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Long 19th Century:  European History from 1789 to 1917

Long 19th Century: European History from 1789 to 1917

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Long 19th Century: European History from 1789 to 1917

Course No. 8190
Professor Robert I. Weiner, Ph.D.
Lafayette College
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Course No. 8190
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated and features more than 300 portraits, illustrations, and maps. You'll see portraits of major players from this period of European history, including Otto von Bismarck, Alfred Dreyfuss, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Sigmund Freud. You'll also see illustrations of events ranging from the first Industrial Revolution to the Franco-Prussian War. And you'll benefit from maps that help you truly understand the scope of the 1848 revolutions, the spread of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and more.
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Course Overview

History at its most interesting is complex, a fascinating whirl of events, personalities, and forces, and few periods of history offer us such captivating complexity as Europe's 19th "century"—the often-broadly defined period from the French Revolution to World War I that formed the foundation of the modern world.

How was that foundation built? And what did that transition to modernity mean for peasants, workers, the middle class, aristocrats, women, and minorities?

Why did an era that began with the idealism of the French Revolution and the power of the Industrial Revolution culminate in the chaos of World War I, considered by most historians to be the greatest tragedy of modern European history? Did nationalism and imperialism inevitably lead in such a direction, or were there other factors involved?

Even these questions, as important as they are, can only hint at the complexity of this period, just as this course can really only put us on a path toward the answers.

Understand a Turbulent Era

Dr. Robert I. Weiner assumes no prior knowledge of this era and no professional vocabulary, "just interest, curiosity, and hopefully, passion."

Disclaimers notwithstanding, these lectures indeed offer the opportunity for anyone with an interest in history to take an enormous stride toward understanding the whys of this turbulent and important era, and not just the whats.

Professor Weiner, a five-time recipient of Lafayette's Student Government Superior Teaching Award during his 35 years of teaching history at Lafayette College, leads you on a spirited journey across an ever-changing European landscape, examining the forces and personalities that reshaped the continent's physical borders, diplomatic relationships, and balance of power.

He moves from the impact of both the French and Industrial Revolutions in the period from 1789–1848, into the so-called "unifications" of Italy and Germany in the 1850s and 1860s, followed by the spread of industrialism and nationalism into the furthest reaches of Europe toward the end of the century.

By that time, the world had undergone profound changes:

  • In Europe, the dominance of Great Britain and France had been eclipsed by a rapidly modernizing Germany.
  • Austria-Hungary was struggling to survive as a multinational empire.
  • Russia was facing stresses of inadequate modernization as other nations moved ahead.
  • The United States and Japan were beginning to enter into an emerging balance of world power.
  • Almost all of Africa and much of Asia had been gobbled up in a final spasm of imperialist expansions.

Moreover, the European great powers, organized in alliances and enmeshed in an arms race, were confronting increasingly dangerous international crises.

While more people in Europe were living better than ever before, Europe had become a very dangerous place—soon to erupt in a war more brutal than any the world had ever seen.

Enjoy an Ambitious Look at a Much-Pondered Subject

In exploring the evolution of the environment that ultimately made World War I possible, Professor Weiner has crafted a very ambitious course, covering a vast range of material. He repeatedly steps back from "on-the-ground" events to clarify historical trends or patterns.

For example, he concentrates on political and diplomatic moves of the great powers—Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Italy—while always discussing them in the context of the deeper economic, social, and cultural forces at work. He doesn't merely offer you a chess position from which the next move is made; he lets you know how and why the various pieces have come to be arrayed the way they are, and how they reflect the impact of some of history's most significant names:

  • Napoleon Bonaparte, whose massive legacy, though uneven, includes spreading the ideas of the French Revolution, such as freedom of religion and equality before the law, everywhere his soldiers marched
  • Napoleon III, whose mixed reviews include one historian's recognition that he was "unique among dictators in ending his career with a government that provided his country with more freedom than the government he started with"
  • Klemens von Metternich, the shrewd Austrian foreign minister who spoke for conservative, monarchical Europe during the last three decades of the Age of Revolution
  • Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor who was architect of both Germany's unification and a system of alliances that ultimately led to her downfall
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II, the brash young kaiser with a "special knack" for political and diplomatic gaffes
  • Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish French Army captain unjustly accused of espionage and whose ordeal inspired modern Zionism
  • Karl Marx, the German intellectual whose ideas about a radical new philosophy found fertile ground on a continent where industrial modernization was creating new disruptions and resentments
  • Count Camillo di Cavour, the brilliant Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia whose tragic early death left imperfect the unified Italy he helped to create
  • William Gladstone, the moralist humanitarian and Prime Minister who helped democratize Great Britain.

