Second-to-Last Set of Book Summaries: Romanticism and Europe 1848 to the Great War

My oral exams are scheduled for this Friday. I still have two more essays full of European history that I don’t want to withhold from you. My essays for Heidi Voskuhl got increasingly longer and I felt a bit bad about it, but now that I’m studying for exams from my notes, I feel better about it. Guess why.

Works Read:
Europe before 1871 (Cont’d)

Breckman, Warren. 1999. Marx, the Young Hegelians, and the Origins of Radical Social Theory: Dethroning the Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Breckman, Warren. 2008. European Romanticism: A Brief History with Documents. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Beiser, Frederick C. 1992. Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism: The Genesis of Modern German Political Thought, 1790–1800. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Izenberg, Gerald N. 1992. Impossible Individuality: Romanticism, Revolution, and the Origins of Modern Selfhood, 1787–1802. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Porter, Roy, and Mikuláš Teich, eds. 1988. Romanticism in National Context. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Poggi, Stefano, and Maurizio Bossi, eds. 1994. Romanticism in Science: Science in Europe, 1790–1840. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 152. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Ruston, Sharon. 2013. Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Literature, Science and Medicine of the 1790s. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mitchell, Robert. 2013. Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tresch, John. 2012. The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Richards, Robert J. 2002. The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Holmes, Richard. 2008. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. New York: Vintage Books.


Europe 1848 to the Great War

Kocka, Jürgen, Allan Mitchell, and Gus Fagan, eds. 1993. Bourgeois Society in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Oxford: Berg.

Burrow, J. W. 2000. The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848–1914. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hughes, H. Stuart. 1958. Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890–1930. New York: Vintage Books.

Coen, Deborah R. 2007. Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Janik, Allan, and Stephen Toulmin. 1973. Wittgenstein’s Vienna. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Brown, Frederick. 2010. For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Jensen, Robert. 1994. Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siècle Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Gluck, Mary. 2005. Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Umbach, Maiken. 2009. German Cities and Bourgeois Modernism, 1890–1924. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

James, Harold. 2006. Family Capitalism: Wendels, Haniels, Falcks, and the Continental European Model. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

As a postscript to the previous essay, let us begin this one with Warren Breckman’s first book, Marx, the Young Hegelians, and the Origins of Radical Social Theory, an intellectual history of Hegelian and anti-Hegelian thought in the 1830s and 1840s. Breckman draws on contemporary books as well several newspapers and periodicals. He focuses on his protagonists’ thought as an integral part of Vormaerz intellectuality and, more specifically, on Karl Marx’s break with Hegel’s categories of individuality and personhood in unity with the divine and on Marx’s appropriation of Hegel’s thought for his own political theory. This is a detailed expansion on a period already covered by Terry Pinkard in chapters 9 onwards through the lens of post-Kantian thought and at the same time in conversation with the following books on Romanticism as idealism as Romanticism fell victim to the rise of the same positivist ideology. Mostly outside of Romantic thought, with the exception of his treatment of the Saint-Simonians in chapter 5, Breckman traces the ways in which idealism was superseded by positivism and other attempts to solve “the social question.” A further parallel between the following literature on Romanticism and Breckman’s account is his emphasis that philosophy, theology, and politics were deeply intertwined to the German thinkers of the 1830s and 1840s, a fact not necessarily acknowledged in the historiography.

The first two chapters treat the Hegelian philosophy surrounding the questions of personality, individual freedom, the nature of God, and the function of religion in society (ch. 1) as well as the critique of Hegel’s seemingly (but not quite) pantheist concept of personhood, because it opposed orthodox Christian ideas of divine sovereignty as well as Restoration ideologies of the divine justification of personal authority in a hierarchical society (ch. 2). Breckman provides chapters on the philosophical, religious, social, and political critiques of Ludwig Feuerbach (ch. 3), Eduard Gans (ch. 4), Heinrich Heine (ch. 5), Moses Hess (ch. 5), and August Cieszkowski (ch. 5), tracing the radicalization of (Left) Hegelians in the 1840s that aimed at “dethroning the [Christian concept of the] self.” Finally, chapters on Arnold Ruge (ch. 6) and Karl Marx (ch. 7) detail the further radicalization of political and social critique for which Hegel’s philosophy was appropriated. Marx was the most radical Hegelian, Breckman argues, and also the one who most decisively disentwined theology and socio-political critique in the aftermath of Hegel, only to turn the earlier Hegelians’ critique of Christian orthodoxy and their anti-social and anti-political fantasy of the individual self into a critique of liberalism and the demand to socialize the now dethroned and un-divined self. Moreover, Breckman engages with the prominent question of Buergerlichkeit. He makes clear that Hegel’s concept of the buergerliche Gesellschaft included both dimensions of the term to be expanded upon in Juergen Kocka et al.’s edited volume (see below): the community of citizens as well as the bourgeois individual in its economic relationships. Marx, however, reduced the Hegelian category to a one-dimensional capitalist bourgeois concept.

