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The History of the Institute

The beginnings of the Institute of History

Founded in 1585 and supported by the Jesuit order, the University of Graz’s curriculum initially consisted of basic humanistic studies and further studies in philosophy and theology. The same course content was persistently pursued up until the 18th century. There was even significant resistance when a state commission proposed the establishment of professorships in law, medicine and history in 1716 in order to make the University of Graz more attractive. With some delay, the then rector Father Andreas Horvath decided in 1720 to establish a Chair of History, which, with further delay, was ultimately held by Karl von Andrian in 1729. In the years that followed, efforts were made to present the entire history of the world from the perspective of salvation history.

In 1756, by order of state educational authority, secular history was finally introduced to the curriculum for the first time. In particular, this comparatively recently established orientation of history came under pressure with the abolition of the Jesuit order in 1773 and the downgrading of the university to lyceum status in 1782. While the subject area was continued in the form of church and legal history in other disciplines, it was not until 1805 that a Chair of World History and Austrian State History was established, with Julius Franz Borgias Schneller taking the chair in 1806. Financial resources, however, were so scarce that initially no work rooms were available, and professors were primarily appointed on the basis of available funding. After the German revolutions of 1848/1849 and as a result of university reform championed by Leopold, Count von Thun und Hohenstein, the chair was explicitly linked to a research assignment for the first time.

Differentiation of subject areas

After the university reform of 1848, which conveniently coincided with the death of the previous Chair of History, Leopold Hassler, the new Chair of General History was taken by Johann Baptist Weiß in 1852. Weiß taught in Graz until his death in 1890. During his office, the subject area was differentiated in more detail: First, the subject of Austrian history was separated from the existing area of general history in 1865, which, against the background of popular educational intentions, can also be seen as a promotion of Austrian national education. Franz Krones was appointed as the new professor of Austrian history.

A Chair of Modern History emerged with the appointment of Adam Wolf in 1867. In 1884, Adolf Bauer was the first (associate) professor of ancient history to be appointed. And in 1891, medievalist Arnold Busson finally completed the competency spectrum with his appointment for medieval history. Ever since Johann Loserth's appointment to the chair in 1893, with the exception of a brief interruption from 1940 to1945, this professorship of medieval history has also been linked to the historical auxiliary sciences, today under the name of “General History of the Middle Ages and Historical Auxiliary Sciences”.

Corporate State of Austria and Nazi era

The political situation of the 1930s also had an impact on the Institute of History in Graz. Benedictine Father Hugo Hantsch, for example, was appointed associate professor for Austrian History in 1935 because the candidates for the full professorship proposed by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities were not ideologically close enough to Kurt Schuschnigg's political camp in the “Corporate State”. Shortly after Austria's “annexation” into Nazi Germany, Father Hugo Hantsch, who was considered an opponent of National Socialism, was put on leave, later imprisoned, and ultimately interned in Buchenwald concentration camp. Hans Pirchegger, a believer in the German nationalism of Austria, initially acted as a substitute for Father Hantsch and later, in 1939, after becoming a member of the Nazi Party, followed him as an associate professor of “regional history”, as the section was called during the Nazi era.

After the Second World War, the section saw large changes in terms of academic staff. Hugo Hantsch, for example, returned to his professorship, only to accept a post at the University of Vienna shortly afterwards in 1946. Professors such as Ferdinand Bilger (modern history), Walter Kienast (medieval history), Fritz Schachermeyer (ancient history) or Burkhard Seuffert (historical auxiliary sciences), who had complied with Nazi ideology and some of whom were only appointed to the institute in those years, were dismissed from service in most cases after 1945. Frequently, however, those dismissals were changed into more favourable retirements.

The mediaevalist Mathilde Uhlirz, however, is an interesting case. Her habilitation failed several times in the 1920s and 1930s due to gender-specific discrimination: According to a resolution on the habilitation procedure passed by the representative body of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, female candidates were required to demonstrate a higher academic performance than their male counterparts. In 1945, Uhlirz was banned from working at university due to her appointment as an associate professor in 1939, which she probably at least partly owed to her membership in the Nazi Party. Nevertheless, just as the aforementioned professors, she continued to receive support after the war. While Kienast and Schachermeyer later accepted professorships at other universities and received numerous honours, in Uhlirz’s case, all professors holding chairs at the institute at the time campaigned (albeit unsuccessfully) for her reinstatement as a lecturer in the early 1950s.

