Monday, February 28, 2011

Russia in the nineteenth century

The extent of the country
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Russia was geographically the world’s most extensive country and its empire was expanding. From 1809 Russia controlled Finland and in 1815 the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was subsumed into Russia. In 1800 Georgia was annexed. In 1859 the rest of the Caucasus was conquered and the Chechen hero Imam Shamil (right) captured. In 1860 the Amur and Maritime provinces were acquired from China and Turkestan from Persia in 1875. Turkmenistan was annexed in 1881. The Pacific port of Vladivostok was founded in 1860. The only territory lost was Alaska, which was sold to the United States in 1867 for $8 million.
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Sunday, February 27, 2011


Before 1867
In 1806 the Holy Roman Empire was brought to an end following Napoleon’s victories over the Austrians. The last of the Holy Roman Emperors, Francis II, was now Francis I of Austria. After the fall of Napoleon (1814-15), Austria became once more the leader of the German states but following the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 she was expelled from the German Confederation.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Rat du jour

'Along with the carrier-pigeon, the rat was to become the most fabled animal of the Siege of Paris [1870-1], and from December the National Guard spent much of its time engaged in vigorous rat-hunts. Even so, the number actually consumed was relatively few: according to one contemporary American calculation, only 300 rats were eaten during the whole siege, compared with 65,000 horses, 5,000 cats and 1,200 dogs. The elaborate sauces that were necessary to render them edible meant that rats were essentially a rich man's dish - hence the notorious menu of the Jockey Club, which featured such delicacies as "salmis de rats" and rat pie.'

From Alistair Horne, The Seven Ages of Paris (2002)

The view from 1865 - and now

There is a fascinating Guardian article from Martin Kettle pointing out that during the American Civil War the Manchester Guardian and many other liberal voices supported the Confederacy (the south) rather than the Union (the north) and thought Abraham Lincoln.  There was a respectable argument for this position: if it was OK for the Italians to secede from Austrian rule (and the Belgians from Dutch and the Greeks from Turkish rule) why should the southern states be forced against their will to remain in the Union.

The moral? Things can look very different a hundred and fifty years on.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'Propaganda by deed'

You might be interested in the Sunday Times review of Alex Butterworth's history of anarchism, The World that Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents.

Here is a striking quotation from the review.

The leaders of 19th-century anarchism were wild-bearded agitators who moved through the fog of Europe’s radical underworld, their endless (and sometimes hopeless) schemes for insurrection and assassination motivated by a volatile blend of prophetic passion and political despair. At riotous meetings, activists shouted, “Long live dynamite”, and vowed to follow the “black flag of mourning”, not the red one of revolution.
The anarchists were a disparate and disputatious lot, united only by their refusal to wait for the better world promised by their cousins, the communists. As the Russian anarchist Andrei Zhelyabov put it, “History moves too slowly. It needs a push.” The anarchists called their new terrorist ideology “propaganda by deed”, and even developed a quasi-­religious martyrology.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feminism, socialism, anarchism

For this post I have used Michael Rapport's Nineteenth-Century Europe (Palgrave, 2005) and A Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century History, ed. John Belchem and Richard Price (Penguin, 1994). I have found the latter a very useful work of reference though the entry on Bismarck is disappointingly short.

The nineteenth century saw the advancement of political rights for men but the emancipation of women was hampered by the doctrine of separate spheres and by the double standard of sexual morality. This was attacked in John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), the key feminist text of the 19th century.

However, in many parts of Europe women gained more rights in the family. The Custody of Infants Act in Britain (1839) allowed a separated wife to claim custody of a child under seven. From 1857 women in England and Wales were allowed to divorce their husbands, though not for adultery alone. From 1870 a series of Married Women’s Property Acts recognized the independent legal existence of married women. Similar laws were passed in France and Germany. From 1912 French women were able to sue fathers for financial support.
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Friday, February 18, 2011

Mass politics and democracy.

A democratic world?
The later 19th century has been seen as a period of modernization in which, according to the sociologist Max Weber (left), traditional authority increasingly gave way to legal-rational authority organized bureaucratically through impersonal institutions. In 1885 Sir Henry Maine pointed out in his book Popular Government
‘Russia and Turkey are the only European states that completely reject the theory that governments hold their power by delegation from the community.’
In other words, they were the only large states that did not have some kind of parliamentary institutions.
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Religion and secularization

Historians and sociologists have been interested in the phenomenon of ‘secularization’, which had usually been linked with ‘modernization’. The nineteenth century saw a continuous conflict (and sometimes attempts at reconciliation) between the forces of religion and those of ‘modernity’.
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Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Man on Devil's Island

Go here for the Telegraph's review of the excellent Ruth Harris's book on the Dreyfus case.

The Third Republic

As well as using the standard textbooks I have consulted the Britannica 2001 CD-ROM and my undergraduate copy of my old professor Alfred Cobban's History of Modern France, vol 2, 1799-1945 (Penguin 1961). Still excellent after all these years! I have also used a more modern work, Colin Jones, Cambridge Illustrated History of France (CUP, 1999).

The Republic proclaimed
When the news of the French surrender at Sedan reached Paris on September 4, crowds filled the streets and demanded the proclamation of a republic. The imperial officials put up no serious resistance; the Revolution of September 4 was the most bloodless in French history. For an outline of the Third Republic see here.
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German unification

The picture above is of the proclamation of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles.

As well as the textbooks mentioned in previous posts,  I have used the Britannica CD ROM (2001) and Christopher Clark's excellent Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 (Allen Lane, 2006)

Update: Go here for an excellent  discussion on Bismarck in Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time'.
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