The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution changed the lives of Europeans and the world forever. Perhaps more than any other period in the study of history, this movement shaped the world we live in today. Developments such as mechanized industry, the factory system, and lives driven by technology and clocks were all products of industrialization. The fact that you are able to read this description, and the fact that I was able to write and publish it, came from the Industrial Revolution.
In this unit, you will look at the following concepts:
Through it all, I think you will see the development of a society that looks very much like that of today. You'll understand why our concept of work and life revolves around the clock and why the American education system is set up the way it is. Perhaps most of all, you'll understand that widespread change never comes without its costs. The role of the historian is to determine whether the benefits outweigh the costs or vice versa.
The Age of Ideologies
After the defeat of Napoleon, Europe was left in a real mess. Hereditary monarchies had fallen, new ideas had taken hold in France and spread throughout the continent, and the Industrial Revolution was beginning to change the lives of everyone.
The period from 1815 to 1850 was a time of competing ideologies, all of which promised a new Europe. Conservatism favored a return to hereditary monarchies with strong, and sometimes, absolute control over their people. Classical liberalism, modeled on the United States and practiced with some success in France, promised more personal freedom and governments more responsive to the wishes of the people. Nationalism, which had been heightened by the Napoleonic Wars, emphasized self-identity and the consolidation of nationalities under a common government, often at the expense of existing empires. Socialism, responding to the pressures of industrialization promised a world of communal cooperation and the elimination of class differences. And Romanticism, shunning the cold rationality of the Enlightenment, emphasized emotional reactions to events, which affected politics, art, literature, and music.
Most notably, Europe was rocked by a series of popular revolutions. In 1848, especially, oppressed people rose up against existing governmental systems and called for increased equality and rights. In some cases, governments responded violently, while in others, governments proved more receptive to change. Thus, the early 19th century can be seen as the beginning of a more egalitarian Europe than had existed before. This is that story. Can you hear the people sing?
Nationalism and Realism
After the revolutionary upheavals of the Age of Ideologies, nationalist leaders began to search for more realistic approaches to unification or separation. Led by Cavour in Italy and Bismarck in Prussia, politicians utilized the concept of realpolitik to craft plans to further the aims of their people. In the end, Germany became unified, Italy became unified, and Hungary gained its semi-independence.
At the same time, the continuing plight of workers in the industrial age gave rise to a new brand of socialism, which was best exemplified by the ideas of Karl Marx. Moving away from the utopian ideals of guys like Fourier and Owen, Marx called for a radical revolution leading to a classless society, a concept that appealed to workers throughout Europe and that still resonates with academics and social activists today.
Science continued to further the improvement of medical practices and the understanding of how human societies worked. Public health improved in cities, as disease was attacked and, at times, eradicated. However, many traditional medical practices remained in use.
Finally, the artistic and literary movement of Romanticism, like the political revolutions of 1848, faded in to a time of Realism. Artists and writers increasingly sought to depict the real lives of ordinary Europeans, reflecting the successes of realpolitik and the increasing importance of the everyday European in the larger society.
Whew! That's a lot for one unit of study. But there are some great stories here, so enjoy them. They raise great questions about the nature of politics and the effect political decisions have on the lives of ordinary people. They beg the question of whether the ends really justify the means and what constitutes justifiable ends. Good luck!
La Belle Epoque
La Belle Epoque, or The Beautiful Time, is a tough period to get your head around. So much was happening so quickly: technological innovation, increased standard of living, mass political parties, changes in ideas of family and marriage, scientific advances, philosophical advances, the beginning of psychology, new forms of art, the feminist movement, imperialism in Africa and Asia, and attempts to maintain the European balance of power. See what I mean?
Essentially, the era was a time of sweeping change, when Europe seemed to be on the verge of harnessing the power of the mind and technology to move ever closer to the perfect society. It was a time of optimism and promise, at least for those in the upper and middle classes. Working classes saw improvements, but they still mired in economic uncertainty and struggle, a situation publicized by the writings of Charles Dickens, most famously.
It was also a time of contradictions. European supremacy in world reached its largest extent, backed up by scientific theories that justified a Social Darwinist or racist ideology. Incomes rose, but they were quickly gobbled up by new products and leisure activities. The perfect society was on the horizon, but women were still regarded as less than men and denied the vote.
Finally, the delicate balance of power was threatened. Bismarck's vision of an isolated France disappeared when he was fired by the new Kaiser, Wilhelm II. Slowly but surely, Germany lost allies who found few options other than allying with France. By 1914, the continent stood divided between two highly-armed and opposing camps. All it would take was a reason for war. That would come in the fateful summer of 1914, and the ensuing war would shatter European visions of societal progress.
This, then, is the story of a complicated time. But the innovations and practices of La Belle Epoque would transform European history and the history of the entire world until the modern day.