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The Trauma of Losing One’s Roots: Stefan Zweig’s Perception of the Habsburg Empire


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme of PCNI. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


The twentieth century has seen the downfall of many states that seemed to be made to last: Ottoman Turkey, Tsarist Russia, Austria-Hungary, and, closer to present, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In all these cases, the effects of state dissolution went far beyond the necessity to redraw the map of Europe. People who were brought up to identify with and love their homeland, to accept the “imagined community” (Benedict Anderson) of its inhabitants, and to plan for a future in it, were now bereft of an emotional anchor. We know of many expressions of nostalgia for countries that perished: think of Robert Musil’s famously sympathetic characterization of “Kakania”, a synonym for the “k.k.” (kaiserlich-königlich) Habsburg Empire, or of “Yugonostalgia” in literature as expressed by, for example, Dubravka Ugrešić. In this seminar we will deal with the most prominent literary expression of Habsburg homesickness, Stefan Zweig’s bestselling book The World of Yesterday (1941).

Students will be required to read Zweig’s book chapter by chapter, and to answer questions pertaining to the content of each chapter during the sessions (compulsory attendance). At each session, the questions to be answered at the following one will be handed over to the students in printed form. At times, the teacher may suggest reading some pages of additional literature, if such literature is conducive to a better understanding of what Zweig tells us.

The entry test for this course will be in week two on the chapter about Austria of Philip Blom’s magisterial history of Europe 1900-1914: Philip Blom, The Vertigo Years, (Weidenfeld & Nicholson; London, 2008).

Course objectives

General learning ojectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  10. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtrack as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. has acquired an understanding of Stefan Zweig’s personal biography, and of his importance as a representative of Austria’s assimilated Jewish bourgeoisie, one of the formative forces of Fin-de-siècle Vienna;
  2. has gained insight (a) into the multi-ethnical, multi-national character of the Habsburg Monarchy that perished after World War I., and is capable of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Austro-Hungarian model of socio-economic development – based not on national cohesion but on a permanent search for workable compromises between ethnic Germans, Hungarians, and Slavs, and (b) an understanding of the importance of 1918/19 as a turning point in Central European history and the lives of those who, like Zweig, felt uneasy amidst the political and economic turbulence of the 1920s and 30s.
  3. is capable of assessing the importance and value of eyewitness reports for the understanding of any given period in history, but has in mind the inevitable bias expressed in memoirs such as Zweig’s. Hence the need to back up (or contrast) insights derived from memoirs with results of thorough academic research;
  4. The student learns to approach a canonic text of the biographical genre by means of answering questions pertaining to the subjects touched in Zweig’s memoirs, ranging from the arts in Vienna c. 1900 to the social consequences of hyperinflation or the early stirrings of Austrian Nazism. He/she will be required to find and study additional, non-biographical sources to add weight to the arguments exchanged in class, and will summarize the experience gained during the semester in a final essay on selected aspects of Zweig and his times.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written entry test with essay questions in week 2
    measured learning objectives: 4, 7, 9

  • Participation in group discussions pertaining to the reading material
    measured learning objectives: 4, 7, 9, 11-12 (ResMA also: 10)

  • Final paper (ca. 7.500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-9, 13-16


  • Entry test: 10%

  • Participation: 40%

  • Final paper: 50%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor, who may require clarification of a perceived failure by the student to co-operate in the weekly group discussions (see: assessment methods).

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

  • Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday (Nebraska University Press; Lincoln and London 2013) or any other available edition and translation of this work.

  • Philip Blom, The Vertigo Years (Weidenfeld & Nicholson; London 2008) – Chapter 3, ‘Oedipus Rex’

  • Steven Beller, A Concise History of Austria (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge 2017)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.