Europe 1880-1914: A "Belle Époche"?

How might we view Europe before World War I? It was an age of progress, certainly, and an age that prided itself on keeping peace throughout Europe. It was an age of social movements, growing anti-Semitism, and political tensions, nevertheless. And it was the era that led to World War I. We will examine the many dimensions of European culture, society, and politics in this age of contradictions.


  • Christopher Clark, Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Imperialism, 1875-1914
  • Ramm, Agatha, Europe in the Nineteenth Century, 1789-1905
  • Thomson, David, Europe since Napoleon


  • New Balance of Power: Europe in 1880
  • A feeling of progress and the Second Industrial Revolution
  • Scientific and educational developments
  • The growing importance of trade unions and socialist parties
  • The impact and changing nature of nationalism
  • Women’s movements
  • Post-Impressionism emerges; photography and cinema
  • The dilemmas of liberal, constitutional government vs monarchical and aristocratic domination
  • Fervour for Imperial conquests
  • Long- and short-term causes of World War I

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Analyse the nature of late 19th century society; its values, assumptions, blindspots.
  2. Examine the role of ideas – liberalism, trade unionism, socialism, feminism – as well as conservatism and racism – in social and political life.
  3. Examine the role of social change – ever-wider industrialisation, the rise of the working class, the discontent of women, the roles of Jews.
  4. View images from the visual arts and assess their importance.
  5. Analyse and to draw possible conclusions about the causes of the outbreak of war.

This course has no current classes. Please the waiting list.