Foundation of the Association for the History of Adult Education Centres

Gründungsversammlung des „Vereins zur Geschichte der Volkshochschulen“
Founding meeting of the "Association for the History of Adult Education Centres" on December 4, 1987 at the Ministry of Education. From left to right: Hofrat Dr. Karl Foltinek, LAbg. Ernst Steinbach, Sektionschef Dr. Hans Altenhuber, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Speiser, Prof. Karl Hochwarter, Prof. Regina Stadler, Prof. Dr. Erwin Reitter

Founding meeting of the "Association for the History of Adult Education Centres“

Against the background of annual meetings of important German, Austrian and Swiss representatives of the Adult Education Centres, which had been held since 1981 and at which, in particular, questions of the historical development of the “Volkshochschulen” after 1945 were discussed, a decisive course was finally set for the Adult Education Centres and thus also for Austrian Adult Education. In connection with the 100th anniversary of the Viennese Adult Education Centres (Volkshochschulen) and an exhibition in the Vienna City Hall, for which numerous historical documents, photographs, posters and realia were collected after intensive research – among others by the director of the "Volkshochschule Wien-Nord", Karl Hochwarter – the important decision was made to make this material the core of an independent collection, which was to be taken care of by a separate association in the future. In December 1987, the "Association for the History of Adult Education Centres" was founded, following the motto "The Future Needs Remembrance". The founding and financing of the association was led by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Speiser, who had been the central secretary both of the Viennese Association of Adult Education Centres and the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres for many years, Prof. Karl Hochwarter, Hofrat Dr. Karl Foltinek as the head of Vienna's Magistrate's Department 7, Landtag deputy Ernst Steinbach as the chairman of the Viennese Association of Adult Education Centres, and Section Head Dr. Hans Altenhuber from the Ministry of Education. The task and objective of the newly created association was the collection, preservation and evaluation of historical source material, thus: the establishment of an Austrian Archives for Adult Education.

Aware of the dangers and risks of irretrievable loss of material at sometimes widely scattered locations and of the sometimes poorly developed historical awareness of individual actors, the central collection and archiving was tackled with a great deal of commitment and an almost visionary view, despite the initially extremely modest financial means and the limited spatial resources. In addition to securing the continuously produced written material of individual adult education centres, their associations and other adult education institutions, special attention was paid to the – unfortunately only partially preserved – historical old collections from the founding period. In addition to series of articles in the association's organ "Die Österreichische Volkshochschule" (The Austrian Adult Education Centre), the association's newsletter, which was launched at the same time and from which the journal “Spurensuche” was soon to emerge, also provided an important impetus for a stronger historiographical examination of the history of adult education and its sources.

An important effect of the foundation of the Austrian Archives for Ault Education on the basis of association law, which was financially supported by the Ministry of Education, secured by a cooperation agreement with the Association of Viennese Adult Education Centres with regard to spatial resources, and supported by the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres (VÖV) in terms of organization and personnel, was that the consistent work of the archive gradually brought about a change in the culture of remembrance of the folk high schools. The selective handling of one's own past – virtually a reflection of the long-dominant culture of repression in the Second Republic – which also delayed a critical examination of adult education in the years 1933–1945, gradually began to change in the direction of a critical analysis based on solid source foundations and theoretically-methodologically advanced research approaches; a process that was sustainably set in motion not least by a stronger contemporary historical examination of the history of adult education.

Increase in material and independent research – integration into the Viennese Adult Education Centres GmbH

Building on the pioneering start of the archive activity and the first Adult Education programs, posters, notices and minutes of the board of directors, central board and various committee meetings, most of which came from Karl Hochwarter's private holdings, many more linear meters of archival material from private sources were added in the following years: From adult education centres, associations and umbrella organizations – such as the Association of Viennese Adult Education Centres, the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres (VÖV) or the Conference of Austrian Adult Education (KEBÖ) – as well as sporadically from other AE institutions. Last but not least, in addition to the tireless efforts of Karl Hochwarter and the entire board of the association, it was due in particular to the diplomatic negotiating skills and the objective imperturbability of Hans Altenhuber as the long-standing chairman of the Association for the History of Adult Education Centres that the numerous materials handed over to the archive over the years could be accommodated in ever new storage rooms.

