History of the Department

Examining the history of the discipline is an essential part of the self-conception of this field known by many names – European Ethnology / Volkskunde (folklore studies) / Empirical Cultural Studies / Cultural Anthropology – which deals intensively and critically with its own past (see attached list of references).

 Even the names given to the departments, which are a product of the place, its actors and the structural conditions, are an indication of this engagement: for example, in 2000, the former Institut für Volkskunde (Department of Folklore Studies) of the University of Vienna was renamed the “Department of European Ethnology”. With this, both the long-completed paradigmatic and thematic change in the discipline was recorded in its name, and the decided renunciation of the Weltanschauung and political situation surrounding the academic institutionalization of the discipline in Vienna in 1942 was made clear. At that time, an “Institut für germanisch-deutsche Volkskunde” (Department of Germanic Folklore Studies) was one of a total nine new university departments founded during the period of Nazi rule, and its direction was entrusted to a scholar of German and Scandinavian Studies, Richard Wolfram (1901-1995). Wolfram ¬– whose Venia legendi (permission to teach), received in 1936, was in “Germanische Volkskunde und Neuskandinavistik” (Germanic Folk Life and New Scandinavian Studies) – had years before already worked in a leading position in the “Forschungsgemeinschaft Deutsches Ahnenerbe e.V.” (Research Community of Ancestral Heritage), a research institution of the SS founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1935. As the Department head he was active, for instance, in forced relocations of populations in South Tirol following the Hitler-Mussolini Agreement in 1939. As a beneficiary of the Nazi regime, which is evidenced not least in the institutionalization of the discipline in Vienna, and simultaneously as a leading ideological producer of Nazi thought, Volkskunde became entrenched as a “brauner Wehrwissenschaft” (“Brown military science”) (Wolfgang Kaschuba) that argued based on “Volk” and rationalized racist and genocidal dynamics.

 After the Institute was dissolved in 1945 and Wolfram was expelled from the University, the discipline Volkskunde had no institutional backing at the University of Vienna for almost two decades. During this time, it was represented only in the teaching activities of certain individuals – above all Leopold Schmidt (1912-1981) who would later serve for many years as Director of the Austrian Museum für Volkskunde (Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art) – within the context other curricula, especially German Studies.

 There was no denazification. On the contrary, through the amnesty granted to former National Socialists, which had begun already in 1948, Wolfram regained his Venia legendi (teaching permission) in 1954 – not least with the support of ideologically like-minded colleagues such as the German philosopher Otto Höfler and the Volkskunde specialist Josef Haekel. In 1959 he was appointed associate professor, full professor in 1963 and finally also head of the "Department of Volkskunde” that had been newly established in 1961.

 Wolfram’s application for the reinstitution of the Department was approved by the faculty committee responsible – which included like-minded ideological companions of Wolfram such as the Germanists Otto Höfler, Eberhard Kranzmayer and Hans Rupprich and the theater scholar Heinz Kindermann – on the grounds that only little time remained to document the “old stock” of “traditional folk life”. Consequently – and in analogy to the general socio-political development in the formational phase of the Second Republic following the “Rückbruch” (return, “backwash”) (Ernst Hanisch) and regressive recourse to the prewar period – Wolfram impressed upon the discipline and the Department in Vienna his personal emphasis on research on customs, folk beliefs and dance, which continued to be mythologically oriented. Thereby he gained an even greater reputation with the establishment of the “Österreichischer Volkskundeatlas” (Austrian Atlas of Folk Life) under the patronage of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and his admission as a “full member” of the Academy.

 After Wolfram’s retirement in 1971 and during the several-year vacancy of the chair (interim director: Walter Hirschberg, associate professor for Ethnology), the Department’s organisation and academic direction were largely take up by its first (and until 1971 only) postdoctoral assistant, Helmut P. Fielhauer (1937-1987). Fielhauer, who completed his habilitation in 1974, was named associate professor in 1977 and served as Head of the Department from 1980 until his death in 1987, may have been socialized academically under Wolfram, but he stood increasingly under the influence of the subject’s reorientation and especially its expansion into social sciences, as was initiated in the late 1960s and early 1970s in particular by “Empirical Cultural Studies” in Tubingen, under the direction of Hermann Bausinger. This change meant that Volkskunde not only took into consideration problems of the present and the ways of life of broader sections of society, but also that it engaged critically with its own history and political interweavings, revised central terminology and perspectives, and developed a new methodological understanding.