European Romanticism is a collection of excerpts from Romantic writings and several paintings, mostly English, German, and French, selected by Warren Breckman. He frames the volume with a 41-page historical introduction, a six-page “Chronology of European Romanticism (1789–1848)” (pp. 194 ff), and twelve sets of “Questions for Consideration” (pp. 200 f). In addition, each of the primary sources is fashioned with a short biographical note for the artist and an explanation of the relevance of their work. The volume is an excellent teaching resource and a fabulous introductory companion to the topic.

The introduction, titled “A Revolution in Culture,” presents Romanticism as a “new sensibility” that was a consequence of—though not a “reflex response” (p. 14) to—the unrest surrounding the French Revolution that permeated all of Europe in the 1820s and 1830s, when France joined the Romantic club with a few decades of delay. All of these individuals shared a “quest for the most radical emancipation of the creative person(,) and … a yearning for connection with something larger and grander than the self, whether with nature and God or with community and nation”; in other words, the goal of Romantics was “not the obliteration of the individual but a harmonious and endlessly enriching exchange between the individual and the totality” (p. 4). As the reader notices, this is a tension, if not a contradiction. Breckman suggests that the unattainable wish of both individuality and universal harmony caused “frustration and instability” in the Romantic movement (p. 4), making it a “dynamic” (p. 4), dualistic, and dialectic movement as well represented in Hegel’s idea of dialectical history.

Breckman further explains that Romanticism was a push-back against Enlightenment rationality, Neoclassicism, and the conviction that individuals’ common features entitle them to equal rights. Instead, subjective experience and expression was favored over ‘beauty’, relativism, spontaneity, and uniqueness were championed. The metaphoric for the self, the state, and the universe shifted from a machine to an organism, Breckman shows. The Romantic focus on individuality rather than on formal rights and virtues also stimulated the loosening of gender roles in the artistic realm, allowing significantly more women to succeed as writers and socialize with men, in particular in Germany. The desire for synthesis and harmony, however, did not prevent negative nationalism; for instance, the German patriotism that was born out of a resistance “against all things French” (p. 24), in particular in the cultural realm (cf. the Grimm brothers). This reaction was paralleled in England, Breckman adds, and thus forgoes any Sonderweg debate.

Frederick Beiser’s monograph Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism, is a sequel to his work The Fate of Reason (see previous essay). It zooms in on one decade of Romantic philosophy and literature in Germany and the increasingly politicized discourses about ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology. Beiser focuses on thinkers representative for their age and neither tries to resurrect forgotten individuals nor focuses on the then rather unknown figures who came to fame only in the 19th century (incl. Schelling and Hegel). He aims at debunking the claim put forth by A.L.G. de Stael in 1806 already that 18th-century Germans were an apolitical people, in particular the philosophers, a view reaffirmed by Heine, Marx, and Engels. In doing so, Beiser also advocates for an approach to philosophy that goes beyond analytical assessments of arguments and includes moral contexts and political intentions of philosophical works. It is questionable how contemporary the opinions he pushes back against were, even at the time he wrote his book, since much of the historiography he engages with is from the first half of the 20th century.

Resonating with Peter Fritzsche’s work (see previous essay), Beiser emphasizes the historical break that was felt by the Germans in the 1790s as a sense of the impossibility to “return to the old days when the people had a blind faith in their princes and obeyed them without question” after “[t]he Revolution had shaken all the old certainties; but it did not provide a model to imitate” (p. 363). It is certainly questionable whether obedience before the French Revolution was without any resistance, but the drastic change in political and social realities, after Enlightened reason had failed to prevent terror and institute democracy, certainly stimulated experimental thinking. Beiser argues that these events contributed to a division of German thinkers in liberals (Part I), Romantics (all building strongly on Herder’s thought; Part II), and conservatives (Part III).

