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The German Revolutions of 1848

He is not, of course, plodding over the whole ground and writing a textbook narrative. He gives enough general background to make his foreground comprehensible; his focus is on two climacteric changes, between them initiating the tidal wave that was to sweep first Europe and then the world out of one age into another—the Industrial Revolution, starting in Britain, and the Revolution of in France.

Unrest Spreads

Hobsbawm is a Marxist, and all who are interested in Marxist historical method will be curious to see how it comes off here. It is only the occasional large-scale work of this kind that enables us to take stock of the progress Marxism is making, and of its ability to illumine broad sweeps of the road mankind has come by. But no reader need boggle at the book out of fear of being expected to understand, or agree with, Marxist theory, nor need he feel apprehensive of being pressured. Marxist and other socialist authors there have been who were inclined to drive and dragoon their readers, but Hobsbawm is not one of them.

His reader is taken courteously by the arm and led, not dragged, through the maze; and he is made aware of many of the obscurities and uncertainties with which the period bristles, without being left bewildered. Hobsbawm starts with the advantage of being a social historian by trade, with a wide knowledge of political history, familiarity with the literature of several countries, a well-informed interest in music and culture at large, and a general inquisitiveness about everything.

Altogether he has about as encyclopaedic a contact with his Europe as any single writer can well be expected to have. Many of his materials are necessarily borrowed, but he makes them his own by the way he works them into his pattern and, without any effort at freakish originality, permeates and animates the brute mass of facts with his philosophy.

His success is partly one of style. One has heard a celebrated scholar say that he had no objection to the Marxist writers in his own field, except their unbearable dullness; no-one will be heard saying so of The Age of Revolution. Its language is always clear, often witty, sometimes mordant. A reader about to open it might turn first, by way of tuning himself up, to p. There are no labyrinthine footnotes, or clanking armour of learning, but there is an adequate supply of references to reassure the most suspicious that the author is not producing any of his aces out of his sleeve; also a moderate reading-list that many readers stimulated to go further will find helpful.

Extra buoyancy is added to the volume by a splendidly chosen set of a hundred illustrations, and an artfully devised series of maps. Another noteworthy feature of the book is that it finds time to carry us outside Europe every now and then, showing us our own continent more clearly by contrast with Asia and Africa, as well as some part of the impact of Europe on the others.

The various revolutions in Europe of —49 were connected in many ways, and countries that did not experience revolutions themselves, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Russia and Spain, were nevertheless influenced by the events.

Revolutions of 1848 in the German States (Part 3 of 5)

Many contemporaries were aware of the European dimension of the revolutions, but subsequently national perspectives dominated, partly because the events of —49 became subsumed into the histories of national liberation and unification. The extent to which the revolutions were connected and comparable is explored by John Breuilly.


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He sees connections through the impact of the February revolution in France on other European states, the widespread, though mistaken, assumption that a republican France would launch wars of national liberation, and the common pattern of many of the popular insurrections of March Features shared by the revolutions included the prominent role played by the artisanal labour movement; the importance of the Roman Catholic Church in the conservative reaction; the eruption of popular and democratic forms of political expression such as publications, public speeches, clubs, demonstrations and elections; and the subsequent decline and repression of democratic movements in cities and in rural areas.

Nowhere, however, did they make any significant gains. Instead, women involved in political and revolutionary activity were everywhere singled out for ridicule and, if captured as suspected insurgents, for humiliating treatment. The conclusion is that Europe in the popular mentality was associated with conflict: between monarchical coalitions and republican or Napoleonic France, and between the Europe of Metternich and Radetzky and the Europe of free peoples struggling for liberation.

In the Grand Duchy of Baden, considered by Sabine Freitag, republicanism and German national unification were the crucial political issues. Economic and social problems, the influence of neighbouring France and Switzerland, and even of the distant United States of America, and intellectual inspiration from classical and more recent literature all helped to promote republicanism in Baden.

European History in 1848

However, the perceived threat of French aggression, the primacy given to the goal of German unification and to political reform at a national level rather than at a state level, and the problems that emerged in over Posen and Schleswig weakened the republican movement in Baden. As is well known, ethnic Germans welcomed, but Czechs opposed, the proposal that representatives of Bohemia should sit in the Frankfurt Parliament. Unsurprisingly, their interpretations have reflected the preoccupations and political realities of their times. Three contributions are concerned with commemorations of within national contexts.

The German Revolutions of 1848

Simonetta Soldani concludes that in Italy there is now little interest in the events of — Very few Italian scholars have recently published on the revolutionary and nationalist movements of —49 in Italy, and the Italian th anniversary commemorations were remarkably muted. Conservative and Catholic politics and fears of popular revolts and of the Left, meant that in and the 50th and centennial anniversaries were similarly muted.

France, according to Rebecca Spang, is almost obsessed with remembering, with anniversaries, and with a consciousness of its national heritage. According to Marx, Tocqueville and several other historians, the memory of influenced the history of However, Marx and Tocqueville believed, respectively, that represented tragedy or reality, while represented farce or play-acting.

Finally, Jam Merk returns to Baden and surveys how the events of —49 in Baden have been commemorated there in monuments and interpreted in historical writing. After the German imperial authorities restricted monuments commemorating —49 to listing the names of those who had died. Historical studies of Baden in —49 tended to be unsympathetic to the revolution until the s and from The commemorations in Baden were numerous, well-attended and emphasised liberalism, democracy and the European dimension.

While states on the periphery of Europe, such as Spain, Britain, Sweden and Russia, were not directly involved, elsewhere much of Europe experienced movements which shared certain common characteristics: common economic and social factors, similar rural problems, a shared agenda of constitutional reform, a pattern of national fragmentation.

German American Corner: The Revolution of

It is obviously the case that the various revolutionary and nationalist movements that occurred in Europe in —49 constitute, at least in part, a European phenomenon. The emphasis on commemoration and memory clearly reflects currents in historiography. Arguably, this also applies to the publication under review. I am grateful to the reviewer for his balanced account and for the care with which he has read my volume.


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In the following I defend some of the strengths of the book against criticism, but I acknowledge that these points should have been made clear in the revised edition of the collection. Croce explained in his Teoria e Storia della storiografia that all history is contemporary.