Outbreak of the war
End of the war

A virtual exhibition


"The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy"

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Franz X. Eder, Department of Economic and Social History, Vienna University 
Expert Project Director, May 2014

The First World War has been subjected to extremely varied interpretations: as the first totally ‘industrialised’ war with 15 million military and civilian deaths; as ‘great seminal catastrophe’ with long-term political consequences that can scarcely be underestimated; as a social and cultural caesura between the ‘long’ nineteenth and the twentieth century. However, in recent year historical research on the events of the war and ‘civilian’ life on the home front has become distinctly broad-based. Today light in being cast not only on the actual theatres of war, but increasingly on the political, economic, social and cultural changes of the years 1914 to 1918.

Within this context, the virtual exhibition “The First World War and The End of the Habsburg Monarchy” deals thematically not only with the pre-history of the war and the events of the war, but also and especially with everyday life during the war and the transition to the First Republic in Austria. In doing so it presents contemporary circumstances seen from the perspectives of rulers and the political powers-that-be just as much as the experiences and situations of ‘normal’ people. The exhibition shows ‘big-picture’ politics as well as the lot of private persons, military and civil society, Austrian and foreign points of view, sometimes from ambivalent and contradictory angles. Geographically, the exhibition focuses on the territory of the former Habsburg Monarchy and especially in the region of present-day Austria.

Text, image, sound sources and film footage illustrate topics such as the soldiers’ everyday life, nutritional problems, war invalids and veterans, propaganda, sexuality and violence, economic development, field post, weaponry, peace movement, nationalism and much more. The main features include biographical documents (letters, diaries and memoires), images (drawings, photographs, maps), films (documentary and propaganda films) and sound documents (speeches and music).  Events are frequently focused upon from the perspective of gender history, showing that men and women mostly experienced the war in very different ways.

The virtual exhibition also includes the outcome of a public appeal to the Austrians, that has made unknown objects, texts and pictures accessible – many of them hitherto gathering dust in attics and drawers, now ‘salvaged’ for the exhibition. In addition, unpublished source material was visualised taken from the “Documentation of Biographical Records”, the Frauennachlässe (Women’s Left Papers) Collection, and from private collections.

In a school competition (for the winter semester 2014/15) school classes (with the support of teachers) can create and submit their own study material and portfolios on the First World War. Taking the form of “learning by research”, the curriculum is organised into units linked to locations, regions, persons, events and memories relating to the First World War. The school classes should establish a relationship to the present and to their school and personal environment. The best examples for practical learning in the classrooms receive a prize. 

In comparison with the many other publications and exhibitions on the First World War, the exhibition can boast several special features: as a virtual show it is freely accessible on the Internet, has no time limits and in German and English is available to a broad-based national and international public – and this beyond the commemorative years of 2014  to 2018. Many of the displayed sources have never or hardly been accessible before, among them numerous photographs, documents, film footage, diaries, letters, etc., shown here for the first time. In contrast to ‘traditional’ media, the exhibition offers the option of a multi-dimensional and multi-media approach to the topic: contents, objects and media on persons, maps, locations, events can be “surfed” through online, and especially via thematic links and a media library. The objects are linked to one another, leading the user from one topic to the next. If viewers wish, they can navigate their own way intuitively through the show.

We have a broad-based national and international public in view: school-goers and students can explore the exhibition as part of their curricula and discover an abundance of useful information, pictures and films as well as thrilling stories; also people generally interested in history who would like to learn about the First World War and the end of the Habsburg Monarchy from a broad perspective – war and war events, but also politics, the economy and industry, society and culture. The English version appeals in addition to an international public who are interested in the history of the First World War or the history of the Habsburg Monarchy and the birth of the Austrian Republic. Likewise the website offers a platform for people who are planning a trip to Austria or – inspired by such a trip – would like to gain in-depth knowledge about the historical contexts beforehand.

We have designed the textual processing with a correspondingly ‘broad-based’ approach. You can find fundamental scholarly information rubbing shoulders with more journalistic and ‘snappy’ texts, each of which appeals to a heterogeneous public in its own special way.


Some of the topics treated:
  • Some of the topics treated:
  • Significance of field post for mentality 
  • Censorship and propaganda as instruments of warfare 
  • Failure of the women’s (peace) movement 
  • Violence (experiences) and soldiers’ everyday life 
  • Writing in the war– literary figures in the First World War 
  • Music for the war, the war in music 
  • The First World War in school books
  • Birth of the First Republic 
  • Commemorations and memorial sites after the war; battlefield tourism
  • Children and young people in the First World War
  • Media treatment of the war 
  • Nutrition, hunger, rationing
  • Sexuality and violence as war experiences 
  • Border negotiations and ethnic group conflicts after the war 
  • The genesis of political parties 
  • Women in the First World War (soldiers, auxiliaries, nurses)
  • War fever – war fatigue – war trauma
  • Medicine, wounds, invalids and disablements
  • Nationality politics of the Habsburg Monarchy  
  • Surrogate materials and shortages 
  • Liquidation of the Monarchy 
  • The dynasty of the Habsburgs in the war 
  • The ‘Powder Keg’  - the Balkans
  • Vienna: changes to a city in the war 
  • The Austrian ‘Air Force’
  • Martial law and war crimes 
  • The distress of prisoners of war 
  • Weapons and technology 
  • Three Fronts (South/East/North)
  • Film in war – war in film
  • Military manliness in Austrian First World War literature 
  • Industry and the economy in the First World War 
  • War financing and inflation 


Examples of source material from the public appeal:

Most source material documents peoples’ lot in the war and how it changed; the experiences on the front, but also at home.

  • Field post letters: maintenance of relationships/marriage/family 
  • Postcards with a pithy comment that the writer is still alive; censorship
  • Books dealing with the war and the front: partly notes, partly very detailed descriptions of everyday experience on the front. 
  • Photographs: private photos; some soldiers had private cameras with them; fascination of weaponry, artillery, aircraft, airships; also everyday situations in the trenches and positions; also military hospitals
  • Administrative material: demob passes, furlough passes, death certificates
  • (Un-)used food stamps 
  • Forms for the “I gave gold for iron action” – donations for financing the war in 1915 
  • War toys: cut-out pictures; toy soldiers
  • Propagandist material: e.g. “Book of War for Youth and the Nation” of 1916; battle descriptions and illustrations
  • Tape recordings from the 1960s in which a “granddad” tells his grandchildren about his experiences in a munitions factory
  • Family chronicles in which the children record and edit the war stories of their grandparents
  • Biographical notes of a man who wrote down his experiences for his children in the 1930s, telling them of everyday life on the Drina Front.
  • Commented photograph albums: photos for instance of the emperor – and handwritten comments such as “God punish England” 
  • War-/national loans
  • War calendars with entries 
  • Soldiers’ songs, written down 
  • War register of the City of Vienna of 1916 – with emperor and generals with personal dedications (printed) 
  • Texts remembering time as prisoner of wars both from and to the POW camp – the poor nutritional situation, disease, male bonding 
  • Hand-drawn illustrations from sections of the front 
  • Albums of newspaper cuttings 
  • Token money for Russian prisoners of war in Austrian camps