Robert A. Kann Memorial Lecture

The Kann Memorial Lecture is our most prestigious public lecture, delivered by a renowned scholar with an international reputation. Established in 1984, it is designed for the University community and the larger Twin Cities public. Admission is free of charge. We publish an expanded version in the Austrian History Yearbook.

37th Annual Kann Memorial Lecture

Tuesday, September 21, 2021 (via Zoom)

“Democracy’s Violent Birth: The Czech Legionnaires and Statue Wars in the First Czechoslovak Republic,” by Cultural and Gender Historian of Habsburg Central Europe Nancy Wingfield

The Statue War—a relatively little-known episode of iconoclasm in the Bohemian Lands, echoed in current American statue wars—took place just over a century ago. It occurred against the background of economic, political, and social struggle during the formative years of the Czechoslovak Republic.

Wingfield will address how Czech Legionnaire attacks on statues of Habsburg Emperor Joseph II in the predominantly German-speaking borderlands in 1920 can serve as a vehicle for rethinking the foundation of the First Czechoslovak Republic and reassessing claims to democratic exceptionalism. Czechoslovakia’s founding politicians between the wars, its émigré politicians and academics during and after the Second World War, and Western scholars of the Cold War period shared an interest in promoting this narrative of democratic exceptionalism. Only in the past two decades have some historians begun to propose alternative interpretations of the crucial years between 1918 and 1923, seeking to add more nuance to the master narrative of interwar Czechoslovakia. This talk is a contribution to that effort. 

Presented by the Center for Austrian Studies with the support of individual donors to the Robert A. Kann Memorial Lecture Fund.

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Robert A. Kann

Robert A. Kann, 1906–1981

Robert A. Kann was born in Vienna and studied law at the University of Vienna, where he earned a Dr. Juris in 1930. In 1938, he interrupted a promising law career, and, in the face of the National Socialist threat, fled with his wife Marie. After finding refuge in the United States, he devoted himself to studying and teaching Austrian history. He completed his PhD in history at Columbia University and served on the faculty at Rutgers until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1976. He returned to Austria as a visiting professor and was appointed Honorarprofessor at the University of Vienna shortly before his death.

As a scholar, Kann studied how the forces of conflict and integration interacted in history and became the leading authority on the evolution of ethnic tensions within the Habsburg Empire. Among his most important works are The Multinational Empire: Nationalism and National Reform in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1848–1916 and A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526–1918. In his personal life and in his work, he demonstrated a mediating nature, artfully blending both Austrian and American themes and perspectives.

In 1982, the University of Minnesota was privileged to acquire Robert A. Kann's personal library. Consisting of roughly 5,000 monographs, the collection is noted for its breadth, depth, and integrity as the product of a single collector. The Kann Collection now forms an integral part of the Special Collections and Rare Books Division at the University of Minnesota's Elmer L. Anderson Library Archives Center, serving as a valuable resource for scholars in Austrian history. The inaugural Kann Memorial Lecture in 1984 dedicated the collection.