 This “farewell to folk life” – as proclaimed in Tübingen and inspired ideologically by a Marxist reception in the vein of the “Frankfurter School” – was supported only up to a certain point by the newly named professor Károly Gaál (1922-2007). Under Gaál, who completed his habilitation in 1970 in the area of “Volkskunde with special emphasis on comparative Sachvolkskunde und Sozialvolkskunde (material folklore studies and social folklore studies)”, the academic direction of the Department – which included Edith Hörandner (from 1968, university lecturer from 1985) and Olaf Bockhorn (from 1971, university lecturer from 1987) – shifted toward monographic investigations of places and ergological documentation in consideration of historical economic factors.

 After Gaál’s retirement in 1992 and a two-year vacancy, Konrad Köstlin (previously professor in Kiel, Regensburg and Tübingen) was appointed full professor. With him – of which his then presidency of the SIEF (Société Internationale d’Ethnologie et de Folklore) was just an outward sign–, a view of the discipline as an “Ethnologia Europaea” was enforced in Vienna, reflecting the extension of the Department’s title that had been in place officially since 1975, and founded on the ethnological tradition of the discipline as a comparative cultural science in historical and social dimensions.

 Konrad Köstlin retired in 2008, and since 2009 the Department has been directed by Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber (previously professor in Göttingen). In its teaching and research, the Department represents empirical cultural studies of the everyday oriented toward the present and historically argued. It encompasses a variety of research foci, such as urban cultural studies and regional cultural analysis largely in the German-speaking area, biographical research, work cultures and popular religiosity, human animal studies and migration research. Consequently, the term “European” in the title does not designate merely the competencies and skills for the cultural analysis of any regional culture in the European area, but instead the scope of experience, interpretation and action in European modernity, in which local everyday cultures are highlighted within supralocal relations; likewise, the term “ethnic” is not to be misunderstood as a translation and the “salvation” of the term “Volk” as a nationally connotated cultural concept. Under the term “European Ethnology” a program of ways of working, models of thinking and lines of inquiry has been established that is committed to the microanalytical observation of past and current cultural processes and phenomena in close social proximity, and thereby makes the Self and the Other in their reciprocal relation to the subject of investigation in relational cultural analysis.

 With numerous cooperations both within and beyond the Faculty and the University, the Department is broadly anchored interdisciplinarily and internationally. In 2010 the annual networking meeting of all Austrian university departments in the field was initiated, and in 2011 a “Network for Urban Cultural Studies” was founded which also meets annually. The Department also cooperates closely with different museums in Vienna. Lastly, the Department was expanded significantly through the addition of a second chair in 2018. The designation of the new professorship is “Historical Dimensions of Everyday Cultures”, whereas in future the existing professorship will be called “Ethnographic Dimensions of Everyday Cultures.” With this, the Department has again underscored its position as a historically argued, present-focused cultural science of the everyday.


Olaf Bockhorn: Wiener Volkskunde 1938-1945. In: Helge Gerndt (Hg.): Volkskunde und Nationalsozialismus. Referate und Diskussionen einer Tagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde. München 23. bis 25.Oktober 1986 (= Münchner Beiträge zur Volkskunde 7). München 1987, S. 229-237.

 Olaf Bockhorn: Zur Geschichte der Volkskunde an der Universität Wien. Von den Anfängen bis 1939. In: Albrecht Lehmann und Andreas Kuntz (Hg.): Sichtweisen der Volkskunde. Zur Geschichte und Forschungspraxis einer Disziplin (= Lebensformen 3). Berlin-Hamburg 1988, S. 63-83.

 Olaf Bockhorn: Der Kampf um die Ostmark. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Volkskunde in Österreich. In: Gernot Heiß u.a. (Hg.): Willfährige Wissenschaft. Die Universität Wien 1938-1945 (= Österreichische Texte zur Gesellschaftskritik 43). Wien 1989, S. 17-38.

 Olaf Bockhorn: "Volkskundliche Quellströme" in Wien: Anthropo- und Philologie, Ethno- und Geographie. In: Wolfgang Jacobeit, Hannjost Lixfeld und Olaf Bockhorn (Hg.): Völkische Wissenschaft. Gestalten und Tendenzen der deutschen und österreichischen Volkskunde in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Wien-Köln-Weimar 1994, S. 417-426.

 Olaf Bockhorn: Von Ritualen, Mythen und Lebenskreisen: Volkskunde im Umfeld der Universität Wien. In: Ebda., S. 477-526.Olaf Bockhorn: "Mit all seinen völkischen Kräften deutsch": Germanisch-deutsche Volkskunde in Wien. In: Ebda., S. 559-575.

 Olaf Bockhorn: Nationale Volkskunde versus Europäische Ethnographie. Michael Haberlandt und die österreichische Volkskunde um die Wende vom 19. zum 20. Jahrhundert. In: Narodna umjetnost 33/2, 1996, S. 87-97.

