Empires of memory

Empire(s) in a flash: Locating Habsburg and Ottoman pasts

Jeremy Walton


Empire as a political, social, and cultural form and project haunts contemporary nation-states across the globe. This haunting is particularly acute in Europe. Although the modern empires of Europe no longer exist as political entities, memories of imperial identity, power, and their discontents continue to fuel contemporary political projects and demarcate horizons of belonging. Our research project, “Empires of Memory: The Cultural Politics of Historicity in Former Habsburg and Ottoman Cities,” will examine the multiple lives of imperial memories in relation to the dominant political and cultural logics in Europe today. We will focus on the cultural politics of former imperial belonging in six cities: Istanbul, Vienna, Sarajevo, Budapest, Thessaloniki, and Trieste. The choice of these six cities is strategic. Istanbul and Vienna were the capitals and principal political-economic centers of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires. Sarajevo and Budapest were, at different points in their histories, ruled by both the Ottomans and the Habsburgs, although they occupied much different positions within the political geographies of their respective empires. Finally, Thessaloniki and Trieste were crucial ports for much of Ottoman and Habsburg history, respectively, but are currently located within national contexts that broadly eschew these histories. The contemporary geopolitical and regional situations of these six cities also present provocative points of comparison and contrast. They are located in six different nation-states—Turkey, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Greece, and Italy. Four of these states are EU members, while Turkey remains a perpetually deferred candidate for entry, and Bosnia-Herzegovina is as yet only a prospective candidate. Three of the cities are national capitals; several of them are regional economic and political centers, and Istanbul is a burgeoning global city. Finally, the six cities also span the recent geopolitical rift of the Cold War. These multiple connections and distinctions among the cities make them uniquely suited to yield a comparative, multidisciplinary study of memories of empire, and the politics that attend to these memories.