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June 07, 2006

Rethinking Nineteenth Century Europe: A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Europe, 1789-1914 - (Ed.) Stefan Berger

Posted by Jeremy Black

A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Europe, 1789-1914
edited by Stefan Berger
Pp. 555. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006
Hardback, £85

The pagination provides only partial guidance to the length of this collection, a volume in the impressive and successful series Blackwell Companions to European History. This is because the print is small and the pages are double-columned. After a thoughtful introduction by the editor, who has written elsewhere about European identity, the book contains thirty-two chapters divided into six sections: the Idea of "Europeanness" and the construction of European identity; agriculture, industry and social change; political developments; intellectual developments and religion; cultural developments; and the international system, colonialism and war.

Devoting fewer than fifty pages to the last section may seem a surprise given their importance in the history of Europe and other regions, but any book of this type invites difficult trade-offs. What is covered is valuable, and the collection is less subject than some others to faddism. It is in particular very helpful to see so much space devoted to religion.

Oded Heilbronner's essay on the age of "Catholic revival" is refreshing, with his suggestion that the period can be described as thus rather than as an age of revolution, capital or imperialism. Heilbronner also indicates the scale of religious tension (p. 244):

The Catholic bourgeoisie found itself engaged in fierce struggles with its Protestant counterparts in mixed communities in Central Europe and the Netherlands.
In his essay on Protestantism, Anthony Steinhoff argues that secularisation theory overlooked the strength of Protestant influences on modern nationalism and the rise of state-sponsored social policy. It is particularly welcome to see Orthodoxy included, Shane O'Rourke suggesting that the decline of the Ottoman Empire created problems in facing new states, while, in Russia (p. 272):
the church struggled half heartedly to break loose from the suffocating embrace of the state, yet feared to rely on its own inner strength.
David Rechter adds the Jews, seeing the vagaries of emancipation as providing much of the experience of European Jewry.

James Winders provides a marvellous summary in a wide-ranging chapter on culture that closes with photography and cinema. Tackling education, Sharif Gemie writes that ministers and bureaucrats were "infatuated" with ideas of bringing order and regularity into the lives of the populace (p. 314). Matthew Jefferies tackles the age of historicism, showing the nature and role of public history, while Kathryn Olesko looks at science, writing that (p. 343):

the notion of modernity as it took shape in the nineteenth century rested on the roles of science, technology, and reason in the historical process, especially in the unfolding of the Enlightenment promise of progress and emancipation through the application of reason.
Chris Williams, on police and the law, and Daniel Vyleta, on the cultural history of crime, add a couple of topics not usually treated in works of this type. Vyleta ranges to include relations with technology, gender, race and literature, and argues that his is a tale of variety and contradiction. John Waller considers "medical discourses". Despite the deficiencies of medicine, medical discourses, especially miasma theory, led to significant improvements in public health. Ivan Crozier, in his chapter on sexuality, argues that its centralization, as an issue of individuality, developed in this period.

Bo Stråth looks at borders, and the way they created insiders and outsiders, a wideranging piece but one that is too short to consider the full implications. Michael Wintle adds visual representations of Europe, both the continent as a whole and individual nations, in an arresting and illustrated essay that shows how representations could serve different ideologies.

Hamish Graham points out, in his essay on rural society and agricultural revolution, that, by 1900, most Europeans still lived in the countryside, while Robert Lee looks at the counterpart of industrialisation, commerce and trade, suggesting that national models of economic change must be viewed critically, and that it is necessary to note contrasts within states. Lee also contributes a chapter on demography, urbanisation and migration that stresses the complexity of the relationship between economic growth and demographic change.

A stimulating, but very expensive, collection, that offers a lot to specialists and non-specialists alike.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. Amongst much else, he is the author of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006).

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