An Unflinching Look at Some of History's Major Players

These historical figures join with many others in a presentation that is unfailingly interesting and provocative, with Professor Weiner often quite frank, although fair, in his assessment of individuals and their decisions. This course can easily be divided into four major teaching segments.

After a short orientation to the Ancien Regime which offers a basis of comparison to the dramatically different world that was to come, Dr. Weiner's organizational plan begins with the period from 1789 to 1848 that has come to be known as the Age of Revolution.

Professor Weiner's second major section covers the period from the repression of the 1848 Revolutions until the unification of Germany in 1870–71.

Professor Weiner begins the third section with a look at the time European power was at its zenith, from 1870–1914. This power was felt on economic, military, political, and diplomatic levels throughout the world.

The final segment of the course covers the developments in European diplomacy that led to World War I, as well as the war's dramatic impact.

As the course—and Europe—move closer to the catastrophe of World War I, Professor Weiner narrows the focus again. He presents several case studies of the great powers in the decades leading up to the conflict, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and, as he describes it, "the cauldron that was Russia, Turkey, and the Balkans."

The Devastating Impact

World War I was punctuated by a series of battles of industrial slaughter, such as Verdun, the Somme, the Nivelle Offensive, and the final German thrusts in the West in the spring of 1918. More than nine million combatants perished, including more than half of the French men who were between the ages of 20 and 32 when the war began in 1914.

Concluding lectures examine not only the major events of the war but also the its impact on contemporaries and the following generation, and how it set the stage for World War II.

Although Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler were neither inevitable nor likely candidates for national leadership in prewar Europe, they were rooted in their national cultures, children of their age, and Dr. Weiner attempts to answer the question: What had gone wrong?

