The Institute began its activities in 1969 as the “Institut für mittelalterliche Realienkunde Österreichs“ (IMAREAL). For 43 years it was part of the Austrian Academy of Sciences; since 2012 the institute belongs to the University of Salzburg.
The idea of modern realienkundliche (material culture) research goes back to Alphons Lhotsky (1903-1968). It stands intentionally and terminologically in the tradition of classical studies and cultural history of the 19th century. The late founding of the institute is explained by the lasting dominance of “political" history and essentially coincides with the Europe-wide trend reversal towards the historical consideration of “daily" life and “small" people.
Harry Kühnel (1927-1995) was the initiator and first director of the institute. The Institute’s initial task was the systematic collection and documentation of the “realia" handed down in visual media of the Middle Ages throughout Austria. Since then, the geographical and temporal frame of reference has been extended to neighbouring countries and the period up to 1620. In 1990 the name was changed to “Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit" (Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture).
The significant heterogeneity of the research object and the research tasks was decisive for the establishment of the institute in the non-university and interdisciplinary field. This was gradually taken into account through interdisciplinary personnel development and adequate library expansion. The organisation of international congresses (1976 ff.), the publication of publication series (1976 ff. and 1996 ff.) and the orientation towards innovative research standards guarantee the Institute a leading role in international discourse.
From 1996 to 2003, the Institute was led by Karl Brunner, who was succeeded from 2003 to 2014 by Elisabeth Vavra as Director of the Institute and, since the transfer to the University of Salzburg in 2012, formally as managing director. Thomas Kühtreiber was the managing director of the institute from 2014 to 2019. Since December 1st, 2019 Elisabeth Gruber has taken over the management of the institute.
The International Research Society Medium Aevum Quotidianum, which has a journal of the same name, is affiliated to the Institute as a forum for material culture expert discussions and innovative fields of work. All issues of the publication series of the association Medium Aevum Quotidianum published until 2016 (MAQ Newsletter and special volumes) are digitally made available on MEMO – Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture Online. The individual articles are available for full text search and can be downloaded in PDF format.
Arbeiter-Zeitung; July 4, 1970, IMAREAL archive