General History XII: 1856–1914
Although European history remains central to this paper, the period 1856-1914 saw ‘the first era of globalization’, marked by the laying of oceanic telegraph cables, the completion of transcontinental railways in the US (1869) and Russia (1905), and the opening of the Suez (1869) and Panama (1914) canals. This led to massive movements of goods, capital and people, assisted by economic developments such as the ‘Gold Standard’ and the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’ (the application of science to industry). Globalization and industrialization created crises as peasant agriculture and handcraft industries – both in Europe and across the world – could not compete with mass produced imports, nor with migrant labour. As we move towards the First World War, protectionism and xenophobia grew in the metropoles, while in the imperial arena European powers competed to grab raw materials and markets. But the period also witnessed the growth of an internationalism and humanitarian intervention. Those nations outside western authority, such as the Ottoman, Chinese and Japanese empires, responded to these challenges with mixed results. However, around 1900 there are signs of the waning of western power, as imperial states such as Spain, Italy and Russia were all defeated overseas.
Rapid industrialization, urbanization and population growth also posed challenges for European governments, whether nation states like the newly unified Italy and Germany or multi-ethnic empires such as Russia and Austro-Hungary. Liberal regimes and autocrats were threatened from both the Left and the rise of organized labour and the Right and the rise of new radical populist movements. In the ‘age of the masses’ national, regional, ethnic, religious and even gender identities were increasingly politicized. Governments responded with nation-building through compulsory schooling and military service, and social welfare, but not always with the desired results. Both society and the state were threatened with violent fragmentation in revolution and separatist revolt, and this in turn fed conflict in international relations. Fragmentation was also visible in the fields of the arts and sciences, with a plethora of new movements attempting to capture the experience of rapid change (such as impressionism and expressionism), or comprehend it (the rise of the social sciences). And yet, despite all these crises and confusions, European states and societies were coping, conflict was not inevitable. Many of the developments covered in this paper – socialism, the ‘new woman’, consumerism, and psychoanalysis among them – were disorientating for some but invigorating for others: change carried promise as well as threats.
As with other General History papers this one is taught by means of tutorials and lectures. Relevant lecture series may run in different terms and different years, so check the general scheme in both your final years.