Interactions in Anthropology: Frankfurt and Vienna before the mid-20th century –
The cultural historical approach as a common denominator during times of crisis and totalitarian regime
By contrast to their rather transitory relations with colleagues at other German universities, Viennese ethnologists’ interactions with their Frankfurt counterparts were quite dense. They encompassed various academics of both cities at different stages between the time after World War I until the late 1940s. On closer inspection, it seems that a shared approach may be one main reason for this. Whereas other ethnologists represented functionalist, psychological or other approaches, which usually were oriented towards the present, in Vienna and in Frankfurt they mainly took a cultural-historical stand. Some of their basic assumptions could differ, however, such as theological or racist premises. The cultural-historical concept often was based on the examination of “culture circles” or “culture-areas” with centres of dissemination (i.e. diffusion)- This was one of the significant directions of Völkerkunde in Austria and Germany and influenced other disciplines such as folklore, archaeology, prehistory or art history.
In particular, the aim of this project is to clarify the importance inherent to very different cultural historical approaches for various contacts between ethnologists from Vienna and Frankfurt during three decades. This question will be examined through a number of issues. To name just a few of them: How did the respective relationships develop when both countries were temporarily adopting different political systems? What happened once the relevance of “racial science” was discussed within the discipline? How did the colonial revisionist stance advocated by most ethnologists influence these relationships? With regard to the Nazi era, it should be investigated how the dictatorship had an impact on the research approaches and to what degree the respective attitudes to the regime influenced relationships between the scholars. To what extent could the cultural historical approach bridge political and ideological differences between individual representatives?
This study is based on documents from a number of archives, and on academic publications such as biographical and historical studies or contributions to the history of this academic field. Individual academics and their works are considered in the contexts of their networks and under the respective influence of social, political, national and international as well as regional circumstances. The project should also make a general contribution towards the question how closely personal relations, academic work and political loyalties were connected and what could be the significance of these connections in times of crisis and of totalitarian regimes.