History 620


For many Europeans, the French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquests marked the end of an historical era if not, perhaps,
the end of time itself. In the years after 1789, political transformations and military conflicts intensified and spread to encompass most of the continent. Whether bemoaned as disasters or celebrated as accomplishments, the events of 1789-1815 made understanding the past both more difficult and more urgent. No one could turn back the clocks. (Though some tried.) In formal history writing, as well as in many domains we today consider distinct—politics, the sciences, architecture—men and women endeavored to explain how the present related to the past. The past might be deliberately or accidentally rejected (as by revolutionaries or in a natural disaster) or it might be used as a model. Yet no matter how they understood it, people could not actually live in the past. Instead, intentionally and unintentionally, in politics and in the arts, nineteenth-century Europeans forged a new world with reference to the old.

In this colloquium, we will look at a range of these nineteenth-century ways of (re)constructing the past and imagining the future. Many of our readings will be primary sources, including selections from historical-political writers and from natural-history authors. While the bulk of our examples will be drawn from the French, German, or British context, southern and eastern Europe are also very much part of this story.

Class Schedule

11 Jan. When was the Nineteenth Century?

18 Jan. Martin Luther King Day (no class)

25 Jan. In the Beginning was Napoleon

01 Feb. The Nineteenth Century: When History was New

08 Feb. History and Catastrophes

15 Feb. Nations of the Past, Nations of the Future

22 Feb. Times and Places

29 Feb. Society of the Present, Societies of the Future

07 March Societies of the Past, Present, and Future

Spring Break

21 March Men Make their own Histories?

28 March In the Middle (or thereabouts) was Napoleon

4 April Empire of the Present

1 April A New Time

18 April The Future of an Illusion

25 April Historical Sciences of the Past, Scientific Histories of the Future


Syllabus (pdf format)

Chronologies (2 x 5%): twice in the semester, you will be responsible for compiling an outline chronology relevant for understanding that week's readings. Your chronology should be approximately 1-2 pages, single spaced and should explain the significance of the dates you include (you will probably want to include more than five dates and fewer than thirty). You should circulate this document to the entire group and make sure that it reaches everyone at least 24 hours before class (i.e., at 3:30 on Sunday). more

Reception Account
(10%): once in the semester, you should write a brief account (2-3 single-spaced pages or so) of how contemporaries reacted to one of the nineteenth-century sources we are reading. For some texts, you will be able to find reviews from the period; for others, you will need to rely more heavily on the work of other historians. Remember, too, to check the most comprehensive relevant library catalogue you can find (i.e., that of the British Library for works published in Great Britain, the Bibliothèque Nationale for works published in France): how many editions of the text exist? When, and into what languages, was it translated? As with your chronologies, you should circulate your reception account to the entire group at least twenty-four hours before class (that is, by 3:30 on Sunday). more

Book Review (10%): once in the semester, you will be responsible for reviewing one of the books listed as “further reading” on the website. Your review should be 1200-1500 words (reviews of less than 1000 words or more than 2000 will be substantially penalized); you should assume that you are writing for a university-educated audience with a particular interest in European history. In it, you should briefly summarize the work’s argument and purpose, but you should devote most of your time to placing the work in historical and historiographical context and highlighting the elements you think most deserving of scholars’ attention. more

Final Paper (50%): Given our shared reading obligations, I cannot reasonably expect you to write a full research paper this semester. Moreover, linguistic limitations may make it difficult for you to research comprehensively the topic that interests you most. I expect, however, that you will be able to envision, plan, and begin such a paper. Your research should emerge from your engagement with one or more of the primary sources we have read for discussion and should culminate in 12-15 double-spaced pages (not including notes and bibliography) that include: a polished and engaging introduction; a statement of your research question and method; a concise and pointed overview of the relevant historiography; analysis of several primary sources; some tentative conclusions. more

Participation (20%): It is assumed that all students will do at least the required readings for every week and that they will participate actively in all sessions. Repeated absences and/or non-participation will result in a final grade of B- or less, regardless of the quality of submitted written work.

Google Books

HathiTrust Digital Library



Making of the Modern World

On-line journals (IU libraries)

Also of interest
Research seminars, Institute for Historical Research

Seminars ("Workshops"), University of Chicago

"Study Groups,"
Center for European Studies, Harvard

Council for European Studies
(based at Columbia)
The IU History Department's "Modern Europe" seminar series meets on the following Fridays at 12:00:

29 January (Leonie Musgrave);
19 February (Catherine Robson);
04 March (Mona Siegel);
8 April.
"With the destabilizing of the market economy,
we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins
even before they have crumbled."

Walter Benjamin,
"Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century" (1935).