Interview with Dr. Francesco Toncich, MSCA Fellow


MSCA fellow Dr. Francesco Toncich currently lives in Ljubljana, and his host organization is the Department of History at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana, where he is carrying out work as part of the project Public Health in Transition: Health Care at the End of the Habsburg Empire (1918–1924).

Dr. Toncich’s research career started in his home town of Trieste, which was once the main trading port of the Habsburg Monarchy. There, he studied history, until he moved to Vienna as an Erasmus student. For his master’s he focused on the history of Eastern Europe and contemporary history.


While still writing his masters’ thesis about anti-Slavism in Trieste in the 19th century, he got a position as a PhD student in Tübingen, in south of Germany. In this special city, at one of the oldest German-speaking universities, he stepped into the field of historical anthropology. It was also here that he met Professor Dr. Marta Verginella at a conference, who is supervising his current MSCA project.


“After my PhD, I got another post-PhD in Paris, at the University of East-Créteil, but as we know, it was March 2020. The pandemic…” As he recalls, “I had so much free time to be by myself at home, speaking to Marta Verginella, and together we figured out a way for a possible collaboration for this project.”


However, Dr. Toncich’s fascination with history – or the “narration of stories” – reaches back to his family. He remembers “hearing narratives, memories of my oldest grandfather and also of my parents. Because both families are from Istria, from different parts of Istria: one from the more Slavic – Slovenian, Croatian – who knows – and one from the Venetian part.”


As he looks back, “it was fascinating how these two cultures actually came together in a family, not always in a conciliating way.” From the ages of 10 to 15, he started to develop a more critical understanding of both narratives, which were full of nationalisms, or at least full of national perspectives.


Step by step, Dr. Toncich started to deconstruct these ‘mythical’ nationalisms: “Now I am stepping forward from the 19th century, which was my comfort zone. I am challenging myself by stepping forward into the 20th century, after WWI, looking how it was possible to destroy and fragment something that was so unique, composite and diverse in itself, like the Habsburg Monarchy.”


As such, he is researching what happened to this unique system of public health after 1918 and how people reacted in a moment of mental or physical need. Why is this relevant? Dr. Toncich has no doubt: “Because we are facing new wars in Europe.”


During the present time of new shocks, crises and trauma, Dr. Toncich is looking at medical reports from mental hospitals in Gorizia and Udine after WWI, researching shell shock, traumatic experiences and the consequences of facing war among the civil population and, above all, among women.


Shell shock is usually associated with male soldiers, but research shows similar traumatic experiences in women, too. As Dr. Toncich explains: “What I am discovering are horrible things. Obviously, women also had no choice to escape these turbulent events.” In other words: “War is actually something terrible in itself, and it is even worse concerning the consequences in the long term. In general, nobody is spared.”


On the other hand, there is great beauty in science, both in studying it and in helping to develop it, and in the interview Dr. Toncich reveals how researchers can contribute to this beauty.


Srečno. Sretno. Viel Glück. Buona fortuna. Good luck.