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The Revolutions in Europe 1848-1849: From Reform to Reaction Oxford University Press USA R. J. W. Evans

20th December 2012 History Books 14 Comments

This collection of essays provides a new introduction to the revolutions of 1848. In that year Europe’s traditional order broke down dramatically across much of the continent. Here, well-known experts in the field provide both a vivid account of the events themselves and a compelling analysis of their profound impact on the development of modern European politics.

`a fresh, lively and stimulating set of essays.’ English Historical Review

Robert Evans is Regius Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford. Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann is Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford.

`a fresh, lively and stimulating set of essays.’ English Historical Review

The Revolutions in Europe, 1848-1849: From Reform to Reaction

  • 14 responses to "The Revolutions in Europe 1848-1849: From Reform to Reaction Oxford University Press USA R. J. W. Evans"

  • told ya
    6:50 on December 20th, 2012
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    Having just read Jonathan Keates excellent The Siege of Venice, and while presently half way through Jasper Ridley’s Garibaldi, I was tempted by 1848 when it appeared at my local bookshop; so, putting aside Garibaldi, I plunged headlong into Mike Rapport’s brilliant narrative, emerging the richer for the experience.

    The subject matter for 1848 is wide ranging and complex in the extreme but Mike Rapport gives us a highly readable, cohesive narrative that bristles with all the hopes and disappointments of the time.

    We are given cameo appearances of some of the main personalities involved: Alexander Herzen, Karl Marx, Kossuth, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Bismarck and Napolean III, who has all the odiousness of a modern day politicain; comfortably voted into power, the author makes a fine point in reminding us of his act of perjury. There are others of course, all contributing to this lively narrative.

    Despite pre-1848 social unrest and revolutionary tremors, 1848 was a phenomenon in itself where a population explosion coupled with food shortages impelled the peasantry and working class to merge spontaneously with a liberal middle class, whose agenda was directed at a broadening of the constitution and male suffrage, and freedom of the press and opinion within a congenial atmosphere for reform. This drag net of unrest cut across many social groups where the working class were just one segment. Interestingly, Karl Marx appeared intransigent even then, attempting to radicalise this surge by insisting on a class war of workers against the status quo and almost ignoring or holding in contempt the diversity of the groups involved. This endemic lack of flexibility in Marx and others would soon become general, ultimately, along with an inherent fear of anarchy, undermining the initial homogeneity of the revolution, setting radicals and republicans against liberals and moderates, while the peasantry would split off and join the landed conservatives with their new found emancipation. Finally, with attitudes hardening as national aspirations rose, the reactionary regimes, sensing the divide between radicals and moderates (compounded in central and eastern Europe by ethnic divisions), drove the wedge home with the military arm still under their control.

    This could be seen as a very broad outline but it is subject to contradictions and variations according to the different European regions that fall under the sweep of the narrative. Mike does a thrilling job at keeping the various epicentres of the revolution on the boil simultaneously; as we crisply make our way through the book, the various strands continue to be gathered together. The Conclusion is masterful, balancing despair with hope and contrasting the verdicts of history with the telescopic lens of the fall of communism in 1989; the lessons of 1848 are relevant to the 21st century also and should never be forgotten.

    Based primarily on secondary sources (but what a selection: Frank Eyck, Jonathan Keates etc!), I’d never heard of Mike Rapport until this timely publication reached the shelves and I’m sure I will be one of many who will look forward to his next work.

  • Nita Barbour
    11:36 on December 20th, 2012
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    1848 marks the beginning of general revolution in Europe, the first crack in von Metternich’s reactionary order, the greatest upheaval since the French revolution in 1792. The revolutions of 1848 are even more remarkable than their predecessor in that they were so widespread and multiple, with uprisings in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe.

    Due to its ubiquitious nature, a major event like 1848 poses special problems for any historian wishing to provide an account for the general public. Mike Rapport rises admirably to the task, however. His new book is a concise, readable summarization of the events of that fateful year, from the glorious spring and summer that raised such high hopes for the cause of revolution and reform, to the gathering of the counter-revolutionary forces that slowly crushed resistance everywhere in the grim days of autumn.