Beiser defines liberalism as “a reaction against paternalism” advocating for a state that would “not … promote the welfare of the people, but … protect their rights” (p. 16) so that each individual could realize their potential to the fullest, to a large degree unrestrained by social and political demands; this includes a limited reach of the state and a strong constitution but no economic system was coherently proposed by the liberals of the 1790s. Many of these characteristics were shared by the late-18th-century Romantic movement, with two important exceptions: the Romantics advocated for an element of communal harmony in addition to individualism void of elitism and occasionally exhibited tendencies towards anarchism. Much in contrast to the liberal and Romantic rebellion against paternalism and their quest for individualism, conservatives advocated for “the guiding hand of government” in a strong state that would actively intervene to “promote the welfare, religion, and morality of its subjects” (p. 19). These categories are certainly very broad—Beiser admits that particularly liberalism had many interior divisions: right-wing, left-wing, monarchists, etc.—but help navigate the diversity of German political thought in the late 18th century. This restates Porter and Teich’s point that Romanticism was only one out of several parallel intellectual and aesthetic movements at the time.

With Impossible Individuality, Gerald Izenberg provides a psychoanalytic reading of three major Romantic thinkers: Friedrich Schlegel, William Wordsworth, and Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand. Drawing on his main characters’ biographies and close readings of their relevant publications as well as notebooks and letters, Izenberg shows that individuality was a concept of inherent polarity: on the one hand full of liberating promise, on the other hand drenched with frightening destructive potential. Izenberg identifies authority as a crucial principle to the development of Schlegel’s, Wordsworth’s, and Chateaubriand’s ideas. He relates the absence of the mother and the authoritarian father figure to the thinkers’ “sense of marginality and exclusion,” a first level on which he talks about authority, and interprets these experiences as the grounds for “a competitive desire for high personal achievement … and asserting their selves” (p. 309). This is the second level on which authority comes into play: the Romantics’ longing for individual authority, explained by an oedipal complex.

Using a psychoanalytic framework, Izenberg explains the three figures’ increasing orthodoxy in religious matters and conservativism regarding political questions after their significant contributions to early European Romanticism. Izenberg suggests that this reactionary change in ideals was caused by Schlegel’s, Wordsworth’s, and Chateaubriand’s feelings of guilt towards their deceased fathers (or older brothers) about the Romantic rebellion and the attempt to “[displace] defunct authorities … by the self” (p. 310). Though based in part on concrete evidence in letters and other writings, I find the strong internalist claims of psychological causes a bit far-fetched.

Izenberg is in line with Breckman when he suggests that Romanticism had a lasting impact on modern thought, but Izenberg sees this legacy in a much more pessimistic light: “the Romantics’ concept of individuality as ultimate authority and as infinite foundation of meaning left a legacy of problems for psychological identity, gender relations, social ethics, and political theory that we are far from having mastered” (p. 311). His exposition of gender relations in the introduction is exceptionally thoughtful, pointing to the ways in which Romanticists gendered different aspects of selfhood, for instance, in their concepts of the ungendered universal modern self versus the male aggressive infinite self and the hope for salvation from destruction by feminine powers. Yet, the remainder of the work does not substantiate these observations outside of psychoanalytical considerations and neither “gender” nor “woman” or “women” can be found in the index.

Roy Porter and Mikuláš Teich’s edited volume, Romanticism in National Context, attends marvelously well to the cultural differences throughout Europe, presenting one chapter each on Romanticism in England, Wales, Ireland, Scandinavia, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Russia, and Germany (avant la lettre). The editors choose the demarcations of 1789 and 1848 for the Romantic period, but many of the contributors illustrate the persistence of Romanticism until the late 19th century. The contributors choose different approaches to the topic. Generally, the authors emphasize the written word, but they also attend to the visual arts and debates surrounding language. Some of the contributors trace the careers of individual Romantic thinkers and artists, others put specific influential writings in the center of their chapter. The contributions aim at illustrating “diversity in unity, and unity in diversity” (p. 7), that is, the volume is supposed to show, on the one hand, how philosophies and aesthetics overlapped, for instance, in the Romantics’ championing of individual experience and expression and their contempt for the alleged bourgeois rest of society. On the other hand, it becomes clear that Romantic style and thought were not uniform, creating a period of the coexistence and interaction of several Romanticisms rather than one overarching homogeneous period.

