History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Origins of Modern Nationalism

Yes, it was played in Apocalypse Now. This is a section of Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" (1854) from his Ring cycle. The Valkyries were the demi-goddesses of death in Norse legends, determining the outcome of battle and those dead warriors deserving of being carried to Valhalla. An interesting combination of German nationalism and female power.

Lecture contents:

Motives for Empire
Tools of Empire
Symbolic Art
Fin de Siecle Fashion


Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst
Hardly a Valkyrie, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters endured jail time and hunger strikes in her quest for women's suffrage in England.

Gaughin picture

Paul Gaughin, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? (1897)



Modern nationalism is based on a combination of two trends: the Enlightenment idea of a legitimate government being based on the people, and the romantic vision of culture. Nationalism requires defining where the nation is and who is in it. This can be done by including certain people, and excluding others.

The Revolutions of 1848 that spread throughout Europe were nationalistic revolutions. In France, they established the Second Republic, and a popular movement so vast that Napoleon III had to construct huge boulevards in Paris so people couldn't blockade the streets. In Italy and Germany the 1848 Revolutions spawned the events that led to unification of states that had been made up of smaller kingdoms and principalities.

Music is one of the best ways to understand nationalism, because you can literally hear it. Take this German example:

book Workbook document:
1904 recording of The Watch on the Rhine (1870) (Die Wacht am Rhein)

1900 map of Europe

Or recall this British nationalistic ditty, which those of use in academia hear once a year:

Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance (1902)

Land of Hope and Glory,
Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee,
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.

The first requirement of nationalism is a cultural identity. In Germany, it was based on a common language, and a romantic vision of unity going back to Charlemagne (the "First Reich"). Otto von Bismarck used this vision to trick most of the nations of Europe into war, using the unity caused by a common enemy to weld a Second Reich. In France, it was based upon citizenship, harking back to the ideals of the French Revolution. In the United States, it took a concept of Union fought out in a bloody Civil War. But in nations like Russia, rulers brutally suppressed reforms, considering their nationalism to be personal territory.

Nationalism today is the guiding force of geo-politics, and the main cause of war.


Feminism is, by one definition, the philosophy that women are equal members of humanity to men. Certainly this idea did not emerge in the 19th century, and it can be traced much further back than Mary Wollstonecraft. But Wollstonecraft was one of the first to articulate feminist ideas in writing in the West. By 1848, American women had met at the Seneca Falls convention to demand equality, and soon the movement had focused on two areas: property rights and suffrage (the right to vote). These were based on the desire to apply Locke's (and Jefferson's) liberal ideas to women. These had been expanded in the work of Wollstonecraft, who focused on education of citizens, and Olympe de Gouges, who demanded liberal rights during the French Revolution.

19th century socialism had a profound impact on feminism, because socialists automatically allocated to women the right to be equal members of society.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Feminists within the socialist camp believed that all of society had to be reformed to obtain equality. Others believed that women's rights could be obtained within a current system, although often it was socialists who pushed the feminist agenda through the liberal system. By 1870, the most forceful liberal feminists were focusing on obtaining suffrage, the right to vote.

One example would be Richard Pankhurst, who drafted laws in England, the first permitting unmarried female heads-of-household to vote, the second a law permitting married women to control their own property. His young wife, Emmeline, became a leader of the feminist movement in England, a role she continued with two of her daughters. She experienced continual frustration trying to get Parliament to vote for suffrage; by 1905 the public had lost interest in the issue. Her solution was to use the same sort of violent protest utilized by liberal revolutionaries and socialist agitators. Willingness to restort to violence marked the difference between a suffragist and a suffragette.

book Workbook document:
Pankhurst's My Own Story (1914)
Suffrage Cartoon

This American cartoon reflects one popular concern regarding women's suffrage: that women would abandon their domestic responsibilities in favor of political life. Women's suffrage seemed to counter everything that Victorian womanhood stood for.

This conservative view ignored the fact that despite Victorian protections, many women had been participating in politics for years. They had been active in all the liberal revolutions, and in socialist and radical groups. They had influenced their husbands' votes, sometimes through their perspective as charity workers and volunteers for the poor. Emmeline Pankhurst herself had worked as a Guardian in the workhouses; in fact it was her horror at conditions there for women that turned her toward feminism.


Please keep in mind that suffrage does not mean equality; it only means the right to vote. National suffrage would be given to American women, for example, in 1919. But any efforts to obtain social or economic equality could put feminism in the radical, rather than the liberal, camp. The suffrage movement undoubtedly benefitted from having its goals seen as liberal, compared to the radical goals of the socialists. And whenever the ideal of total equality came up at the meetings of suffrage society, the goal was set aside in the interest of achieving the vote. Some radical feminists thus saw the suffrage movement as not going far enough.