    Rapport gives a good general view of the factors that led to revolution in 1848. At that point, Europe had been held in check for over 30 years by repressive, reactionary regimes,all cobbled together by von Metternich at the Treaty of Berlin of 1815 in a careful balance of power enforced by the great powers: Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, France, and Austria. Despite the old’s order’s best efforts, long repressed grievances and issues came to a boil in 1848. These varied from peasants seeking an end to serfdom and feudal duties, to liberals who wanted sensible reform, to radicals who wanted a republic instead of a monarch, to (very importantly)nationalists who wanted their own country. For various reasons, reactionary pigheadedness large among them, the old order either could not or would not address these issues.

    Rapport succinctly tells how these factors led to insurrection. Crucial moments in a year filled with high drama are vividly depicted: the abdication of Louis-Phillipe, the last king of France,the fall of von Metternich, the wars that raged up and down Italy with heroes like Garibaldi, and the sad end of the revolutions when so many men died in a vain effort to hold onto their newfound gains. In this respect, the execution of Hungarian officers by the Austrians at the end of the rebellion stands out as particularly tragic and cruel.

    Rapport concludes on a basically upward note, pointing out that while the revolutions of 1848 generally ended in military defeat for their supporters, many aspects of the changes sought by the revolutionaries (such as constitutional government) came about as a result. He also notes that 1848 can be interpreted as marking a turning point in the general evolution in Europe away from centuries of absolutist government and war to parliamentary democracy and general stability. I agree with him that the general state of European affairs is considerably more stable and democratic than during most of its previous history. Given the current dismal state of the world’s economy and the possibility of other stresses (environmental, energy, etc.), I can only hope it stays that way.

    I recommend this book to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of 1848 and its significance in European history.

  • Gabriella Sannino
    16:42 on December 20th, 2012
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    There is so much going on that this is a hard year for historians to cover. The first chapter gets the reader into the action and the conclusion is a fine summation of what happened, but in between, the facts fly fast and furious and the book gets a bit tedious. I think Revolutions of 1848 by Priscilla Smith Robertson is superior since she is more selective about what she covers and more succinct in her coverage.

  • macfan
    2:21 on December 21st, 2012
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    This book is so detailed with minutia that it is extremely hard to follow, and is an overall disappointment. One reads page after page, and the author seems to be writing in quicksand, with the reader feeling as though no progress is being made. I had hoped for a book that is much easier to read; as this is a fascinating period in European history.

  • Jassica McIntosh
    8:11 on December 21st, 2012
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    Overall, I liked 1848 but it could have been better. The book jumps around from France, to Germany, then Italy, then France again… It seemed like a very disjointed narrative. Still, it was fairly informative for me, as someone with little prior knowledge about the subject. I don’t think the author is guilty of the information-dumping of which he has been accused. If you’re already well-versed in the subject, however, then I suspect that this book may seem rather superficial.


