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The Transformation of the World

The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century

Jürgen Osterhammel
Translated by Patrick Camiller
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 1192
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  • Book Info
    The Transformation of the World
    Book Description:

    A monumental history of the nineteenth century,The Transformation of the Worldoffers a panoramic and multifaceted portrait of a world in transition. Jürgen Osterhammel, an eminent scholar who has been called the Braudel of the nineteenth century, moves beyond conventional Eurocentric and chronological accounts of the era, presenting instead a truly global history of breathtaking scope and towering erudition. He examines the powerful and complex forces that drove global change during the "long nineteenth century," taking readers from New York to New Delhi, from the Latin American revolutions to the Taiping Rebellion, from the perils and promise of Europe's transatlantic labor markets to the hardships endured by nomadic, tribal peoples across the planet. Osterhammel describes a world increasingly networked by the telegraph, the steamship, and the railways. He explores the changing relationship between human beings and nature, looks at the importance of cities, explains the role slavery and its abolition played in the emergence of new nations, challenges the widely held belief that the nineteenth century witnessed the triumph of the nation-state, and much more.

    This is the highly anticipated English edition of the spectacularly successful and critically acclaimed German book, which is also being translated into Chinese, Polish, Russian, and French. Indispensable for any historian,The Transformation of the Worldsheds important new light on this momentous epoch, showing how the nineteenth century paved the way for the global catastrophes of the twentieth century, yet how it also gave rise to pacifism, liberalism, the trade union, and a host of other crucial developments.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4994-9
    Subjects: History, Economics, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    All history inclines toward being world history. Sociological theories tell us that the world is the “environment of all environments,” the ultimate possible context for what happens in history and the account we give of it. The tendency to transcend the local becomes stronger in thelongue duréeof historical development. A history of the Neolithic age does not report intensive contacts over long distances, but a history of the twentieth century confronts the basic fact of a densely knit web of global connections—a “human web,” as John R. and William H. McNeill have called it, or better still,...


    • CHAPTER I Memory and Self-Observation: The Perpetuation of the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 3-44)

      What does the nineteenth century mean today? How does it present itself to those who are not professionally involved with it as historians? Our approach to this age begins with the face it turns to posterity. This is not simply a question ofour“image” of it, of how we wouldliketo see it, of how we construct it. Such constructs are not entirely random, not unmediated products of contemporary preferences and interests. Today’s perceptions of the nineteenth century are still strongly marked by its own self-perception. The reflexivity of the age, especially the new media world that it...

    • CHAPTER II Time: When Was the Nineteenth Century?
      (pp. 45-76)

      When was the nineteenth century? We speak of a century as if it were a self-explanatory term, implying that everyone connects it with a precise, perhaps the same, meaning. What is it if not the time span that is contained between the years 1801 and 1900, for example? Yet that time span does not correspond to a tangible experience: the senses do not perceive when a new century begins, as they do the daily cycle or the seasons of the year. The century is a creature of the calendar, a calculated quantity, which was introduced for the first time in...

    • CHAPTER III Space: Where Was the Nineteenth Century?
      (pp. 77-114)

      The relationship between time and space is a major theme in philosophy. Historians can be more modest in dealing with it. A point made by Reinhart Koselleck may be enough for them: “Any historical space constitutes itself by virtue of the time by which it can be traversed, the time that makes it politically or economically controllable. Temporal and spatial questions are always intertwined with each other, even if the metaphorical power of all images of time initially stems from experiences of space.”¹ The geographer David Harvey, approaching the issue from a different angle, speaks of “time-space compression.”² The separation...


    • CHAPTER IV Mobilities
      (pp. 117-166)

      Between 1890 and 1920, a third of the farming population emigrated from Lebanon, mostly to the United States and Egypt. The reasons for this had to do with an internal situation bordering on civil war, the discrepancy between a stagnant economy and high levels of education, the restrictions on freedom of opinion under Sultan Abdülhamid II, and the attractiveness of the destination countries.¹ Even in these extreme circumstances, however, two-thirds stayed at home. The older style of national history had little feel for cross-border mobility; global historians sometimes seeonlymobility, networking, and cosmopolitanism. Yet both groups should be of...

