The WISO Department

The Department of Economic and Social History promotes an integrative approach to conducting research and teaching in the fields of economic history, social history and cultural history, as well as – in cooperation with other history departments – didactics of history. It analyses and teaches economic, social and cultural developments on a local, regional, national, and global scale up to present day. Hereby, boundaries of conventional periodization are dissolved. Special attention is given to intercultural comparisons and the examination of global interdependencies. The Department aims to comprehend and convey social, economic and cultural phenomena, their mutual interdependencies and their political implications. It is due to this overall approach that the Department was able to occupy a special position within the University of Vienna and also within the international field. The academic teaching, lectures and publications of departmental staff are directed towards addressees both within and outside of the scientific world (students, graduates, teachers and other professional groups). Department staff considers their dedication to academic teaching and further education for adults and professionals as a commitment to democracy.

The Department occupies a very special position within the Faculty of History and Cultural Science, as its curriculum transcends the fields of History, Social Studies and Political Education benefiting various branches of study, both from our faculty and from others. Thus, the Department has shaped its unique academic identity from its orientation towards both social science based history and cultural studies inspired history. Moreover, the Department participates in the teaching tasks of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Statistics to lecture economic history within the scope of International Business Administration, Business Administration and Economics diploma studies.

The special position the Department of Economic and Social History occupies in Austria can best be understood from a historical perspective. Founded in 1922 and reactivated in 1959, it has always been the only Economic and Social History Department in Austria that functions within a Humanities and Cultural Studies faculty. All other departments of the same name operate within an Economics or Social Studies faculty. Particular development opportunities arose out of this situation.

Economic history, the way it has been defined and perceived within the Department since its establishment, has never confined itself to economic models or to the history of economic institutions. Rather, it deals with all economic aspects of social life and the economic relationships between individuals and social groups. It analyses the agents, specific media and institutions of economic activity and their development in time, their geographic specificity and their integration in terms of division of labour and the resulting economic forms and systems. These elements are not examined individually; instead, they are regarded as being embedded in social relationships at large. Thus, economic history always examines the political, social and cultural implications of economic phenomena and, likewise, identifies the economic implications of political, social and cultural structures and processes. It captures the differentiation of various economic sectors and their respective institutional environments; the technical, institutional and media bases of economic processes; the formation and functioning of factor, product and service markets; the development in time of production output, wages and prices; the history of individual enterprises and their company culture (Business History), as well as the appropriation and division of the economic product in different epochs, economic systems and regions.

Social history
, as a basic approach, primarily focuses on the development of social relationships and groups on micro-, meso- and macro-levels. Its analysis concentrates on forms, causes and effects of social disparity and social conflicts based on material inequality on one hand, and gender, religious, ethnic and other incongruities on the other. For instance, it reconstructs social systems and structures such as states, cities, communities, parishes, manorial systems, households and so forth. Additionally, it reconstructs the social actions of individual and collective agents in such systems and structures, to which end it avails itself of concepts from the realm of social studies, like “life-world”, “social reality” and categories as experience, practice, or daily routine. Social reality, therefore, emerges from conditions that can be defined as structured-ness or constitution of the social, economic or political, and also from the actions and interpretations of the agents who encounter these structures and replicate or modify them through their actions. The latter attributes social relevance to perceptions, constructs and denotations, myths, metaphors, rituals and so on.

Cultural history
focuses on the contribution of norms, constructs, denotations, discourses, ideologies and religions to the configuration of social relationships, and additionally concentrates on the structures of bodies of knowledge and social constructs. It further analyses the construction of individual and social identities utilizing narration, notably biographies, individual and "collective memories", and "sites of memory". It examines regional, national, European and other mythologies, along with the social construction and tendency towards assertion of normative paradigms applicable to family life, sexuality, child rearing, youth, old age and so forth. Lastly, it investigates the constructs of historiography and history teaching that create legitimization or, alternatively, critical perspectives. Coupled with conventional text and image analysis techniques, empirical work of cultural history employs new methods and procedures of discourse analysis, historical epistemology, conceptual history, structural hermeneutics, image and film analysis and semiotics. In terms of cultural studies, the establishment of these techniques has led to an expansion of social and economic history; however, the borders to genuine social or economic history research and teaching remain blurred.

Cross-regional and global interdependencies
have gained prominence on a global scale due to current integration and de-integration processes. The Department’s tradition of transcending epochs and of intercultural comparison is conducive to an enhanced understanding of economic, social and cultural change in various regions of the world. This core area is pursued in cooperation with other research and teaching fields (geography, sociology, political science), as well as with numerous area studies pertaining to South and East Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This led to the establishment of the professorship “International Social and Economic History with particular consideration of Global History” (focused on the Early Modern Period), in a periodical lecture series with alternating lecturers. The series features extra-European and global history topics, as well as participation in the degree programmes “International Development”, “Global History” and “Global Studies”. In this context, the Department initiated several series of publications.

