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Journal of Social History 39.4 (2006) 1227-1229



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Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire: Total War and Everyday Life in World War I. By Maureen Healy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xiv plus 333 p. $75.00).

Scholarship on the social and cultural history of the Great War in Western Europe has proliferated in recent decades. Equivalent studies for central and eastern Europe have been less prevalent, although they are no less significant. The result has been not only the absence of this region from a broader European discourse on the First World War, but also a dearth of social history of the war in the historiography of this region. In this thus much-needed, ambitious, and remarkable study, Maureen Healy makes important contributions to both fields by bringing the Habsburg Empire into a comparative dialogue and by broadening our understanding of Austrian politics and the internal process of disintegration of the Habsburg Empire.

Healy broadens by focusing on the everyday experience of total war of the two million ordinary citizens in the imperial capital of Vienna. Inspired by the everyday approach to history of Alf L�dtke, she deals with a broad range of subjects including women's organizations, children and schools, home-front men and paternalism, entertainment, and rumors.1 Food, which Healy calls "Vienna's new arena of politics," is at the center of the story (33). The first section of her book, entitled "Politics and representation," treats food distribution and the politics of sacrifice, as well as the state's unsuccessful attempts to persuade the population of its discourse on sacrifice through propaganda, especially the cinema and Vienna War Exhibition of 1916-1917. Like other social historians of the First World War before her, Healy rightly recognizes the important connection "between scarcity and large-scale political change" (32).2 In the second section, entitled "State and Family" and comprised of chapters on women, children, and the men left behind, Healy explores how the state used the institution of the family to mobilize the home front. Her chapters are persuasively interwoven into a narrative centering on the overarching theme of the broadening of the political arena.

Healy considers sites not generally considered places of political activity and people not generally considered political actors. She convincingly demonstrates the political relevance of shops, street corners, pubs, apartment buildings and of the women and children of Vienna. She mines a wide variety of unexplored primary sources, especially the many letters of denunciation, appeal, complaint, and petition generated by the "epistolary culture of Vienna" (20), as well as newspapers, minutes of city government meetings, and police reports. Healy's approach gives a place to these people, whose position in social and political life has not received adequate attention from historians. This contribution is important not only because of their sheer number, but because as the author persuasively demonstrates, the conditions of war transformed non-political or proto-political individuals into political agents and objects of the state. Healy's focus is especially compelling and important in light of the fact that during the war traditional political bodies such as parliament, political parties, and organized interest groups ceased their activities. [End Page 1227]

Healy examines the various levels on which the Viennese interacted with their communities and with government authorities. She demonstrates how the government failed to mobilize the population with its discourse of sacrifice, which instead brought about a social disintegration of the Viennese home front and ultimately the collapse of the city. The food shortage was central to this social dissolution because it fundamentally altered the role of the civilian and the home front in warfare. The existing literature on the social and cultural history of the First World War, in which Healy is very well-versed, has long argued for the blurring of the distinction between the home and the front line. Healy argues that the case of Austria was even more extreme in that the home front was itself a site where "residents waged...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 1227-1229
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-11
Open Access
No
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