    • CHAPTER V Living Standards: Risk and Security in Material Life
      (pp. 167-240)

      A history of the nineteenth century cannot omit the material level of human existence, and we shall bring together the little that research can tell us about this at agenerallevel. First, a distinction needs to be drawn between “standard of living” and “quality of life”: the former is a category from social history, the latter from historical anthropology.¹ Quality of life includes the subjective impression of well-being—indeed, of happiness. Happiness is bound up with individuals or small groups; its quality cannot be measured and is difficult to compare. Even today it is nearly impossible to decide whether...

    • CHAPTER VI Cities: European Models and Worldwide Creativity
      (pp. 241-321)

      A “city” is a way of socially organizing space. It is hard to distinguish it clearly from other ways. The city always stands in a tension with something else, with non-city. This may take a number of forms: “the country” with its villages of settled farmers, the deserts and steppes of nomads, the world of large estates and plantations where the landowners’ power is concentrated, or another city in the same region, with which there may be peaceful rivalry or sometimes—as in the case of Athens and Sparta, or Rome and Carthage—irreconcilable hostility.¹ A city is easy to...

    • CHAPTER VII Frontiers: Subjugation of Space and Challenges to Nomadic Life
      (pp. 322-391)

      In the nineteenth century, the opposite extreme of “city” is no longer “country,” the realm of farming, but rather “frontier”: the moving boundary of resource development. It advances into spaces that are rarely as empty as the agents of expansion talk themselves and others into believing. For those who see the frontier approaching them, it is the spearhead of an invasion; it will leave little as it was before. People flow into the city and to the frontier; these are the two great magnets for nineteenth-century migration. As spaces of boundless possibility, they attract migrants like nothing else in the...

    • CHAPTER VIII Imperial Systems and Nation-States: The Persistence of Empires
      (pp. 392-468)

      All the chapters in this book have something to say on empire and colonialism. That aspect of the nineteenth century is omnipresent, as it has to be in any attempt to employ a world-historical perspective. Thus, there is no need to provide a comprehensive overview of the various empires and to cover the standard topics of imperial history.¹ Nor is it necessary to join the debate about the peculiar position of the nineteenth century in the long sweep of global power politics and economic dynamism, a debate that leads invariably to a probing of the roots and causes of the...

    • CHAPTER IX International Orders, Wars, Transnational Movements: Between Two World Wars
      (pp. 469-513)

      Foreign policy players at the level of the globe or within one of its macro-regions—this chapter will refer to “spaces of power and hegemony”—together form a world of states, irrespective of the type and density of the relations among them. If these relations attain a certain threshold of structure and regularity, we should speak of asystemof states or an “international system.” Of all such systems in history, the best known is the modern European one that lasted, if we want attach precise dates to it, from 1763 to 1914—during a period between two world wars,...

    • CHAPTER X Revolutions: From Philadelphia via Nanjing to Saint Petersburg
      (pp. 514-571)

      More than in any other era, politics in the nineteenth century was revolutionary politics. It did not defend “age-old rights” but, looking ahead to the future, elevated particular interests such as those of a class or class coalition into the interests of a nation or even of humanity as a whole. “Revolution” became a central idea of political thought in Europe, serving as a yardstick that for the first time divided Left and Right. The entirelongnineteenth century was an age of revolutions, as a look at the political map will make apparent. Between 1783, when the world’s largest...

    • CHAPTER XI The State: Minimal Government, Performances, and the Iron Cage
      (pp. 572-634)

      The variety of political forms was probably greater in the nineteenth century than at any previous time in history, ranging from the complete statelessness of hunting communities to the sophisticated systems of empires and nation-states. Already before the arrival of European colonialism, there was a considerable diversity of arrangements for exercizing power and regulating the affairs of the community, not all of them recognizable from a Western and modern point of view as a “state.” The colonial state only gradually absorbed, or at least modified, these older forms on a case-by-case basis. It is possible to speak of the worldwide,...


    • CHAPTER XII Energy and Industry: Who Unbound Prometheus, When, and Where?
      (pp. 637-672)

      Few historiographical fields have recently been as innovative and exciting as (global) economic history. Cherished set pieces of historical lore such as the Industrial Revolution are undergoing critical reappraisal. Long-term developments across the centuries or even millennia find unprecedented attention. Culture and meaning are returning to economic analysis, “capitalism” has ceased to be vilified as a term of Marxist polemics, and a rehabilitation of materiality has prompted even committed students of discourse and imagination to turn to the world of objects and commodities. The towering issue of the “global rift,” or “great divergence,” is intriguing the most astute minds. Its...

