A Fulbright Research Project Can Take You Places, Like Vienna

Growing up in a multicultural household in Peoria, Amanda Riggenbach ’21, was ingrained with a deep respect and awareness of the greater world. Her mother, a Swiss immigrant, immersed the family with traditions from her homeland.

“Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to live in another country and the possibility didn’t seem as daunting because I had a mother and paternal grandmother who had done it before me — and they did it without the internet,” she said. “When I think about my heritage, I feel incredibly grateful and privileged.”

Riggenbach double majored in English and psychology at Bradley, hoping to land in the nonprofit sector after graduation. She ended up working at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in their Research Division as an oral historian. 

“I fell in love with the field and knew I wanted to continue a career in it. This set me on a path to build a research project specific to Austrian culture,” she said.

Riggenbach applied for a Fulbright grant, a prestigious international exchange program that promotes cross-cultural dialogue through research and immersive experiences for college students, graduates, graduate students and young professionals. The grant will allow her to pursue a teaching assistantship, study at the University of Vienna and lead a research project.

“Fractured Legacies,” Riggenbach’s project, will focus on the Austria Victim Theory that deals with the aftermath of WWII and Austria’s involvement. This theory, adapted in 1949, suggested Austrians were unwilling victims of the Nazi regime, leading to their not taking responsibility for the destruction of Jewish life. In 1988, the theory was debunked, but it had long-term effects.

Through her research, Riggenbach discovered archives of oral history interviews with Holocaust survivors, but found little about their descendants.

“I realized the key to my project was to track how Austrian Victim Theory has impacted the lives and healing of the descendants of Holocaust survivors.”

She’ll work with renowned researcher Albert Lichtblau, professor emeritus from the University of Salzburg’s history department. Earlier this year, he was the William J. Lowenberg Memorial Fellow on America, the Holocaust and the Jews at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. His oral histories with the survivors of the Holocaust are included in the UNESCO Memory of the World 2018.

“I am incredibly starstruck that he is willing to work with me on this project!” she said.

Although her research topic is undoubtedly heavy and will take up most of her time, Riggenbach looks forward to spending a year in Vienna and connecting with her Swiss family members. “My closest family will be about eight hours by train, so my cousins and I are already plotting who’s going to visit me first!”

— Emily Potts