The department

Theater, film and electronic media are the economically, politically and aesthetically trend-setting media of the 20th and early 21st centuries. As a field of research that deals with scenic processes and staged perception, theater, film and media studies examine these phenomena in the respective media or arts - from a historical perspective and from the aspect of their topicality. It focuses on fictional and scenic forms from ancient theater to Hollywood cinema as well as the global scene of virtual worlds.

Vienna University’s department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies, the only one of its kind in Austria, is the largest such university department in the German-speaking world. Keeping a productive distance to common theater and media practice, tfm is primarily a place of theoretical debate - but also acts as an interface between acdemic practice and artistic practice.

The more than two-thousand-year-old history of scenic procedures in the perspective of their respective topicality is the main research topic of theater, film and media studies. Hence only a research-oriented education in cultural competence allows for autonomous acting in the post-industrial construction of reality. Their analysis is the most urgent task of any cultural science useful to society.

History of the department

The NS history of the department

Birgit Peter

Around 1900, acedemic interest in theater was increasingly articulated at various European venues. In the German-speaking world, scholars of literary disciplines in particular, were working on the establishment of a new academic discipline, theater studies.

German-national literary scholars, such as Heinz Kindermann, who should later establish the Viennese department of theater studies, discovered theater as a field of research by the early 1920s, setting out to invent a uniquely Germanic culture and to assert its supremacy over all other cultures. The founding of the Vienna University’s Department of Theater Studies in 1943 took place in the context of National Socialist science policy. Vienna seemed to be a particularly suitable location, since theater had a remarkably high social standing in this city historically. For the Reich Governor Baldur von Schirach, who was appointed to Vienna in 1940, a university consolidation of the new subject of Theater Studies was of great interest for precisely this reason, and support was provided by the Reich Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust. The University of Vienna opposed the favored Heinz Kindermann, not out of rejection of National Socialism, but because it saw itself restricted in its autonomy and preferred other candidates.

The popular Nazi literary scholar Kindermann, who had previously taught in Münster, was appointed full professor and director. He defined theater studies as a life science, i.e. he referred to biological principles and dealt with the writing of a racially and ethnically conditioned theater history. This approach towards theater studies wanted to legitimize and practice the claim to leadership of German culture as the leading European culture. In May 1945 Kindermann was removed from his professorship and dismissed as director but reinstated in 1954. He was recognized by the majority as "one of the most profound authorities of European theater studies"; his Nazi ideological foundations were ignored. Margret Dietrich, a pupil of Kindermann's, habilitated in 1952 with a work based on the NS-anthropological view of man and followed him in 1966 as professor and director of the institute. Distancing from their work for the Nazi establishment and self-critical reflection on the categories and patterns of interpretation developed by them, did not occur in either Kindermann's or Dietrich's research or teaching. Their history under National Socialism lived on as a taboo and had a decisive influence on several generations of young scholars. Students’ resistance was already articulated when Kindermann was reinstated in 1954, but it was always rejected as the opinion of a vanishing minority. The open confrontation and sustained indignation when students Peter Roessler, Monika Meier and Gerhard Scheit published the volume “Theaterwissenschaft und Faschismus” (Theater Studies and Fascism) in 1981 also illustrate a social situation that can best be described with the term "post-Nazi". In 2008, students and lecturers attempted to document the Nazi foundation of the department comprehensively through the exhibition project "Wissenschaft nach der Mode" (Academia Follows Fashion) in order to provide a basis for and stimulate further discussion of the history of the subject. In the course of this project, documents on the establishment of film studies also emerged in the context of Nazi academic policy and were processed by a research project. Further information on the project (German only)

Diploma theses, research and teaching emphases on the history of National Socialism in theater studies are now a deliberate focus of a proactive approach towards long neglected or tabooed scholarly debates.


Additional information: 

Völlig fraglich. Vergessene Geschichte. Eine Ausstellung des Instituts für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft der Universität Wien zur nationalsozialistischen Gründungsgeschichte (german only)

Historiography – Ideology – Collection. Research-based Digitizing of Historical Theater Material from the "Zentralinstitut für Theaterwissenschaft" in Vienna 1943–45

tfm Archiv und Sammlungen



Selected literature:

Meier, Monika/Roessler, Peter/Scheit, Gerhard (Hg.): Theaterwissenschaft und Faschismus. Wien [u.a.]: Antifaschistische Arbeitsgruppe, P. Roessler, 1981.

Edith Saurer: Institutsneugründungen 1938-1945. In: Gernot Heiß, Siegfried Mattl, Sebastian Meissl, Edith Saurer, Karl Stuhlpfarrer (Hg.): Willfährige Wissenschaft. Die Universität Wien 1938–1945. Wien: Verl. für Gesellschaftskritik 1989, S. 303–328.

Markus Schraml: Kontinuität oder Brüche. Versuch einer wissenschaftsgeschichtlichen Positionsbestimmung anhand der Entwicklung Heinz Kindermanns von der Literatur- zur Theaterwissenschaft. Wien: Univ. Wien: Phil. Dipl. 1995.

Mechthild Kirsch: Heinz Kindermann – ein Wiener Germanist und Theaterwissenschaftler. In: Wilfried Barner und Christoph König (Hg.): Zeitenwechsel. Germanistische Literaturwissenschaft vor und nach 1945. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer 1996, S.47–59.

Evelyn Deutsch-Schreiner: Die Theaterwissenschaft unter Heinz Kindermann und das „Theaterland Österreich“. In: Dies.: Theater im „Wiederaufbau“. Zur Kulturpolitik im  österreichischem Parteien- und Verbändestaat. Wien: Sonderzahl 2001, S. 284–314.

Hilde Haider-Pregler: Die frühen Jahre der Theaterwissenschaft an der Universität Wien. In: Margarete Grandner, Gernot Heiss, Oliver Rathkolb (Hg.): Zukunft mit Altlasten. Die Universität Wien 1945-1955. Innsbruck, Wien: Studien Verl. 2005, S.137–155.

Wolfram Niess: Die Gründung des Instituts für Theaterwissenschaft an der Universität Wien im Nationalsozialismus. Wien: Univ. Wien, Phil. Dipl. 2007.

Birgit Peter/Martina Payr (Hg.): “Wissenschaft nach der Mode”? Die Gründung des Zentralinstituts für Theaterwissenschaft an der Universität Wien 1943. Wien: Lit 2008.

Klaus Illmayer: Reetablierung des Faches Theaterwissenschaft im postnazistischen Österreich.Wien: Univ. Wien, Phil. Dipl. 2009.

Christian Cargnelli: „Das Seiende und Ewige selbst“. Die Anfänge der Filmwissenschaft in Wien am (Zentral)Institut für Theaterwissenschaft. In: Stefan Hulfeld/Birgit Peter (Hg.). Theater/Wissenschaft im 20. Jahrhundert. Beiträge zur Fachgeschichte, Maske und Kothurn. Internationale Beiträge zur Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft.  55. Jg., H1–2, 2009, S. 213–226.

Birgit Peter: Theaterwissenschaft als Lebenswissenschaft. Die Begründung der Wiener Theaterwissenschaft im Dienst nationalsozialistischer Ideologieproduktion. In: Stefan Hulfeld/Birgit Peter (Hg.). Theater/Wissenschaft im 20. Jahrhundert. Beiträge zur Fachgeschichte, Maske und Kothurn. Internationale Beiträge zur Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft.  55. Jg., H1–2, 2009, S.193–212.