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
Year Released: 2005
  • 1
    The Long 19th Century
    This lecture discusses the reasons for extending the "century" to include the points in time when the masses and modern nationalism first presented themselves in Europe's most powerful country to the collapse of the 19th-century Eurocentric world order. x
  • 2
    The Legacy of the Past—The Old Regime
    What was Europe like on the eve of the French Revolution? We discuss how the structures of a changing medieval society were further challenged by economic, social, and cultural forces, even before the more profound agrarian and industrial revolutions to come. x
  • 3
    The Age of Revolution, 1789–1848
    This lecture focuses on the landmark analyses of mid-20th century Marxist historian Eric J. Hobsbawm to explain how the French and Industrial Revolutions served as midwives to modern European history and, via the umbilical cord of European imperialism, modern world history. x
  • 4
    The French Revolution
    Although scholars debate the causes of the French Revolution, all agree that it helped determine the political vocabulary, expectations, and myths of 19th-century Europe as it persisted for at least 10 years in Europe's most powerful state, spreading far and wide "in the knapsacks of French soldiers." x
  • 5
    The Napoleonic Era, 1799–1815
    An adventurer of enormous talents and capacity for work and intrigue, Napoleon Bonaparte dominates Europe's historical imagination like no one until Adolf Hitler, representing much that was best in his era, even though his legacy is marred by his monumental ego and penchant for conquest. x
  • 6
    The First Industrial Revolution, 1760–1850
    The Industrial Revolution becomes the main force propelling Europe's modernization and urbanization, gradually transforming much of Britain's urban landscape over several generations until by 1850 it is the workshop of the world, with a greater productivity than the rest of Europe combined. x
  • 7
    The Era of Metternich, 1815–1848
    We examine an era characterized by tensions between the forces of order and the forces of change. Though the former—represented by Austrian Prince Clemens von Metternich—generally dominates, more liberal, constitutional worlds emerge in Britain and in France, though by far different means. x
  • 8
    The Revolutions of 1848
    Sparked by an "unintended" revolution in Paris, outbreaks involving middle class elements, workers, and artisans erupt in urban areas in the Germanic states, the Austrian Empire, and the Italian states, leading to a temporary collapse of established authority and hasty concessions. x
  • 9
    Europe, 1850–1871—An Overview
    Dashed expectations combine with expanding urban industrial civilization to usher in a new age of realpolitik and a new balance of power. Though an era of remarkable scientific, economic, and urban advancement, it is also marked by nationalist and class-based antagonism, Social Darwinism, and "modern" racist thought. x
  • 10
    The Crimean War, 1853–1856
    This lecture examines what is sometimes considered the most senseless of Europe's 19th-century wars—a conflict that makes possible the structural changes Europe will experience from the late 1850s through the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. x
  • 11
    From Napoleon to Napoleon—France, 1815–1852
    More than the American Revolution, the French Revolution left a legacy of debris-disputed claims of legitimacy, disputed rights, and grievances. This lecture examines the tumultuous era between the defeat of Napoleon and the rise of his fascinating and enigmatic nephew, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. x
  • 12
    Napoleon III—An Evaluation
    Napoleon III faced the daunting task of establishing legitimacy and creating a liberal, constitutional monarchy in a bitterly divided France and a Europe threatened by his name. Ruling longer than any 19th-century French monarch, Napoleon III's legacy is marred by France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. x
  • 13
    Italy on the Eve—An Overview
    The final structure of the Italian nation, achieved when Italy occupied Rome in 1870, was far from what the major players had anticipated. This lecture paves the way for understanding the disappointing results of "unification" by analyzing the plight of Italy in 1848. x
  • 14
    Cavour and Napoleon III—“Unifying” Italy
    The developments that set "unification" into motion are instigated by Piedmontese minister Count Camillo di Cavour and Napoleon III. But Cavour's death leaves the final process of creating the new nation to lesser talents, with problematic results. x
  • 15
    Germany on the Eve
    This lecture examines the situation before the forging of the German Empire by the powerful Prussian statesman, Otto Von Bismarck—a situation even more complex than that faced by Italy. x
  • 16
    Age of Bismarck—Creating the German Empire
    A believer in absolutist power and aristocratic ascendancy, Bismarck masters the forces of the age, using military success, nationalist pride, economic/industrial expansion, and astute political manipulation to create a Prussian-dominated German Empire he would guide until his dismissal in 1890, a victim of the irresponsible structure he had created. x
  • 17
    The British Way
    This lecture examines how Great Britain's political, economic, and social structure allowed it to follow a unique path to political and economic modernization, weathering many of the storms afflicting other great powers—though not always without internal issues. x
  • 18
    The Russian Experience, 1789–1881
    Russia begins the "long 19th century" with little stimuli for modernization. It is oversized and still expanding, overwhelmingly agrarian with primitive transportation and communication systems, and dominated by a divine right absolutist monarchy that is allied with a privileged aristocracy. This lecture examines Russia's transition. x