In the chapter about England, Marilyn Butler challenges the notion that “Romanticism [w]as an artistic expression of the French Revolution,” because, as she shows, English poets had been incorporating values like equality, liberty, and nationhood into their work decades before the French Revolution (p. 51). In contrast to this, other contributors show that the decades around 1800 could be very unromantic. Tom Dunne argues that Romanticism never took a hold in Ireland until towards the end of the 19th century, if at all, since Irish art and literature was occupied with working through their colonization by the British. Individual “Romantic Impulses” were “absorbed” into Gaelic culture and resistance against the English, he concludes (p. 88). Similarly, Greek Romanticism was stimulated by the war against the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s, we learn from Roderick Beaton. The formation of the Greek state both supported and was promoted by Romantic ideas of nationhood, including the making of a collective tradition and a shared language.

Nicholas Rupke’s judgment is that Romanticism “was a minority phenomenon” in the Netherlands (p. 212), stimulated—again—by the domination of outside forces and political unrest in the country: the rule of France, Orangist nationalism, and Calvinist orthodoxy provoked a Romantic reaction that was limited to a few writers and scientists, most notably Willem Bilderdijk. In Germany, England, and France, Romanticism appears to have been most encompassing: literature, painting, music, science, medicine, history (cf. Fritzsche in the previous essay), religion, education, and considerations of how to live one’s life were permeated by the new values and aesthetics. Dietrich von Engelhardt distinguishes three phases within Romanticism and explains that some of the most famous writers, for instance, cannot be clearly identified as (only) Romantics. As always, the retrospective can make unnecessarily rigid classifications. Nonetheless, the turn away from idealism (Hegel, Schelling), the use of irony, a renewed spiritual interest, political liberalism, and the emphasis on individualism and nationalism unified many Romantic thinkers. In particular the latter two of these transformations of aesthetics and the experience of one’s inner life and society, Susan Kirkpatrick argues in the introduction to her chapter about Spain, made possible the transformation of Europe into full-scale capitalist societies and bourgeois nation states; this is a very convincing push back against the thesis that these developments caused Romanticism, in particular in combination with the argument in the England chapter mentioned above.

Stefano Poggi and Maurizio Bossi’s edited volume Romanticism in Science comprises fourteen contributions that highlight issues in the history of the natural sciences, mathematics, linguistics, education, and anthropology, most of which are authored by German or Italian scholars. As a reviewer of the book pointed out, not all of the chapters focus on genuinely Romantic science; several of the contributions treat positivistic endeavors that can be better described as Enlightenment rather than Romantic science, a distinction not always easy to make as Sharon Ruston emphasizes as well (see below). Whereas Porter and Teich’s edited volume cautiously attends to the similarities and differences of Romanticism as one of several coexisting aesthetic and intellectual movements, this volume seems to treat Romanticism as an overarching and dominant historical period in Europe between 1790 and 1840, connected by “a unitary vision of the universe” (p. ix). This is also the only hint the editors provide as to how the individual contributions in this volume are connected to each other; the reader can only guess that the contributors mean to show the importance of scientific thought around 1800 for nowadays’ knowledge, an inference supported by the unfortunate presentist tendencies in some of the contributions.

Chapter 3, by Ferdinando Abbri, addresses the question of “Romanticism versus Enlightenment.” By contrasting H. Davy’s Romantic appropriation of A. Lavoisier’s Enlightened science, he points to the epistemological difference between Lavoisier’s aim of creating “a physical-quantitative science of chemical changes and of their observable causes” (p. 38) and Davy’s desire for aesthetically pursuing questions in an interconnected, metaphysically-laden universe. Abbri concludes that, despite all differences between Lavoisier and Davy, chemistry’s roots lay in the Enlightenment, an assertion that supports my aforementioned speculation regarding the goal of this volume. Amongst the remaining, mainly highly empirical and untheorized, contributions, Poggi’s own contribution is one of the more analytical studies that stand out (ch. 9). Titled “Neurology and Biology in the Romantic Age in Germany,” this is a clear, well-structured study of the philosophical and aesthetic concepts at work in German brain research around 1800. Other studies shed more light on well and lesser-known figures in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands during this period.