Communication and didactics of history,
as a basic approach, analyses and teaches the ways and means for knowledge on economic, social and cultural developments to be processed and communicated in a manner conducive to political education, proactive practice orientation and the ability for critical communication. It perceives itself as an applied historical study in the interplay of practical teaching experience and theory-based reflection. In its specific implementation as technical didactics, it carries out the development and conveyance of theoretical foundations and practical teaching competencies geared towards teaching staff in secondary academic and vocational schools,  institutions of adult education, historical museums and exhibitions. New media and e-learning are employed in university and secondary school history teaching, while appropriate online courses, blended learning concepts and applications are being developed. “Process-orientated history didactics” includes up-to-date organisational theories, theories of social systems and theories of social learning. Moreover, the Technical Didactics Centre for “History, Social Studies and Political Education” is closely connected to the Department both in teaching and in relation to the staff.

The teacher formation for the specialisation History and Social Studies, respectively History, Social Studies and Political Education, promotes integration of social, economic and cultural aspects. This, congruous with the new social-scientific orientation of the discipline from the 1970s onward, led to the foundation of the teacher continuing education periodical Beiträge zur historischen Sozialkunde [Contributions to Historical Social Studies], which addresses an audience far beyond specialized circles. Other pertinent publications, as well as numerous activities geared towards teacher further education, fell in line with the periodical. The Department’s didactic efforts are also directed at adult education. The Dokumentation lebensgeschichtlicher Aufzeichnungen [Collection of Biographical Records] and its segue, the series of autobiographical testimonies published under the title Damit es nicht verlorengeht… [Lest We Forget…], deserve to be mentioned here. These, in parallel with its special commitment to history didactics and communication, are defining traits of the Department.

The structure of the Department also includes synergies in terms of the approaches outlined above: while specific aspects require specialisation in theories, paradigms, methodology and techniques, social, economic and cultural history research must remain compatible with the associated didactics. This has been achieved by the Department in a broad range of topics (History of Nation Building, History of Colonialism and Imperialism, History of World Economy, History of Social and Regional Inequality and Asynchronism, Urban History, History of Technology, History of the Family, Business and Financial History, Rural History, History of Consumption, History of Medicine and Drugs, History of Sexuality, History of Knowledge and Science, History of Nutrition, History of Population, History of Everyday Life, Historical Anthropology and so forth). Some of these special interest fields will be further explored and others will be added, keeping in mind that specialization does not alter the Department’s integral profile in research and teaching. The triad of economic systems, social life and cultural production is conceivable for most current and future topics, and total separation of one aspect from the others is expressly undesired.

Current research, specifically research projects carried out by the staff of the Social and Economic History Department can be viewed in detail under ‘Research´.
Professors and lecturers of the Department teach within the framework of undergraduate and graduate degree courses in History. We offer general and specialised lecture courses on European economic, social and cultural history from late antiquity until the twentieth century across historical periods. In addition, transcending the boundaries of epochs, secular socio-economic developments are presented in a longitudinal perspective, while synchronous interdependencies are dealt with in a transverse and comparative perspective. In the last years, Global History has increasingly gained importance within the range of available courses. The wide topic spectrum of courses offered (see up-to-date study guide) mirrors the broad range of fields of interest of the Department´s researchers.
An introduction to methods of historical and social sciences constitutes a corner stone of the teaching carried out at the Department. Courses in the use of information technology in historical studies (data bases, statistical analysis, source-orientated data processing, historical cartography, Internet applications for historical studies, digital sources), interviewing techniques (narrative and biographical interviews, expert interviews, etc.), and text analysis (sequential analysis, discourse analysis techniques, etc.) are offered on a permanent basis.
Further fields of special interest are lectures on the theory of science, alongside seminars geared towards didactic-pedagogical education for the particular study branch of History and Social Studies (degree for secondary-level school teaching).
In addition to university teaching, several Department members are involved in further education (addressing teachers, social workers, therapists and other professional groups), and adult education.
The Department participates in the European Union’s SOCRATES programme of student and teacher mobility. Partnership contracts exist with Istituto Universitario Europeo (European University Institute) in Fiesole/Florence (IT), Freie Universität (Free University) and Humboldt Universität in Berlin (D) and with Univerzita Karlova Charles University in Prague (CZ).

Publications of the Department of Economic and Social History

Due to the research and teaching focus on didactics, the Department has been publishing since the 1970s in the teachers’ continuing education and history teaching periodical Beiträge zur historischen Sozialkunde [Contributions to Historical Social Studies], since 2002 titled Historische Sozialkunde [Historical Social Studies] as well as several series of textbooks. We are also involved in the publishing and editorial activities of scholarly periodicals (such as: Agricultural History Review, European History Quarterly, Historische Anthropologie, Journal of Global History, L'Homme, Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur – ÖGL, and, Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften – ÖZG). Department’s staff is also responsible for the publishing of Sozial- und wirtschaftshistorische Studien [Social and Economic History Studies] and the biographical series Damit es nicht verloren geht ... [Lest we forget ...]