  • Sudath Priyantha
    12:09 on December 21st, 2012
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    1848 was an important year in European history. It was the year when revolts of middle class thinkers joined with workers to threaten the stifling status quo of European monarchy. This historical survey of that momentous year looks at events in five principle empires:
    1. Austria-Franz Joseph takes the throne as rioting breaks out against the government in Vienna. Austria wages a brutal war against the Italian states she governs. The year ends with the forces of conservativism and monarchy in charge. The Austro-Hungarian empire will collapse in World War I.
    2. Italy-This country is a patchwork of various duchys and monarchial regimes. Among the most powerful are Piedmont, Tuscany and Lombardy. Efforts by separatist rebels in Sicily are crushed. This is the year in which the heroes of Italian independence began to play a role in Italian and Vatican affairs. Men like Mazzini and Garabaldi enter center stage. The Pope Pius IX is driven from Rome by the French army. Italy is a nation of poor crops and a large illiterate population. Independence will not come until the 1860′s when the yoke of Austria is removed Italy’s neck.
    3. Prussia-A strong militaristic state under Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm this is the most powerful state in the Germanic lands.
    Prussia will eventually unite Germany in 1870 and defeat her chief rival France in the Franco-Prussian war. Efforts to unite the various German states are not successful during 1848.
    4. France is a nation rife with political turmoil. Louis Napoleon emerges from the fray to be crowned as Napoleon III. France is an economy in shambles with crop failures and peasant unrest.
    5. Russia is the most backward and autocratically ruled of the major nations in Europe. Czar Nicholas I clamps down on personal freedoms and censors the press. Dissidents are executed or shipped to Siberia. The peasants are still living in serfdom and will not be freed until 1860.
    Dr. Rapport devotes a great deal of attention to the complex political and military chess moves involved in the politics of central European countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. This material was new to me and will either interest or bore the American reader.
    The period saw the emergence of such luminaries as Karl Marx, Fredrick Engles, Bismarck, Garibalid, Mazzini, Louis Kossuth and Alexander Herzen. These leaders and thinkers are given attention by the author.
    While the result of the quest for political and social freedom came a cropper in 1848 the seeds for future revolutionary movements in Europe were solidly planted to emerge in the Communist Revolution of 1917. Ethnic hatreds are also on evident display in these many pages. These racial and ethnic phobias will also emerge into twentieth century conflicts. Racial hatred for the Jews is discussed which is a harbinger of the rise of Fascism and the Nazi party.
    Dr. Rapport has done a great job researching a complex topic. However, his writing style reads like a dry as dust textbook. The book would best be utilized in a class on nineteenth century European history.

  • Google Spies
    12:49 on December 21st, 2012
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    Aili’s critical review below is not unfair: the method of presentation makes the story hard to follow at times as the author pops back and fourth around Europe and the writing is not always the best. Rapport tells his story through different stages of events, the original street revolutions in the spring of 1848, the uneasy summer which followed and the eventual counter revolutions mostly in the fall. As Aili notes, by jumping from country to country during each of these stages, one loses track of what is happening in any particular country which tends to break up the narrative flow.

    However, in the end, I found there to be benefits as well to the method of presentation. By recounting each of these stages in parallel across multiple countries, Rapport clearly establishes his thesis that what happened in 1848 was a EUROPEAN event, not a set of individual national events. And at times I found the stories enthralling, particularly near the end as Rapport recounts Hungary’s and Italy’s fights with Austria. Nevertheless, most of the time the book is a difficult plod and while I think Aili’s two stars is bit low, my four is probably too high.

  • E Gabriell
    20:37 on December 21st, 2012
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    WOW, I was thrilled when my book arrived. It was a hardback, which I didn’t realize, and the price was so good that I just loved it. Going back to school and found the price was 1/3 of the bookstore price.


  • David Smidev
    22:48 on December 21st, 2012
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    If Mike Rapport can be accused of anything, it’s that there is so much information in this book that sometimes the reader is overwhelmed. He is best at using the words of those who were involved in both the revolutions and counter-revolutions to explain their thinking. But he also uses the printed word (newspapers, pamphlets, etc) to explain what people said they wanted, what they actually asked for, and what they were willing to settle for (though they didn’t always get it).

    The first uprisings began in France and spread to Vienna, then Northern Italy (Lombardy and Venezia), Southern Italy, Hungary and some of the German states. In the end, France ended up with another Empire, Germany has strengthened the hand of Prussia, absolutism was returned to Austria, and Italy remained divided.

    What happens in between is both dramatic and poignant, but also some times is downright comical. What Rapport does so well is to bring out who was driving (the Liberal middle class and lower level nobility) the insurrections and at what point did some of them get out of hand and into the hands of the Radicals. The fear in all of the revolutionaries of an uprising by the Peasants, in some cases forestalled any meaningful outcome from the urban insurrections and a backing of the reactionary counter-revolution.

    Rapport’s best points are made in the 15 page conclusion; and if you don’t care about all the fine points of who, what, where and when just read the first two chapters and the conclusion. The book can be ponderous and plodding to read, but by skimming the middle chapters you will gain a good understanding of what went on and why. Well done.