In Creating Romanticism, Sharon Ruston chooses the same periodization as Beiser in order to provide case studies that exemplify how Romanticism permeated English sciences and medicine, not only the arts and philosophy. Several contributors to Porter and Teich’s edited volume have already made clear some of the national contexts in which Romantic science was performed, but Ruston digs deeper, drawing not only on works of literature, but also on publications in periodicals, diaries, notebooks, and letters, some of which have not been published yet. Another similarity to Beiser’s monograph is Ruston’s argument that Romanticism was political; Romantic science and medicine were as political as the literature and philosophy. With considerable attention towards women—most notably Joanna Baillie, Mary Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft—, Ruston argues that there was an intimate two-way connection between science and medicine on the one hand and literary texts and politics on the other hand. On the one hand, some scientific and medical writings were full of Romantic metaphoric and written in a sometimes rather literary style, other Romantic thinkers used science to distance themselves from it and define their own position in the scholarly world as artists (e.g., William Wordsworth; Introduction); on the other hand, artists and politicians oftentimes appropriated and challenged scientific ideas and employed them to their own ends (chs. 1 and 3). Consequently, science and medicine were important in making Romanticism (an anachronistic term, as Ruston emphasizes). In short, “science, medicine, and literature were not separate cultures” (p. 176). But who is this still surprised by this conclusion in 2013?

A second argument Ruston makes concerns the poet and chemist Humphry Davy. Uncovering the widespread personal networks between poets, politicians, scientists, and other notable Romantics, Ruston shows that her actors were not solitary thinkers but well-connected communicators. She also observes that Davy is part of most of these networks and thus identifies him as a central Romantic figure of more influence than hitherto assumed, always searching for, appropriating, and adapting the sublime in both of his fields. Furthermore, Ruston emphasizes that Romanticism is a set of heterogeneous movements, not a single ideology, as Breckman and the contributors to Porter and Teich’s volume have already made clear.

New is, first, Ruston’s depictions of her actors’ investigations into the authority of science and pseudoscience, most notably Wollstonecraft, who questioned natural history and concluded that women’s inferiority is a learned characteristic (ch. 1), and her husband William Godwin, who studied the ways in which mesmerism allegedly deceived individuals to trust its unfounded authority (ch. 2). Second, not seen in any of the works discussed so far is Ruston’s repeated assertion that it is particularly hard to distinguish between Enlightened and Romantic works, an observation that makes Beiser’s rigid divisions between liberals, Romantics, and conservatives even more questionable. Overall, these case studies are fascinating but do not seem to necessarily support Ruston’s major claims in the best possible ways, except for her fourth chapter on Davy. Chapters 1, most importantly 2, and to some extent also 3 read more like late-18th-century negotiations of disciplinary and public authority as well as boundary work between science, non-science, and art.

Professor of English Robert Mitchell extends the analysis of the interplays between English science and literature throughout the Romantic era with Experimental Life. He focuses on a one-sided influence, that of science on literature, and argues that Romantic writers have incorporated experimental methods and vitalist concepts into their works, a practice of which had lasting influences on literature and art. Mitchell draws on contemporary published sources, which he theorizes with the help of scholarship originating from the fields of STS, history(,) and philosophy of science.

After a conceptual and historical introduction of the term “experimental” (ch. 1), Mitchell presents five thematic case studies that shed light on the different ways in which Romantic scientists have experimentally engaged with processes and forces of life. He also portrays the ways in which Romantic writers have taken up and appropriated this knowledge for their own productive ends; for instance, scientific studies on suspended animation are mirrored by Keats’s and Shelley’s attempts to create suspended states of consciousness—trance—with their poetry (ch. 2). Moreover, medical attempts to redirect the life paths of individuals, for instance, Coleridge’s moving in with his physician Gillman in order to get his drug addiction under control, are real-life instances of literary life orientation problems as exemplified in Frankenstein (ch. 3). The final chapter turns to “Cryptogamia,” or the “Romantic fascination with the strange life of plants” (p. 191), in which Mitchell argues that Romantic scientists were not only intrigued by the looks and taxonomy of plants but deeply fascinated by their organic force and their similarity to other living organisms, an idea that Romantic writers adopted to create strong botanical metaphors of life, reproduction, and death, and to display the realms of humans and plants as deeply intertwined (ch. 6). Eventually, Mitchell suggests that “neo-vitalisms” (p 13) see life as capital that can and should be tapped and suggests that studies of 21st-century biopolitics may thus benefit from considering Romantic vitalism and the ways in which it was different or similar to now contemporary ideas.