A decisive improvement and safeguarding of the personnel and spatial resources resulted in 2008, when the board of the association, after careful consideration, decided to agree to the organizational integration of the Austrian Archives for Adult Education as an independent unit into the newly created Viennese Adult Education Centres GmbH, whereby the archive continues to be significantly co-financed by the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres (VÖV).

After long years of building up under sometimes difficult conditions, the Austrian Archives for Adult Education has developed into an internationally recognized non-university documentation institution with its project and research activities as well as the increasing presence of archival documents in exhibitions and film productions. It was even awarded the Innovation Prize of the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) in Bonn for the realization of an online historiography.

Tasks, goals, holdings and activities

The current range of activities of the Austrian Archives for Adult Education is based on a clearly defined mission statement, which has also gone through the process of a quality testing (LQW) at the level of the Viennese Adult Education Centres GmbH: According to this, the Austrian Archives for Adult Education act as the historical memory of the Austrian Adult Education as such and their umbrella organizations and, in this function, is the central place of historical-archival information processing and information provision, both for internal requirements and for all inquiries from the private and public sectors, as well as for university and non-university research and research projects (e.g.: academic theses).

In the first place, however, the Austrian Archives for Adult Education are responsible for collecting, professionally archiving and indexing adult education-specific text, image, audiovisual and digital sources from the founding period of the adult education centres and their predecessor institutions to the present; a task that the archive, in its special function as the corporate archive of the Viennese Adult Education Centres GmbH and the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres (VÖV), now also fulfills by developing a functional concept for a "document delivery plan" in the sense of modern "records management" in order to prevent unwanted loss of material.

The permanent preservation of partly unique historical materials and the public provision of historical as well as contemporary primary and secondary literature form the indispensable basis both for internal self-understanding and for scientific research into popular and adult education as well as scientific popularization in Austria.

The Austrian Archives for Adult Education hold the statutes, minutes, correspondence, programs, posters and pictures of the Austrian and Viennese Adult Education Centres and their associated institutions, as well as the estates and bequests of important folk and adult educators. The archive, which consists of the archives of associations, programs, posters and pictures, is complemented by an extensive study library and a collection of periodicals.

The archive, whose holdings now have the size of a medium-sized city archive, preserves, among other things, real treasures: In addition to correspondence, files, posters, photographic materials and communications from the adult education movement, there are also precious items such as Albert Einstein's correspondence relating to his major adult education lecture at the Viennese Concert Hall in 1921 and the historic glass slide collection of the former skiopticon lectures at the Vienna Urania. Without this stock, the series "Yesterday's World in Color" published by Christian Brandstätter, which has meanwhile grown to eight magnificent color picture volumes, could never have been published. The same applies to ORF television productions such as "Kinderjahre in der Monarchie" (Childhood in the Monarchy) by Robert Gokl, which were given a special fascination by the use of objects from the unique picture fund of the former Urania "teaching materials collection".

Also, exhibitions such as "Ganz unten. The Discovery of Misery: Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris, New York", "Tropical Magic" (both at the Wien Museum), "Poor Luxembourg" at the Historisches Stadtmuseum Luxembourg, "Styria around 1900" at the Historisches Stadtmuseum Graz or, most recently, "Urania travels to Egypt" at the Weltmuseum Wien were enriched by loans from the photograph collection. In recent years, numerous exhibitions and film documentaries in particular have increasingly succeeded in making historical research results or insights into the history of adult education known to a broad public far beyond the continuing education landscape.

In addition to its high-profile participation in exhibitions, radio and television programs (e.g. ORF, BBC), the Austrian Archives for Adult Education also addresse all those interested in the history of adult education and its relevance for society as a whole through projects and international symposia – most recently on the exciting topic of "Education and the Economy" at the Urania in Vienna – as well as through the Internet platform "Knowledgebase Erwachsenenbildung" (Knowledge Base Adult Education).

Not least due to the high-quality internal and external archive information system "Theseus" and thanks to the expertise of the staff, it is possible to respond quickly and competently to the increasing number of users and research requests from Austria and abroad and also to support longer-term projects such as diploma theses, dissertations or special research projects with further literature references and by providing source material.

The implementation of research projects and commissioned research, the publication of subject-specific monographs, conference proceedings, commemorative publications, the organization of seminars, meetings and conferences as well as the journal “Spurensuche” are important contributions to the past and current development of adult education.