This course introduces students to the historical study of borders, frontiers, and limits in Central and Eastern Europe and the unique challenges these borderlands pose to the interpretation and presentation of objects housed in public collections. The focus of the course will be on direct contacts along the contiguous Balkan land border between the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires over three centuries and the material culture these various interactions produced. From the fall of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1526 to the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the Habsburgs and the Ottomans dealt with each other as neighbors using a variety of strategies. Though war, conquest, and diplomacy repeatedly redrew the borders, extensive interactions and exchanges left the region with deeply entangled roots and routs. These patterns, mechanisms, and forces had a deep impact on all aspects of life and are still felt today. Arguably, no single element has been more dominant in shaping this complex relationship than the regional historiographies and historical memories that tried to write the empires out of their pasts entirely. Our course will use object-based learning to think through the opportunities and challenges posed by objects from the borderlands held in public collections in Vienna.

What is at stake? We will confront the clash of civilizations narrative (in which European Christianity is perpetually set against the Eastern Islamic world) with the messy historical reality of life along, between, and across historical borderlands. Working closely with objects and professionals in various public collections, we will examine if and how such messy realities can be translated into meaningful programming for wider publics of diverse backgrounds. How, for example, can a class of middle-schoolers from Vienna engage productively with a set of objects from the Ottoman Siege of Vienna on display in a museum?