The Age of Revolutions (1830-1848): The Rise of Nationalism in Europe

As conservative regimes tried to consolidate their power, liberalism and nationalism came to be increasingly associated with revolution in many regions of Europe such as the Italian and German states, the provinces of the Ottoman Empire, Ireland, and Poland. Learn more about The Age of Revolutions (1830-1848).

These revolutions were led by the liberal-nationalists belonging to the educated middle-class elite, among whom were professors, schoolteachers, clerks, and members of the commercial middle classes. The first upheaval took place in France in July 1830.

The Bourbon kings who had been restored to power during the conservative reaction after 1815, were now overthrown by liberal revolutionaries who installed a constitutional monarchy with Louis Philippe at its head. ‘When France sneezes,’ Metternich once remarked, ‘the rest of Europe catches a cold.’ The July Revolution sparked an uprising in Brussels led to Belgium breaking away from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

An event that mobilized nationalist feelings among the educated elite across Europe was the Greek war of independence. Greece had been part of the Ottoman Empire since the fifteenth century. The growth of revolutionary nationalism in Europe sparked off a struggle for independence amongst the Greeks which began in 1821. Nationalists in Greece got support from other Greeks living in exile and also from many West Europeans who had sympathies for ancient Greek culture. Poets and artists lauded Greece as the cradle of European civilization and mobilized public opinion to support its struggle against a Muslim empire. The English poet Lord Byron organized funds and later went to fight in the war, where he died of fever in 1824. Finally, the Treaty of Constantinople of 1832 recognized Greece as an independent nation.

Let us dig deeper into the Age of Revolutions (1830-1848) and get to know about the national feeling and romantic imagination.

The Romantic Imagination and National Feeling

The development of nationalism did not come about only through wars and territorial expansion. Culture played an important role in creating the idea of the nation: art and poetry, stories and music helped express and shape nationalist feelings. Let us look at Romanticism, a cultural movement that sought to develop a particular form of nationalist sentiment. Romantic artists and poets generally criticized the glorification of reason and science and focused instead on emotions, intuition, and mystical feelings. What’s more in the Age of Revolutions (1830-1848)?

Their effort was to create a sense of a shared collective heritage, a common cultural past, as the basis of a nation. Other Romantics such as the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) claimed that true German culture was to be discovered among the common people – das volk. It was through folk songs, folk poetry, and folk dances that the true spirit of the nation (volksgeist) was popularised. So collecting and recording these forms of folk culture was essential to the project of nation-building

The emphasis on vernacular language and the collection of local folklore was not just to recover an ancient national spirit, but also to carry the modern nationalist message to large audiences who were mostly illiterate. This was especially so in the case of Poland, which had been partitioned at the end of the eighteenth century by the Great Powers – Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Even though Poland no longer existed as an independent territory, national feelings were kept alive through music and language.

Karol Kurpinski, for example, celebrated the national struggle through his operas and music, turning folk dances like the polonaise and mazurka into nationalist symbols Language too played an important role in developing nationalist sentiments. After the Russian occupation, the Polish language was forced out of schools and the Russian language was imposed everywhere. In 1831, an armed rebellion against Russian rule took place which was ultimately crushed. Following this, many members of the clergy in Poland began to use language as a weapon of national resistance.

Polish was used for Church gatherings and all religious instruction. As a result, a large number of priests and bishops were put in jail or sent to Siberia by the Russian authorities as punishment for their refusal to preach in Russian. The use of Polish came to be seen as a symbol of the struggle against Russian dominance.

Read More: The French Revolution and the Idea of the Nation: Nationalism In Europe

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