  • Life Advisor
    3:00 on December 22nd, 2012
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    I had barely opened this book when I almost closed it, upon reading the following sentence: “In general I let the reader draw her or his own conclusions….” Oh, how politically correct! Oh, how annoying! Still, I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

    The revolutionary and counter-revolutionary events of 1848 are more than inherently interesting; they speak resoundingly to our own time and place in history. As the political, economic, financial, social, cultural, and moral center of Western Civilization continues to wobble at an increasing and alarming pace, one may readily envision a repeat of 1848′s uprooting, chaos, and violence in the foreseeable future.

    As for Mike Rapport’s treatment of that eventful year, I generally give him high marks. The research is scholarly and the writing good. Still, I found his handling of many events (particularly the blood-and-thunder ones) to be a bit too flat and dry, lacking what one would have thought to be a requisite vividness.

    But my main objection to “1848″ is that it’s too long and gratuitously detailed. Granted, Rapport has to examine the causes of, manifestations of, consequences of, and reactions to massive revolutionary activity in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary…throughout much of Europe. Still, a more concise approach would have been appreciated.

    Yes, I have reservations, but I do recommend this book.

  • GaryO
    8:07 on December 22nd, 2012
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    1848 was a very noteworthy year in world history. Here in North America, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican War gave the United States its present-day Southwest, while in Europe, there was a series of revolutions that had reverberations that affected that continent into the twentieth century.

    Mike Rapport examines what happened in the revolutions on the other side of the Atlantic in “1848: Year of Revolution”. He examines some of the factors that led to the unrest, including nationalism, economic dislocation, and demands on the part of the people for reforms such as free speech, regular parliaments, religious freedom, and trial by jury. The author provides a good account of the colorful characters and military campaigns associated with the revolutions, and lists the causes, including divisions between liberals and radicals, that led to the failure of the revolutions.

    Rapport explains why, despite the fact that the revolutions appeared to be failures in the short term, they were not failures ultimately, in that many of the goals of the revolutionaries were adopted in later decades. The author closes by comparing the revolutions of 1989 to those of 1848. Even the pages of illustrations in the book are very good–included is a stunning daguerreotype of barricades in Paris.

  • hhfoiweon
    10:09 on December 22nd, 2012
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    A comprehensive, but difficult read. The author describes the multiple insurrections and revolts in the European states established at the Treaty of Vienna following the Napoleonic Wars. It also describes why the revolutions of 1848 ultimately failed, but impacted the future political modernization of Europe. Readers will need to be familiar with the geography, demographics, and history of the region for the narrative to be understood. The book suffers when compared to Jay Winik’s “The Great Upheaval” which covers the period leading up to the Napoleonic Wars, but in a much more concise and engrossing manner.

  • Brettford
    14:27 on December 22nd, 2012
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    While the book jacket compares the widespread revolutions of 1848 to those of 1989, the book itself reveals that the upheaval of 1848 led mainly (and quickly) to counter-revolution and conservative retrenchment. Thus, the subject of the book is largely one of anti-climax.

    Revolutions of varying degrees swept across much of Europe, including France, Italy, Germany, Prussia, Austria, and Hungary. The movements tended to be nationalist, liberal, and democratic – sometimes republican, in the sense of giving the heave-ho to the reigning monarch. Nationalist, liberal, and democratic values did not necessarily cohere.

    The movements experienced exciting successes; exciting but short-lived. Within the year most of the democratic and liberal advances were been swept away by counter-revolutions that restored power to conservative monarchs in nearly every country. Nationalism fared somewhat better. The revolutions arguably did further the unification of Germany and Italy in the coming decades.

    The broad scope of Rapport’s book, albeit contained within one year, presents a formidable challenge to any writer. Nineteenth century Europe presents the reader with bewildering complexity. Bear in mind that Italy and Germany did not exist in the modern sense, but rather consisted of a plethora of independent or quasi-independent entities. Hungary was struggling for independence from – or at least within – the Habsburg Empire. Each `country’ had its own autonomous movements with its own leaders. Complexities multiply. Thus, I think it is not too harsh to say that Rapport falls short of rendering a structured and clear history.

