World and worlds of the Habsburgs
Like no other dynasty, the Habsburgs determined the fate of Europe. For centuries they provided the German kings and the Holy Roman Emperors, becoming the epitome of a monarchy. Maximilian I’s marriage policy laid the foundation stone of an empire ‘on which the sun never sets’. Habsburg rule extended over large parts of Europe and their overseas colonies. Later, the assassination of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand led directly to the disaster of the First World War.
Thus, seen historically, the name ‘World of the Habsburgs’ can indeed be read literally. As the title of our virtual exhibition, however, it comprises more than merely a geographical dimension. ‘World’ is also used here as a synonym for society and culture, as well as for the personal environment.
The World of the Habsburgs is the product of an initiative by the Austrian federal government and is contained in the government programmes for 2007 and 2008. The project has been executed and funded by Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebs-ges.m.b.H., the implementation taking roughly two years.
In order to present the World of the Habsburgs in all its breadth and to do full justice to the scope of the topic, it was decided to create a virtual presentation. For the team of curators – historians at the University of Vienna – this meant abandoning the idea of the exhibit as a ‘sacred’ object and moving towards the idea of an object of communication and interaction. However, in order to distinguish it from mere entries in a web lexicon, it was important to retain its character as an exhibition. This was both a major challenge and a huge opportunity.
Times, spaces, people
The opportunity lies in the possibilities of the medium itself. This firstly means the practical elements such as accessibility independently of location, almost unlimited storage capacity – the exhibition comprises more than 1000 visual representations –, the possibility of ongoing expansion and the presentation of objects to which access is difficult to provide for reasons of conservation. However, the real potential lies in the alternation of contextual situations that continuously produce new points of contact and hence new levels of meaning.
In concrete terms, the World of the Habsburgs can be accessed via three levels: via time and space as the central parameters of history and via the personalities who dominate this history. Points of entry are a time line from 1278 to 1918, a map of Europe, a genealogical table of the Habsburgs and a virtual reading room.
At the interfaces of places, events and protagonists, content with a narrative structure is made available. Depending on the perspective selected, the focus is on social, political, cultural or economic components. Concise yet fascinating stories illuminate epoch-making events as well as topics from everyday and cultural history. They show the Habsburgs in their private, family, social and political setting, embedded in the events of their age, and illuminated through their own eyes and those of others both from ‘above’ and from ‘below’. A particularly important objective was to present not only the aristocracy but also the world of the social strata that are often ignored in conventional history books. The alternation of the perspectives thus produces a differentiated and indeed critical overall picture.
Website for all
We have designed the World of the Habsburgs for a heterogeneous and international public. The English version has gone online shortly after the German. The website serves both as an introduction to the topic – for instance in preparation for a visit to Vienna – and as a useful tool for schoolchildren, students and academics. Historians, it is our hope, will above all appreciate the mass of pictorial data hitherto not available. At this point we should like above all to thank the Bundesmobilienverwaltung, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Austrian State Archives, the Technisches Museum, the Wien Museum and the many other sources of images that have provided valuable material to supplement our own extensive collection.
Appearance and Usability
One of the central tasks within the project as a whole was the programming of a complex database and the graphic implementation. Finally, the huge mass of data and the fine network within it had to be put in a form that meets all the standards of contemporary usability. The young Viennese design bureau dform and the Danish agency metascapes provided excellent work in this area. They succeeded in mapping the complexity of the content in a way that is clear and understandable but nevertheless exciting, inter alia through the integration of many dynamic elements. Thus we are confident that the World of the Habsburgs will be positively received as a kaleidoscope of stories that made history.