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Released October 8, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG -- A study-abroad program at The University of Southern Mississippi examining Austria's place in the history of Europe, from its days as a powerful monarchy to its role as a neutral country during the Cold War, marked its 20th anniversary this year.

The program, offered to undergraduate and graduate students under the auspices of the Southern Miss Center for International and Continuing Education, is titled "Austria in the Twentieth Century" and is based in Vienna. Students can earn up to four hours of academic credit from the program.

Southern Miss history professor Dr. Glenn T. Harper serves as director of the program, and said in the last 20 years the course has given participating students a unique perspective on central Europe. "It's a wonderful city," Harper said of Vienna. "It's a great opportunity for students to learn about and be exposed to another culture."

The course, conducted in part by Austrian academicians and journalists, examines the final years of the Hapsburg Empire; World War I and its aftermath; the creation of the First Republic; the path to fascist dictatorship, World War II and its legacy; and the social, economic and political institutions of contemporary Austria.

Although the country remained neutral as a condition agreed upon by the Allies following the end of World War II, Harper said that Austria was pro-western, and remains so today.

"A lot of western money went into rebuilding Austria (after WWII)," Harper said. "A lot of Austrians have told me that the Marshal Plan (American effort to assist Europe following WWII) saved their lives."

Because of its neutrality, Austria served as a kind of diplomatic connection point between East and West during the Cold War, as well as unofficial trade between capitalist and communist interests.

Program lectures are supplemented by visits to places of historical and cultural interest, both within Vienna and other areas of Austria, including the imperial homes of members of the former Austrian monarchy.

Some of the noteworthy historic sites toured by students include the Schoenbrunn Palace, a hunting lodge and summer palace built in 1600 that was a favorite residence of the emperor, and Vienna's iconic St. Stephen's Cathedral, considered the 'mother church' of Catholicism in the city.

"It's as impressive as any structure in Vienna," Harper said of St. Stephen's.

Students taking part in the program live in the Jesuit-run Kardinal Konig Haus, a conference center where students also attend lectures. "The staff there has been so nice to us in the last 20 years that we've made use of the facility," Harper said.

This past summer, Harper and his students were presented with a plaque marking 'Twenty Years of Mississippi' at Kardinal Konig Haus, along with a ceremonial key to the facility. Harper and his students also presented a letter from Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour to the facility's staff, recognizing the two-decade relationship formed by the program. Rep. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall, a Southern Miss graduate, assisted in requesting the letter from the governor.

"In the past, the students taking part in the program have also visited Prague, once one of the imperial capitals of the former Hapsburg Empire and now capital of the Czech Republic," said Susan Steen, director of the CICE. "While in Prague, students have visited palaces, churches, museums and sites associated with the Cold War and with the downfall of dictatorship."

Chad Daniels, a Southern Miss alumni who has traveled twice to Vienna on the program in 1992 and 1997, said the experience is good for students who are not only interested in history but want to learn more about international relations and global economics.

"It's a fantastic academic program," said Daniels, who now serves as director of the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg. "The lectures are in-depth, and students get to learn not only about history but see how a smaller national economy like Austria's has merged with larger economies in Europe (to form the European Union) and gain a better understanding of today's global economy."

For more information about the Austrian Studies Program, contact the Southern Miss Center for International and Continuing Education at (601) 266-4344.


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November 23, 2004 9:23 AM