The second half of the 20th century

The institute was expanded again in the second half of the 20th century. In accordance with the realignment of historical science that was also slowly gaining acceptance in the German-speaking scientific community, having its roots in the French "Annales" at the beginning of the century, a Chair of General Economic and Social History of the Middle Ages and the Modern Era was created in 1969 and staffed with Othmar Pickl. In the same year, the University of Graz appointed Ferdinand Hauptmann as the first professor of History of Southeastern Europe. In 1984, a Chair of General Contemporary History with Special Consideration of Non-European Countries and Cultures followed, which was staffed with Helmut Konrad. A recent addition to this broadening of the subject area was the establishment of a Chair of Teaching Methodology for History, which was staffed with Alois Ecker in 2017.

As of spring 2018, the Institute of History is subdivided into the following sections: General History of the Middle Ages and Historical Auxiliary Sciences (Romedio Schmitz-Esser), History of the Early Modern Period (Gabriele Haug-Moritz), Economic and Social History (Renate Pieper), Southeast European History and Anthropology (Karl Kaser), Teaching Methodology for History (Alois Ecker), Contemporary History and History of Austria (both professorships currently vacant).

Ancient History and Classical Antiquities is not part of the Institute of History, as it was – as is customary in Austria – established as a separate institute whose professorship is held by Wolfgang Spickermann (see homepage of the Institute of Classics). The two historical institutes closely cooperate in teaching and historical research, ensuring interdisciplinary training that also considers neighbouring research fields such as archaeology and art history.


Höflechner, Walter: Das Fach Geschichte an der Universität Graz: 1729-1848 (History at the University of Graz: 1729-1848; publications from the archive of the University of Graz 3), Graz 1975.

Höflechner, Walter: Geschichte der Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz. Von den Anfängen bis in das Jahr 2005 (History at the University of Graz. From the beginning until 2005; Grazer Universitätsverlag. Allgemeine Wissenschaftliche Reihe vol. 1), Graz 2006.

Höflechner, Walter: Das Fach „Geschichte“ an der Philosophischen resp. Geisteswissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Universität Graz. Vertretung und Institution. Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (The subject of "History" at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Graz. Representation and institution. From the beginning to the present; publications from the archive of the University of Graz 44/1), Graz 2015.

Holeschofsky, Johannes: Karl (1854-1914) und Mathilde Uhlirz (1881-1966). Neue Gesichtspunkte zur Biografie zweier Grazer Historiker (Karl (1854-1914) and Mathilde Uhlirz (1881-1966). New perspectives on the biography of two Graz historians), in: ZHVSt 104 (2013), p. 297-310.

Kaspar, Sabine: Braune Flecke - Blinde Flecke? Am Beispiel des Mediävisten Burkhard Seuffert (Brown spots - blind spots? Using the example of the mediaevalist Burkhard Seuffert), in: Sabine Kaspar, Evelyn Knappitsch, Bernhard Thonhofer, Florian Ungerböck (eds.), Die Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz und der lange Schatten des Hakenkreuzes. 15 Beiträge von Studierenden und TutorInnen (The University of Graz and the shadow of the swastika. 15 contributions by students and tutors), Graz 2017, p. 63-82.

Kernbauer, Alois: Hans Pirchegger (1875-1973). „Der“ Landeshistoriker“ (Hans Pirchegger (1875-1973). The ”State Historian“), in: Karel Hruza (ed.), Österreichische Historiker 1900-1945. Lebensläufe und Karrieren in Österreich, Deutschland und der Tschechoslowakei in wissenschaftsgeschichtlichen Porträts (Austrian historians 1900-1945. CVs and careers in Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia in history-scientific portraits), Vienna-Cologne-Weimar 2008, p. 225-246.

Head of Institute

Univ.-Prof. Dr.phil.habil.

Christian Heuer

Institut für Geschichte

Phone:+43 316 380 - 2366

Deputy Head of Institute

Univ.-Prof. Dr.

Christiane Berth

Institut für Geschichte

Phone:+43 316 380 - 2621

Deputy Head of Institute

Ao.Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr.phil.

Nikolaus Reisinger

Institut für Geschichte

Phone:+43 316 380 - 2246

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