Dissertation Defense: Robert Mevissen
Candidate Name: Robert Mevissen
Advisor: James Shedel, Ph.D.
Title: Constructing the Danube Monarchy: Habsburg State-Building in the Long Nineteenth Century
The Habsburg Monarchy existed until 1918 and its collapse ushered in a period of skepticism and, in some cases, antipathy toward the multinational state, which many contemporary observers portrayed as hopelessly backward. Recent scholarship has begun to reexamine the monarchy, reevaluating reforms that central, provincial, and local governments and bureaucracies implemented, which situated the imperial state favorably among its paradigmatically ‘more modern’ peers in Europe.
While the historiography has increasingly revealed the social and political circumstances that precipitated and enabled such reforms, this dissertation traces another avenue of reform; the physical-natural world – and plans for its modification – which provided both an impetus and an opportunity for reform and modernization. Tracing technical and natural developments along the Danube, I argue that the river and its extensive tributary network provided the authorities in Vienna and Budapest a multifaceted site to inspire loyalty to the dynasty and government and a means to foster transnational connections between different industrial, commercial, social, and national groups in the monarchy.
Modernizing arrangements on the Danube were not without their setbacks. A lack of political and financial cooperation kept earlier regulations and improvements local in scope, which perennial Danube floods frequently destroyed. After mid-century, local and central governments began employing more holistic, monarchy-wide approaches to the Danube’s transformation, using the latest technological innovations. Local hydraulic works took on intra-regional and imperial significance and required actors to negotiate the at times conflicting interests and visions for the river. Unfortunately, large-scale works also had unintended ecological and environmental consequences.
Physical arrangements were coupled with new expectations and regulations of both individual and communal practices along the river. Much like the transformed river itself, these newly regulated activities and behaviors were meant to help ensure greater safety, guarantee common access to the river, and provide for the populace’s general well-being. Together, environmental interventions and new practices ultimately served to underpin efforts to forge the Habsburg Monarchy into a more cohesive, modern state.
Monday, December 11 at 12:30pm to 2:30pm
Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 450
37th and O St., N.W., Washington