    • CHAPTER XIII Labor: The Physical Basis of Culture
      (pp. 673-709)

      At all times most people have worked.¹ Adults who did not do so—whether sick or disabled, fortunate in their circumstances, or belonging to an idle elite exempt even from military or priestly service—have been a minority in every society. Since work is performed in countless different ways and conditions, it is much more difficult to say anything general about it than about highly organized systems such as industry or capitalism. A history of work can be a history only of typical instances—or, where especially good data are available, of workloads and their gender distribution.² If work is...

    • CHAPTER XIV Networks: Extension, Density, Holes
      (pp. 710-743)

      “Network” is a metaphor, at once vivid and deceptive. Networks produce two-dimensional connections: they are flat, and they structure level spaces. A network has no relief. Network analysis in the social sciences, useful as it is, always risks overlooking or underestimating hierarchies, the third, vertical dimension. This is associated with the fact that networks are in a way democratic; all their nodes initially have the same value. Even so, a historian cannot do much with them unless the possibility is allowed that a network has strong centers and weak peripheries, that the nodes therefore vary in “thickness.” Not every network...

    • CHAPTER XV Hierarchies: The Vertical Dimension of Social Space
      (pp. 744-778)

      “Society” has many dimensions. One of the most important is hierarchy.¹ The majority of societies have anobjectivelyunequal structure: some of their members dispose of more resources and life chances than others, perform less hard physical labor, enjoy greater respect, and command obedience for their wishes and orders. As a rule, people also perceive thesesubjectivelyas a set of relations of superiority and subordination. The utopian dream of a society of equals has existed at various times in many civilizations—utopian, because it contradicted the reality of life as a hierarchy in which the individual sought to find...

    • CHAPTER XVI Knowledge: Growth, Concentration, Distribution
      (pp. 779-825)

      “Knowledge” is a particularly ephemeral substance. As a social quantity, distinct from its various philosophical concepts, it is the invention of a discipline scarcely a hundred years old: the sociology of knowledge. It took what German idealism had calledGeist(“spirit”) and placed it at the heart of society, relating it to existential practices and social locations. “Knowledge” is somewhat narrower than the all-embracing concept of “culture.” It does not for our purposes include religion and the arts;¹ it will refer here to cognitive resources for the solution of problems and the mastering of life situations in the real world....

    • CHAPTER XVII Civilization and Exclusion
      (pp. 826-872)

      For thousands of years, some human groups have considered themselves superior to their neighbors.¹ City dwellers looked down on villagers, settled populations on nomads, literate on illiterate, pastoralists on hunters, rich on poor, practitioners of complex religions on “pagans” and animists. The idea of different degrees of refined living and thought is widespread across regions and epochs. In many languages it is expressed in words that roughly correspond to “civilization” in European usage—a term that has meaning only in a relationship of tension with its negative twin. Civilization prevails where “barbarism” or “savagery” lie defeated; it needs its opposite...

    • CHAPTER XVIII Religion
      (pp. 873-901)

      There are strong reasons why religions and religiosity should occupy center stage in a global history of the nineteenth century.¹ Only for a few Western European countries at most would it be justified to treat religion as one more subdivision of “culture” and to limit oneself to its organizational constitution as a church or churches. Religion was a force in people’s lives throughout the nineteenth-century world, giving them bearings and serving to crystallize the formation of communities and collective identities. It was an organizing principle of social hierarchies, a driving force of political struggles, a field of demanding intellectual debates....

  8. CONCLUSION: The Nineteenth Century in History
    (pp. 902-920)

    “A general history of the world is necessary but not possible in the present state of research. . . . But we need not despair: particular research is always instructive when it produces results, and nowhere more so than in history, where even in deep recesses it always encounters a living element with universal significance.”¹ These words of Leopold von Ranke, written in 1869, still hold true today. This book has attempted a piece of impossible, though perhaps not “general,” global history. In the end, both reader and author should return to particular concerns, not soar upward into even more...

    (pp. 921-922)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 923-1020)
    (pp. 1021-1118)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 1119-1168)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 1169-1170)