    Rapport’s beginning is strong, but he soon begins to plod through each country’s revolt seriatim; first France, then Germany, Hungary, and Italy. The same process is repeated through each six chapters. He brutally overuses the familiar phrasing “the latter” and “the former”, which is annoying and confusing; why not just use the name of the person or place again? With dozens of names and places, repeating them would have been helpful.

    Until the brief conclusion, Rapport does not provide context or structure. The reader’s head spins with mostly unfamiliar names and places and is soon buried under a mountain of detail. Had Rapport woven the larger perspective one finds in the Conclusion into the main narrative, he would have produced a far more elucidating book.

  • Abel Genas
    14:51 on December 22nd, 2012
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    I came to this book via Alexander Herzen’s ‘My Life and Thoughts’ which I had been reading in an edition by Constance Garnett. Although it flows well enough, the ‘Faber Finds’ edition of Garnett’s edition lacks an introduction, footnotes, an index and maps. Herzen himself does not cover the events of 1848, but he writes of its aftermath as if his readers will be well-acquainted with the great names of the period. These days, most general readers of history will certainl have heard of Mazzini and Garibaldi. Less familiar to English readers will be the names of Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Daniel Manin, Robert Blum, Gustave Struve, Friedrich Hecker, Kossuth, Batthyany, Karl Leiningen-Westerburg, and Arthur Gorgey. Yet these names were to echo round Europe for almost 75 years until the memories of the Revolutions of 1848 were erased in the catastrophes that overtook the greater part of the continent between 1917-1989.

    Mile Rapport has been a senior lecturer in History at Stirling University since 1995. His book is a useful, if slightly leaden guide to the events, personalities and issues of the period, and a sobre analysis of the causes, effects and consequences. Other reviewers on this web-page have complained of the strictly chronological approach as the narrative moves, nation by nation, through the spring, summer, and autumn of 1848, but it is difficult to see how else Mr Rapport could have handled his comprehensive account of events, for what happenned in one capital immediately had an effect upon events in others, whilst, at the same time, the traditions, culture and social composition of each nation meant that each nation’s politics took its own, ditinct course. The Italians, apparently, still use the expression ‘un vero quarantotto’ to describe a complete mess, and without its chronological and topographical structure this book could quite easily have become one. It does mean, however, that cross-reference is an indspensible, if tedious, requirement – but the index is both valuable and practical. Not so the only map – which is is useless for any purpose other than establishing the broad outlines of Central European geography – and the illustrations which are in black and white and distinctly uninspiring.

    Reading one of the US Reviewers of this book reminded me of Neville Chamberlain’s famous broadcast on the German annexation of the Sudetenland: ‘How horribe, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas mqsks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing’ but the real merit of this book lies in demonstrating how crucial to understanding European history of the last 175 years were these largely forgotten events. Americans who want to know what their forces were doing in Europe from 1917 onwards, and why, in particular, socialism, fascism, nationalism and racism have had a potency in Europe quite distinct from their manifestationns in the United States will certainly profit from this study of a period that Lewis Namier once called ‘the seed bed of history.’

    For the European reader the book demonstrates, in a convincing way, how what began as a middle class militancy for political recognition rapidly brought forth a more radical demand for social justice. Mr Rapport effectively reiterates Herzen’s conclusion that, in the end, the middle class liberals compromised with the reactionaries because they were terrified of the threat to commerce and property, but Mr Rapport adds complexity to this judgment by demonstrating that the fear of chaos and anarchy was at least legitimate. Pope Pius IX began the year 1848 as a progressive: it was the vicious, unprovoked and shocking assassination of his moderate prime-minister, Pellegrino Rossi, by the radicals that turned the Pope into a reactionary – but such are the injustices of history – Pius is now mockingly known as ‘Nono’ and the murderered Rossi is quietly forgotten. At the other end of the scale, once serfdom had been abolished, peasants could regard their monarchs as providing them with protection aqainst their ‘liberal’ landlords, while in Central Europe, ethnic minorities could also regard the monarchy as guaranteeing their rights against the insolent tyranny of a ‘democratic’ majority. It was, perhaps, the ill-advised and precipitate removal of the traditional structures of European politics between 1848-1914 that did so much to first destabilise, and then to promote populst tyrannies in Europe between 1917-1989.

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