Rathkolb studied history and law at the University of Vienna and achieved his doctorate in 1982 at the same university.
He was chief scientist of the Bruno-Kreisky-Archives Foundation from 1985 to 2003 and has been scientific coordinator of the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue since 1992.
Rathkolb had been scientific employee of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for history and society from 1983 until 2005 and its co-director since 1994. He had also taken over the office of director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute's European history and public department.
Rathkolb received his authorization to teach as a lecturer of contemporary history at the Department of Contemporary History of the University of Vienna in 1993 and became a university professor and director of the Department of Contemporary History of the University of Vienna in 2008.
In 2000 and 2001 he had a research-professorship at Harvard University and was guest professor at the University of Chicago in 2003. He also lectured at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, the University of Salzburg, at Duke University and the University of Maryland.
He has been the managing editor of the magazine zeitgeschichte since 2002.
- Heidrun Huber, "Oliver Rathkolb: 'Musste mir alles erkämpfen'", Vienna University (in German)
- Website of the Department of Contemporary History of the University of Vienna (in German)