  • 19
    The Apogee of Europe, 1870–1914
    During an age of massive change and material growth, there are crucial shifts in emphasis: nationalism, Social Darwinism, racism, industrialism, European imperialism, a decline in the "liberal" spirit. We also discuss the rise of modernist philosophies exemplified by such greats as Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson, and Sorel. x
  • 20
    The Industrialization of Europe
    The Second Industrial Revolution brings about greater change than any prior era. New forms of power, technology, and business organization, along with the possibilities brought by revolutions in transportation, communications, and education, make this transformation synonymous with urban civilization. x
  • 21
    The Socialist Response
    Although industrial, urban civilization brings growing democratization and middle-class opportunity, it is also an era of expanding Socialist visions and unionism. The modern urban proletariat is now real, recognized even by Bismarck. This lecture examines the impact of this new reality. x
  • 22
    The Longest Hatred—European Anti-Semitism
    This lecture examines what one historian has called "the longest hatred," a deeply embedded and changing element of Europe's culture, especially at the end of the 19th century, when it developed into new political and racial forms, notably in Central and Western Europe. x
  • 23
    England, 1868–1914—Liberalism to Democracy
    Although England's industrial dominance is eclipsed by Germany and the United States on the eve of World War I, and its extended empire has become a source of strain as well as pride, the English response to industrial society is still more successful than that of the other European powers. x
  • 24
    The Third Republic—France, 1870–1914
    Emerging from the Franco-Prussian War and the trauma of a civil war, the Third Republic struggles to consolidate itself and then cope with a progressively harsher series of crises that culminate in the Dreyfus Affair, an event so profound it is sometimes called simply "The Affair." x
  • 25
    Bismarckian and Wilhelminian Germany
    Bismarck's domestic policies attempt every solution besides sharing real power. When he is fired by the brash new kaiser, the problematic forces Bismarck had been able to monitor—militarism, imperialism, and more extreme and racialist nationalism—begin to spiral out of control. x
  • 26
    Flawed States—Austria-Hungary and Italy
    Although the Austro-Hungarian Empire and flawed Italian state did not have much in common, both were examples of "failed" nation-states at the end of the century. This lecture examines the reasons why, and the conditions in both nations during the formative years of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. x
  • 27
    Russia, Turkey, and the Balkans
    This lecture examines the circumstances that ultimately lead Russia to humiliating defeat and the near-overthrow of the regime during the Russo-Japanese War, and how this, in turn, leads nationalists to focus their attention on the Balkans, where the seeds of disaster are planted. x
  • 28
    Bismarck Dominates Europe, 1870–1890
    This lecture examines Bismarck's dominance of Europe's diplomatic agenda as he constructs a complex system of defensive alliances that prove a dangerous legacy for later German leaders lacking in his genius, sense of proportion, and respect for the balance of power. x
  • 29
    The “New” Imperialism
    European imperialism from the 1880s until about 1905 is remarkable for its intensity, tone, scope, and impact. It is spurred on, sometimes haphazardly, by national pride, Social Darwinian and racial assumptions, the search for economic growth and strategic security, Christian conscience, human adventure, and greed. x
  • 30
    The Diplomacy of Imperialism, 1890–1907
    This lecture examines the eventual unraveling of the Bismarckian system of alliances after his dismissal by Kaiser Wilhelm, culminating in the realization of Bismarck's worst nightmare: Germany surrounded by a number of powerful countries and tightly tied to an unstable Austria-Hungary. x
  • 31
    Europe in Crisis, 1908–1914—Outbreak of War
    A complex web of events, alliances, and crises move Europe closer to the brink of war. Eventually all of the powers focus on diplomatic and military preparedness, and patience is in short supply. x
  • 32
    The Origins of World War I
    One of the most meticulously studied topics in all of modern history: the causes of World War I. This lecture examines how a seemingly local conflict could degenerate into the greatest tragedy in modern European history. x
  • 33
    The Great War—A Military Overview
    This lecture looks at the immediate and long-term impact of the war—the prism through which most of the 20th century passed—with emphasis on the critical battles and military decisions that determined its outcome and best represent its nature and impact. x
  • 34
    The Home Front During Total War
    Once the First Battle of the Marne determined that Germany would not win World War I quickly, and combatants realized the war would consume greater quantities of resources than imaginable, the "war behind the war" became as decisive as the one on battlefield, leaving an indelible imprint on the postwar generation. x
  • 35
    The Impact of World War I—New World Disorder
    Gauging the impact of World War I is difficult: It accelerated profound and global changes, many of which are still "in process" today. World War I was to the 20th century what the French and Industrial Revolutions were to the 19th. x
  • 36
    Looking Back, Thinking Ahead
    This lecture summarizes the impact of the "long 19th century." It was, despite its tragedies, a time of progress and change, and brought to fruition many of the promises and hopes of both the French and Industrial Revolutions. x

