system was very much favoured under the presidency of Moritz Csáky. According to Irène Montjoye[27] the jour fixe stood very much in the tradition of the Eighteenth Century where societies aimed to bridge the gap between scholars and interested amateurs by organising meetings and debates. The target group of these presentations were not only the scientific public, but everybody interested in the history of the Eighteenth Century. The main principle was to create at regular intervals opportunities for scientific debates and contacts. In the long run it was hoped that according to Moritz Csáky firstly “konkrete Forschungs- und Arbeitsvorhaben entstehen” und secondly “in diesen gemeinsamen Gesprächen Denkanstöße für Vorhaben formuliert werden […], die von denen, die an Universitäten tätig sind, als Dissertationen oder Diplomarbeiten weitergegeben werden können.”[28]

From 1982 till 1989 up to 41 lectures on a variety of research fields were organised[29]. The scholars came mainly from Austria, but also representatives from Oxford[30], Berlin[31], Budapest[32] or Munich[33] were invited to speak in Vienna. The jour fixes, held on the second Monday of each month, took place in the rooms of the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna mostly during the term. The chosen topics had been loose and mostly suggested by the members in the 80s. The very first five presentations in 1982/1983 had been on “Music and society” by the musicologist Theophil Antonicek (Vienna), “Research and new results to the travel of the pope in the year 1782” by the historian Elisabeth Kovács (Vienna), “The importance of Austria for the history of the Greeks in the 18th century” by New Modern Greek Professor Gunnar Hering (Vienna), “The source critical analysis of the economical thinking of Josef von Sonnenfeld” by historian Hildegard Kremers (Graz), and on “Austrian Enlightenment and identity” by specialist for German Studies Leslie Bodi (Monash University/Australia).

An exception to the content related and disciplinary variety of the 41 lectures were four out of seven lectures in 1983/1984 as they were combined under the common heading “Love of one’s country and patriotism for one common state in the Habsburg Monarchy in the 18th century” which prepared the ground for the first ÖGE 18 congress of the same name in 1985.

The jour-fixe system was kept until 2000 and it was a Vienna based event. In the 90s it became slowly an obsolescent model. Between 1993 and 2000 only 17 jour fixes were held. The quantity of the jour fixes during the presidency of Gunnar Hering is unknown due to lack of records. One aspect is known, however, that in the general assembly on November 30th, 1992 the monthly jour fixe were abandoned in favour of two lecture afternoons each term[34]; in 1994 with the change in management the jour fixe were always held on the third Thursday of every second month[35]. The afternoon lectures contained mostly two lectures (rarely three). In 1993/1994 they were summarized by one general topic like “Austrian-Italian relations”, “Education” and “Patronage”. Generally the attendance of the jour fixe by the members was a major problem. In 1996 Harald Heppner scrutinized the jour-fixe system for the first time when he wrote “Das Jour-Fixe-System erweist sich offenbar als nicht solide genug, denn das Echo ist höchst unterschiedlich; dennoch meine ich, wäre es ein Fehler, wenn wir dies Art der Begegnung aufgäben, denn sie dient allemal dem unverzichtbaren Kontakt und ist auch ein gewisser Ausdruck des Kontinuums”[36]. The interval of the jour fixes was reduced to twice a year. In their last two years they only took place once a year. The attempt was started to revive the interest of the members in the jour-fixe system by focusing more strongly on theme afternoons. Until 2000 the general topics of the jour fixes were “Travel” (1996), “The literary discourse in Austria” (1996), “Literature” (1997), “Collecting” (1997), “Observations” (1998), “Venetian encounters” (1998)”, “Education of rulers” (1999), and on “Historiography” (2000). But lastly also the wake-up call of Harald Heppner in October 1999, where he sent out a “Pastoral letter”[37] to the members, died away without echo.[38] In this letter he pledged the members to attend more the events planned by the society. Starting with the new millennium the jour fixes initiated and carried out by the board were completely abandoned in favour of lectures depending entirely on the initiative of individual members. The only remainder of these theme afternoons are the presentations on the occasion of the annual general assembly. During its first term the board, headed by Wolfgang Schmale, implemented the idea of the annual “Day of the 18th century”. Not the combination of lectures or debates and general assembly was a novelty, but new was the naming and marketing of this event, taking place once a year and with special emphasis on the Eighteenth Century Studies. The day is also always reserved for the Francis-Stephen Prize ceremony every other year.

Beyond that the expected drop in activities did not happen. Parallel to the end of the jour-fixe system smaller excursions to the Schallaburg (2000) and Melk (2004) as well as guided tours through the Menagerie at Schönbrunn (2002), through the Albertina on the occasion of its reopening (2003), from the “Jesuiterplatzl zum Universitätsplatz[39] with the visit of the roof pavilion of the Austrian Academy of Science (2005) and through the Mozart exhibition in the Albertina (2006) were offered by various members. This expansion of activities offered started already during Heppner’s presidency. One of his objectives when he headed the society was the strengthening of the team spirit among the members.[40] Thus he asked the members in a survey at the beginning of his presidency what other activities they would prefer. Although only 14.7 % of the members actually returned the survey, the suggestion was made to offer excursions.[41] In 1997 the board took up this suggestion and stroke new paths by introducing the concept of “Foci of the 18th century”. The plan was to organise three to four day excursions in various parts of the Habsburg Monarchy. The first one took place from May 8th till 10th, 1997 and the destination were the castles of the 18th century in the southern part of Moravia. The acceptance was so good that another excursion was offered to Slovenia in 1998. However, the one of 1997 should remain the only one as the Slovenian trip was cancelled due to lack of interest.

[26] See <> (14.02.2010).

[27] Interview with Irène Montjoye on November 6th, 2010 in her apartment in Vienna.

[28] Csáky, Gesellschaft, 8.

[29] An register of all jour fixes can be found online <> (14.02.2010).

[30] Robert J.W. Evans (Oxford) „Über die Ursprünge der Aufklärung in der österreichischen Monarchie“ (26.3.1984).

[31] Hazel Rosenstrauch (Berlin) „Ergebnisse ihrer Forschungsarbeit zur Diskussion: Buchhandelsmanufakturen und Aufklärung“ (11.3.1985).

[32] Eva Ring (Budapest) „Die nationalen Vorstellungen der ungarischen Jakobiner“ (1988/1989).

[33] Gernot Gruber (Munich) „Mozart und Wien“ (1988/1989).

[34] See ÖGE 18 newsletter 3/1993.

[35] See ÖGE 18 newsletter Spring/1995.

[36] See letter from Harald Heppner to the board on October 30th, 1996.

[37] See ÖGE 18 newsletter October/1999.

[38]Die Reaktionen auf meinem Hirtenbrief vom letzten Herbst waren sehr gering“, in: Letter of Harald Heppner to the board on April 11th, 2000.

[39] See Karner, Jesuiterplatzl, 397–412.

[40] See Internal paper „Gedanken zur Tätigkeit der Österreichischen Gesellschaft zur Erforschung des 18. Jahrhunderts“ by Harald Heppner in Graz on December 27th, 1994.

[41] See evaluation of survey by the society’s secretary Christian Benedik on June 13th, 1995.

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