The emperors’s desk:

a site of policy making in the Habsburg Empire?

Many familiar images depict emperor Franz Joseph as a disciplined and attentive desk worker. They conform with his self-description as “an independent public official”. However, his pen-pushing activities were supported by the Cabinet Office. Its members registered and protocolled approx. 250,000 written presentations (Vorträge), which the emperor processed at his desk during the period of his reign. Our project uses the careful bureaucratic handling of these submissions by the Cabinet Office as its main empirical evidence. We understand the submissions as a kind of channel through which the entire government activities of the Habsburg monarchy can be made visible and accessible for the first time using a statistical policy field analysis.
Our statistical analysis will be used to cast an analytical look over the shoulder of the emperor at his desk, where we will note the distribution of submissions across various policy fields and where we will track changes over time. This will provide us with a synoptic view on government activities in the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I. This comprehensive overview is still very top-heavy, however. In a second step we therefore select two policy areas for an in-depth analysis: infrastructure / technology and symbolic politics. They stand in for different approaches to resource distribution, both material and immaterial, and for different strategies for the political integration of the monarchy. We will retrace the bureaucratic and political trajectory of selected projects all the way up to the desk of the emperor.

We are interested in particular in the agency of state and non-state actors and in the cooperation and networks of different actor groups. Against this background, we will take a closer look at the submissions in question. Text analysis will reveal the selectivity of the presentation. What aspects of the political process, the network analysis has reconstructed, were made available in the submission to the Emperor? What communication strategies proved to be successful, e.g. what were the main selling points for decorations and ennoblement? The final part of the project analyzes the Cabinet Office as a place of politics in its own merits. Its officials were involved in informal policy networks. This was especially true for its highly decorated director Adolf Braun, who determined the fate of this important institution between 1865 and 1899. The papers of Brown, which have not been systematically studied yet, contain his official correspondence, which brought him in contact with about 3,000 men and women from different walks of life and various parts of the monarchy. Members of the high nobility, who wanted to get a place in a convent for a family member turned to Braun as well as the daughter of a railway official, who wanted to achieve an improvement in the position of her father. A careful combination of text and network analysis will provide first significant insights into the logic of informal politics in the Habsburg Monarchy of the second half of the 19th century.

Universität Wien + Collegium Carolinum Munich Vienna