So how is feminism related to modern nationalism? In many cases, the goals of liberal feminists mirrored those of liberal nationalists, desirous of making their nation one with a legitimate government reliant on its people and their political participation. Feminists frequently pointed out women's role in making the nation great, although not all supported expansionistic or imperial goals.


Motives for Empire

Europe had been influencing global trade, and dominating much of it, since the 17th century. But in the 19th century, some European nations began setting concrete goals for the management of empire. These goals could go beyond the exploitation of natural resources, although they usually emphasized political control for the sake of economic gain.

Rhodes cartoon

Cecil Rhodes' moderate ambitions for Africa: the Cape-to-Cairo Railway

This "new" imperialism was based on several motives.

Social Darwinism was certainly prominent among them. Each nation believed that they represented the finest of European civilization, and imperialists felt that the expansion of European culture would be of benefit to all mankind. Cecil Rhodes, who was English, believed that the Anglo-Saxon people had a particular responsibility to take over nations of "lesser" peoples.

bookWorkbook document: Rhodes: Confession of Faith (1877)

Countering the argument that imperialism brought peace and prosperity, others like Hobson noted the continual war and exploitation inherent in imperialism.
bookWorkbook document: Hobson on Imperialism (1902)

I confess that I'm having some problem writing this section, as I see the United States heading toward the same type of empire achieved by Britain and France by the end of the 19th century. I hear the same arguments Rhodes made over 100 years ago (now in "politically correct" language) being made by those who support a "safer" world through the domination of other nations and the denial of their right to self-determination. I am not the only one noticing the parallel, if current sales of books on British imperialism are any indication.

Please see this map of territories to explore the world of empire as of 1914.

Brighton Pavilion
Brighton Pavilion, in Britain,
looks like an Indian palace

Is imperialism simply an extension of nationalism? Can a nation become so proud that it simply expands internationally as its "manifest destiny"? The causes are rather more complex than that. The imperialist adventure began with economics, the desire to obtain certain resources, and then control them. Governments which refused to cooperate, or which created instability in the region, were replaced with local rulers friendly to the imperialist power. In some cases, European governments directly ruled (as the British did in India) after conditions went beyond the ability of companies to control. In many cases, the imperialist power had to put down local insurgencies against its domination, as the U.S. did in the Philippines in 1899 after "liberating" them from the Spanish. In most cases, locals who could benefit took the side of the conquering power. Culturally, what resulted in these places was a fusion of European and local traditions, each having an impact.

Recently, historians have also noted a sexual aspect to imperialism. In this construct, the conquered country represents the Victorian woman. She is weak, exotic, compliant, natural. The imperialistic nation is the man, dominating, strong, confident. This motif was seen often in art and music of the 19th and early 20th centuries, because imperialism brought images of exotic worlds to the attention of Europeans and Americans. It influenced opera, Madama Butterfly being a prime example as the story of a U.S. naval officer who marries a Japanese geisha and then abandons her.

book Workbook document: Puccini, Giacosta, Illica -- Madama Butterfly (1902)

Daniel Headrick: Tools of Empire

With economic motivations so strong as early as the 16th and 17th century, the question is why Europe did not create imperialism earlier. The answer is because Europe did not have the ability to enter the continents of Asia, South America, and Africa until the 19th century, a subject explored by historian Daniel Headrick.

According to Headrick, there were two problems:"Picture of Ships" the first was topography, and the second was disease. Sailing ships required a deep draught in the water for their pointed hulls, and wind for sails. They were also made of wood. In the tropics, the rivers were shallow, there was no wind, and the wood rotted. Diseases included killers like malaria and fever, to which many local people had developed immunity. Several expeditions into Africa, like the Mungo Park expedition in 1805, had ended with everyone dead. This was why trade with Africa, South America and Asia (including India) had meant trade with coastal peoples, who obtained the goods (including slaves) from the interior of the continents.

In South America, Jesuits had discovered a palliative for malaria in the 18th century when they noted that the natives chewed on the bark of the cinchona tree. French chemists distilled the substance quinine from the cinchona bark, and it Gin and tonicwas tried as a cure for malaria, with mixed results. It took a while to realize that quinine was a prophylactic rather than a treatment; it worked if taken in advance and continually while in the tropics. In other words, it was a tonic rather than a cure.

In India, the British created quinine "tonic water", and mixed it with gin, creating the gin and tonic. This is the classic drink of the British Raj.

Industrialization took care of the other problem, as metal steamboats were created with flat bottoms that could go up tropical rivers.


Symbolic Art

From about 1865 until the Great War began in 1914, artistic endeavor experienced something of a metamorphosis, the heart of which was an argument over what constituted art.