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Your professor

Robert I. Weiner

About Your Professor

Robert I. Weiner, Ph.D.
Lafayette College
Dr. Robert I. Weiner is the Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Professor of History at Lafayette College. He earned his B.A. from Temple University and a Hebrew teaching certificate from Gratz Hebrew College. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Since joining the faculty of Lafayette College in 1969, Professor Weiner has taught a wide range of courses in the fields of Modern European History and Modern Jewish...
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Rated 3.6 out of 5 by 62 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Great lecture I felt like I was in the lecture hall, easy to follow while driving and well worth listening to again. August 30, 2016
Rated 4 out of 5 by Good Overview of 19th Century European History This is a course that definitely gets better as it progresses. Professor Weiner is very knowledgeable and did an admiral job of compiling a vast amount of information into this course. Although some of the negative reviews regarding Professor Wiener are hyperbolic, there is some merit to them. His presentation is too fast at times and his manner of speaking is 'interesting', it wasn't detrimental to the presentation. Although, truth be told, I found myself following the course guidebook very closely, and even rewatching some of the lectures to fully get a good grasp of the content. Your experience certainly won't be ruined by the presentation. The lectures regarding the late 19th century, socialism, German unification, imperialism, and the lead up to World War I were very engaging. At times, Professor Weiner does assume that the student is following along with the required and supplemental readings as he frequently mentions them and alludes to background information that the person watching may not have. Overall the course is well done and provides a decent overview of European political history from Napoleon to World War I and its aftermath. Although Professor Weiner is not one of the best lecturers that the Great Courses has to offer, you will end the course with a good grasp of the 19th century European history. June 18, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Brilliant scholarship, presentation not that bad Having read many of the negative reviews about this course, and particularly about the professor’s presentation, I almost decided not to buy the course at all. It was only thanks to a few very positive ones that I decided to take the risk. I am very glad I did. This is not the first survey course on the modern period that I have taken under the TGC. I have heard professor Buckholz’s Western Civ II, Professor Bartlett’s Development of Western Civ, and Professor Liulevcius’ course on Diplomatic History. Each of these courses focuses on different historical aspects such as intellectual and cultural history or foreign relation evolution and dogmas, so together they cover quite a broad spectrum of perspectives. All three cover a period from roughly beginning of the 16th century to somewhere in the 20th century – so the temporal scope is very wide and the courses are appropriately enough very wide and quite coarse in granularity of picture. The reason I found it worthwhile to hear another survey course on modern European history is because this course is dedicated primarily to the 19th century – a hugely important, turbulent and complex period in Western history, and I felt that getting a finer grained perspective on this period is definitely worth the effort. I can understand some of the criticism regarding professor Weiner’s presentation style. The lectures really are lectures – they feel very much like top-down, formal affairs in which the Professor pours down material on the students and they must collect it, and yes, I agree that the style was a bit pompous. The volume of his speech always appeared very high although he was not necessarily talking in a very loud voice… Still, I did not have any problem following him or understanding his lectures, and most importantly, my mind did not tend to wander off during the lecture. This style differs from some of my favorite presenters in the TGC whose courses feel almost conversational such as Professor Bartlett, Professor Allit and professor Taylor although, of course, you are not even there... Having said this, the course was brilliantly structured and argued, and was extremely helpful in creating a deep understanding of the many pivotal processes that were occurring during this period. All of the major themes of European 19th century history era analyzed – from the French revolution, to the Napoleonic era, to the age of nationalism and liberalism and the revolutionary era of the 1850s, the industrial revolution, the age of Bismarck, the new imperialism and the concert of Europe. All of this is covered in a deeply thought out and structured manner that enables one to understand how each of these aspects interacted and evolved in relation to the other aspects and in relation to the narrative that was occurring in the foreground at the same time. So overall, the presentation may have been somewhat annoying, but the level of understanding one can gain from the course, and the absolutely brilliant scholarship of the Professor Weiner made this substantial flaw a mere triviality in my opinion when weighing the pros and cons of this course. Hugely recommended, but it may be worthwhile to have heard some other background courses on this topic in order to maximize understanding of all of the subtle points. February 27, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Good Overview I enjoyed this course and learned a lot.. It was a broad overview of the century that made the 20th century what it was. The professor extended the 19th century into World War I, which he felt the 19th century led to. The sequence of shifting alliances that led to the war were made clear. I learned a lot about Bismarck, less about Napoleon III. October 26, 2015
  • 2016-10-26 T09:35:59.026-05:00
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