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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Like many European cities in 2014, Bristol marked the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War - a conflict that dramatically changed the map of Europe. We know that it was the assassination of a single man, Archduke Franz Ferdinand that started that conflict. But what exactly was he Archduke of and why did this trigger a conflict that scarred the whole of Europe? Imagine a map of Europe. If we turn back the clock 100 years we would still recognise

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds many of the countries: France, Spain, Holland, Denmark. These all have more or less the same boundaries and shapes as they do today. When it comes to the south-east and centre of Europe however, things are very different. There is one very large country which no longer exists. We refer to this in English as Austria-Hungary, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, even though that was not its name for most of its existence, and neither of the modern states which go by the names of Austria and Hungary covers the same territory.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 seconds So let us look at that map from 100 years ago: Here is Austria-Hungary before the First World War. You will recognise the names of some of its regions. Austria-Hungary was the product of hundreds of years of military conquests and diplomacy by its imperial rulers, the Habsburg royal family. It was said that while other dynasties fought their enemies, the Habsburgs ensured that they married their sons and daughters to other ruling families. And this is Franz Joseph the I, Emperor of Austria-Hungary from 1848 to 1916, uncle of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. His official title stretched over two pages

Skip to 1 minute and 57 seconds and named all of the territories he ruled: Franz Joseph the First, by God’s Grace Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and Bohemia, King of Lombardy and Venice, Dalmatia, Croatia and so on. Where maps of this lost Empire become interesting for the historian and linguist is when they represent the different language speakers and where they were at the time. Here is the language map of Austria-Hungary before the First World War. In the terms of the Habsburg bureaucracy these language groups were referred to as ‘Nationen’ or ‘nations’. The English rubric of the time calls them ‘races’. Nowadays we would say ethnic or linguistic minorities. And that in itself is an important point.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds Everyone in this patchwork of languages was in one sense or another in a minority. It would not be too bold to suggest that this map predicts much of what follows in the 20th century - if we assume that the course of that century is mapped out by conflicts over what is and is not a ‘nation’, an ethnicity, an identity.

Skip to 3 minutes and 4 seconds As the Yiddish linguist Max Weinrich once put it: ‘A language is a dialect with an army and a navy’. Each of the groups on our map will struggle to achieve national status for their language over the following 100 years. Some of these conflicts, like that in Ukraine, part of which was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, are not over. If we look at the different groups represented on the map we can use some examples to show what I mean. Let us take a group at the centre - the Hungarian speakers, or Magyars as they call themselves. In 1912 they represented around 20% of the population, second largest group after the German speakers.

Skip to 3 minutes and 46 seconds All of the Magyars were within the boundaries of the Empire and most in the half that was ruled from Budapest, and most of them were settled in a geographically discrete territory - with a smaller population to the East in Transylvania - part of modern-day Romania. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Hungarian-speakers achieved a political settlement - known in English as the ‘Austro-Hungarian Compromise’ - by the middle of the 19th century, but the political settlement they achieved was an uncomfortable one that left them - or at least the Hungarian aristocratic land-owners who represented them in the Budapest parliament - in a territory in which they were outnumbered by Romanian, Polish, Ruthenian (that is Ukrainian) and German-speakers.

Skip to 4 minutes and 33 seconds Other groups who were not as numerous did not fare as well in their aspirations - the Polish speakers (who made up 10%), Romanian speakers (who were 6%) or the tiny minorities of Italian speakers (2%) or Slovenes (3%). These groups had little leverage at national level but could dispute the use of their language locally. Some groups - for example, Czech speakers had more leverage than their numbers (at 13%) might suggest. The Czech speakers were all within the half of the Empire ruled from Vienna where they made up 23% of the total population and managed as a result to mount effective political campaigns for ‘language rights’ within their territories.

Skip to 5 minutes and 17 seconds The final years of the Habsburg Empire can easily be portrayed as a series of conflicts about language and identity in which the German-speaking Habsburgs tried against the tide of national movements to hold on to their historical legacy of a multilingual ‘multinational Empire’. But that is to suggest that there was a clear-cut Austro-Hungarian identity holding the entire patchwork together. The problem was that there was not. The largest of all the minorities were the German-speakers making up 24% of the total. But they were also the most scattered. Austrian German-speakers had described themselves as ‘German’ - deutsch - for centuries. But since 1871 that word also meant belonging to a specific nation, to Deutschland an empire, das deutsche Reich.

Skip to 6 minutes and 10 seconds At the opposite end of the scale were the Serbian speakers, among the smallest of the many minorities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The south-eastern province of Bosnia had been joined to the Empire in 1878 but only formally annexed in 1908. It contained most of Austro-Hungary’s 3.8% of Serbian-speakers. So in a sense it is no surprise that the action of one Bosnian Serbian nationalist in 1914 in assassinating Franz Joseph’s nephew Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Empire that vanished, started a chain of events that led to the First World War.

Skip to 6 minutes and 47 seconds And we should not be too surprised that Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland and then German-speaking Austria, both of which were provinces of the same Habsburg Empire, formed the prelude to the Second.

'Shepherd's map of the Habsburg Empire' with Dr Ian Foster

This video will tell you about the ‘Shepherd’s map of the Habsburg Empire’.

It’s OK to pause the video or to watch it as many times as you like. The video subtitles do not show the accented characters, unfortunately. To see them you might like to refer to the transcript that is available below in the section ‘downloads’ - click ‘English Transcript pdf’.


Prior to 1945, the spelling “Hapsburg” was commonly used in English language documents. Since the 1960s “Habsburg” has been used consistently in English-language texts, hence our preferred spelling in this course.

(After you watch the video and click the pink circle ‘mark as complete’, move on to the next step and read the article ‘More about the image/map’.)

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Cultural Studies and Modern Languages: an Introduction

University of Bristol