Bouguereau exhibit
A typical Academy painting by Adolphe-William Bouguerau, who said, "In painting, I'm an idealist. I see only the beautiful in art and, for me, art is the beautiful. Why reproduce what is ugly in nature?"
In the first half of the 19th century, schools of painting had certain standards and particular subjects that were considered acceptable by the "Academy". For example, classical subjects and settings were appropriate, as were Biblical subjects, so long as they were handled in an accepted manner. Mild eroticism was appreciated by those in the know. But the post-Napoleonic revolutionary spirit, a desire for newness, compounded by new forms of nationalism, the experiences of empire, and wars for unification, created an experimental era for art.

Influences of Imperialism

Contact with other cultures influenced many artists, especially the flat perspectives of Japanese painting and the tribal arts of Africa.

Gauguin, Paul
The Vision After the Sermon
(Jacob Wrestling with the Angel)


Gaughin and other painters used the traditional life of Brittany, in northern France, to create exotic landscapes. In this picture, women are seeing a vision after hearing a sermon. Notice the flat perspective.

Brittany painting


Manet painting
Edouard Manet, Dejeuner sur l'herbe
(Luncheon on the Grass) 1863
Manet painting
Edouard Manet, Olympia (1863)

These pictures by Manet represent a break with the traditions of 19th century painting, though Manet did not intend this. Although other painters had used realism to depict the plight of the poor or the elegance of the natural world, Manet's Luncheon on the Grass shockingly showed two clothed men with a naked woman (some called it "Who's For Lunch?") and Olympia looked like a Parisian prostitute, looking right into the "camera". His background of Dejeuner is impressionistic; the trees look like vague impressions of trees and don't have much detail.

Monet's Water Lilies

Claude Monet was another French painter, but in a very different mode. Monet's Water Lilies (1902) shows the ultimate extent of impressionism, as he painted the same subjects over and over in different light, examining the impressions of light, shadow and subject in a controlled environment.

Impressionism was, like romanticism and realism, a response to the industrial world. Now considered typical art, the impressionists were trying to do something very different.

Vienna Succession

Not everywhere did artistic norms change so radically; in Eastern Europe the painterly tradition was suffocating other artists. The response was the Viennese Succession movement.

One of the great works of the succession was Klimt's Beethoven Frieze(1902).

Art of the Western World:
Episode 8: Into the Twentieth Century

Beethoven frieze kiss

Now you can play Beethoven's 9th for yourself and look at this.


Edward Munch, The Scream (1893)

Munch was a Norwegian painter who specialized in images of psychological angst. He led the movement called German Expressionism, which focused on expressing the inner life of the mind. This paralleled efforts in psychology, particularly by Sigmund Freud, to access the subconscious.

Munch's The Scream

Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait Standing

Egon Schiele, was, by some accounts, paranoid, narcissistic, and possessed of an abberant sexuality which defied the norms of the day. Psychological profiles of him as an artist are rich with prurient references. Yet his genius drawings were recognized by artists like Klimt, to whom he wished to be a successor.

His pictures are seen, like Munch's, to represent internal torment. But many of his drawings of young girls were sold as pornography, making him a unique expressor of particular values.

Schiele self-portrait

Modern Art

Art was clearly becoming more modern. Between these years and the Great War in 1914, the symbolism of art became more abstract. Some samples:


Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. (1907)

Picasso developed the modern style of cubism, which was meant to represent looking at an image from several perspectives simultaneously. In this picture, a den of prostitution becomes a place of fear and mystery. Notice in the models on the right how cubism can distort the features, and begin to abstract them.

Mondrian painting

Mondrian, Piet
Composition No. II; Composition in Line and Color

This is a picture of an object abstracted into lines and color. Mondrian believed in divine order, in society as well as in art. Some have said his work is impressionistic, an effort to distill the experience with an object to keep its energy while rejecting it as an object with which one must relate. We head more and more toward geometric abstraction.

Fin de Siecle: Fashion

1894 fashion plate Recall that this is the style at the end of the 19th century and that, though it looks conservative to today's taste, it began modern fashions.
1903 fashion plate The long corset turned into an S-curve corset, said to be better for health because it took the pressure off the abdomen. Notice that the style is also slimming, and the waist, though tight, is moving below the natural waist. The Victorian habits of hair and hat are still there.
1899 fashion plate I show you this just as evidence of some underground nightlife; these clothes were worn in the gay 1890s by only the most sophisticated or most exotic. (You may recognize the style if you watch old Western movies; the siren in the saloon wears clothes like this.) Some Victorian standards were rejected by the elite upper class as well as the lower class who couldn't afford it.
1912 fashion plate By 1912, feminism had played a role in fashion. The hour-glass fertility symbol is gone, and in some cases the jacket was tailored like a man's. There is modesty, but a slimmer, more boyish line that will continue for some years. The man has become slightly more casual with his necktie, but in other ways is similar to before.



All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.