 Olaf Bockhorn: "Die Angelegenheit Dr. Wolfram, Wien" - Zur Besetzung der Professur für germanisch-deutsche Volkskunde an der Universität Wien. In: Mitchell G. Ash, Wolfram Nieß, Ramon Pils (Hg.): Geisteswissenschaften im Nationalsozialismus. Das Beispiel der Universität Wien. Göttingen 2010, S. 199-224.

 Olaf Bockhorn, Herbert Nikitsch:...die venia legendi für "Volkskunde" erteilt... Die beiden Habilitationen von Leopold Schmidt - Eine kommentierte Dokumentation. In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 66/115, 2012, S. 101-128.

 James R. Dow: Angewandte Volkstumsideologie. Heinrich Himmlers Kulturkommission in Südtirol und der Gottschee. Innsbruck-Wien-boten 2018.

 James R. Dow, Olaf Bockhorn: The Study of European Ethnologie in Austria. Aldershot, Burlington 2004.

 Hermann Hummer, Birgit Johler, Herbert Nikitsch: Die Bibliothek des Österreichischen Museums für Volkskunde. Ein Vorbericht. In: Bruno Bauer, Christina Köstner-Pemsel, Markus Stumpf (Hg.): NS-Provenienzforschung an österreichischen Bibliotheken. Anspruch und Wirklichkeit (= Schriften der Vereinigung Österreichischer Bibliothekarinnen und Bibliothekare 10). Graz, Feldkirch 2011, S. 459-476.

 Konrad Köstlin: Volkskunde: Pathologie der Randlage. In: Karl Acham (Hg.): Geschichte der österreichischen Humanwissenschaften. Band 4: Geschichte und fremde Kulturen. Wien 2002, S. 369-414.

 Herbert Nikitsch: Volkskunde in Österreich nach 1945. In: Petr Lozoviuk, Johannes Moser (Hg.): Probleme und Perspektiven der volkskundlich-kulturwissenschaftlichen Fachgeschichtsschreibung (= Bausteine aus dem Institut für Sächsische Geschichte und Volkskunde 7). Dresden 2005, S. 79-101.

 Herbert Nikitsch: Moser, Schmidl, Trebitsch & Co. Halbvergessenes aus der Geschichte des Vereins für Volkskunde. In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 108/59, 2005, S. 275-294.Herbert Nikitsch: Was "Volkskunde" war... Zur Geschichte einer Disziplin. In: Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur 56/2, 2012, S. 126-136.

 Herbert Nikitsch: Stadiongasse 9. Vom "Eichendorff-Haus", der "Deutschen Bildung" und der "Deutschen Gemeinschaft für alkoholfreie Kultur". In: Helmut Eberhart u.a. (Hg.): Volkskunde aus der Mitte. Festschrift für Olaf Bockhorn (= Sonderschriften des Vereins für Volkskunde in Wien 6). Wien 2013, S. 139-157.

 Herbert Nikitsch: Zur Geschichte des Instituts. In: Herbert Nikitsch, Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber (Hg.): Hanuschgasse 3. 50 Jahre Institut für Europäische Ethnologie (= Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Ethnologie 38). Wien 2014, S. 19-39.

 Herbert Nikitsch: Wiener Volkskunde 1945-1970: Umbrüche - Rückbrüche - Aufbrüche. In: Johannes Moser, Irene Götz, Moritz Ege (Hg.): Zur Situation der Volkskunde 1945-1970: Orientierungen einer Wissenschaft zur Zeit des Kalten Krieges (= Münchner Beiträge zur Volkskunde 43). München 2015, S. 227-241.

 Herbert Nikitsch: "Volkskunde für Jedermann" & Adolf Mais. Zwei fachgeschichtliche Assoziationen. In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 70/119, 2016, S. 73-91.

 Herbert Nikitsch, Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber: Europäische Ethnologie an der Universität Wien. Zur Entwicklung einer empirischen Kulturwissenschaft im (hochschul-)politischen Kontext. In: Karl Anton Fröschl u.a.(Hg.): Reflexive Innenansichten aus de Universität. Disziplinengeschichten zwischen Wissenschaft, Gesellschaft und Politik (= 650 Jahre Universität Wien - Aufbruch ins neue Jahrhundert - Fragen und Perspektiven, Bd. 4). Wien 2015, S. 371-383.

 Markus Stumpf: Die Anthropos-Bibliothek St. Gabriels und die Bibliothek des Instituts für (germanisch-deutsche) Volkskunde. Ein Beitrag zur Provenienzforschung. In: Herbert Nikitsch, Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber (Hg.): Hanuschgasse 3. 50 Jahre Institut für Europäische Ethnologie (=Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Ethnologie 38). Wien 2014, S. 135-183.