John Tresch’s The Romantic Machine is a study of the interconnectedness between Romantic science and art on a much broader and deeper level than Ruston’s as well as more synthesized and better contextualized than Mitchell’s. It offers insight into French Romanticism from 1815 through 1851, during the years of the Restoration and the July Monarchy. Tresch anchors his study in industrializing Paris, illustrating the ways in which various scientists, artists, and social thinkers embraced modern technology in order to “integrat[e] all aspects of humanity into a living synthesis” (p. 22). In opposition to the previously mentioned accounts, Tresch argues that shunning machines and mechanism was not integral to French Romanticism; instead, the traditional view of dead or rational technologies that are directed by outside forces (“balances, levers, and clocks”; p. xi) was replaced by new ‘machines’ (including orchestras, operas, and calendars) that were enchanted and able to enchant. In Tresch’s own words, “[t]he exemplary machines of the romantic era, powered by steam, electricity, and other subtle forces, could be seen to have their own motive force within them” (p. 12). These machines, Tresch shows, were conceived of as intimately linked to human experience and as crucial instruments “in establishing truth” (p. xi).

Tresch draws on now empirical and theoretical publications for his three-part study. In Part I, “Devices of Cosmic Unity,” he looks at Romantic physics, geophysics, astronomy, and the uses of the daguerreotype, illuminating the ways in which the scientists were inspired by and contributed to contemporary philosophical and aesthetic ideas. Part II, “Spectacles of Creation and Metamorphosis,” exemplifies the ways in which the arts were closely linked to the natural sciences with regard to their methods and spiritual as well as social aspirations. They also harnessed developments in optics, mechanics, and natural history in order to produce “popular spectacles” (p. 23), for instance, in concerts, operas, museums, and industrial exhibitions. Finally, Part III turns to even more social instruments, those of utopian philosophies of alternative social orders. Titled “Engineers of Artifical Paradises,” this part covers Saint-Simonian ideas of conversion to the “New Christianity” that were laden with engineering metaphors, the “pianotype” as a typesetting technology with the potential to liberate ‘the worker’ and promote social community through improved means of communication, and the paper technologies and positivist utopia of Auguste Comte.

Where Izenberg debates the polarity of individualism, Tresch illustrates the ambiguous relationship of Romantic thinkers to industrialization and the sometimes hopeful, sometimes pessimistic relationship between the two. Before the revolutions of 1848, industrialization, despite all its negative aspects, which the Romantics were clearly aware of, promised to allow for new technological imaginations, political orders, social models, ways of communication, intellectual concepts, and spiritual pursuits. This optimism died with the institution of the Second Empire. Nonetheless, Tresch’s history is meant to teach contemporary societies a lesson, namely that “even if solutions must be small and local, they require a conceptual and aesthetic frame that is dee and wide” (p. 26). He provides apt examples for how a few Frenchmen in the early 19th century took these approach, only where women or other ‘subaltern’ fit in remains an open question.

If one has the impression that Breckman, Beiser, Ruston, Richards, and Poggi and Bossi’s collaborators focus too much on the intellectual sides of Romanticism, then Robert Richards’s The Romantic Conception of Life could be appealing. Its deep and detailed tracing of the personal relationship between Romantic scholars in Germany (prior to ca. 1830) are almost too meticulous and take up large parts of the book. But Richards does not provide psychoanalytical readings of his characters like Izenberg does; his goal is to show the genesis of Romantic scientific thought and praxis as rooted within the biographies and social relations (friendships, love affairs, competition, losses, disease, travels, etc.) of individuals including the Schlegel brothers, Novalis, Caroline Boehmer, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Schelling (Part I), Kielmeyer, and J.C. Reil (Part II), leading up to the argument that Goethe (particular with regards to his morphological studies; Part III) and, eventually, Darwin and Erns Haeckel (Part IV) were Romantic thinkers and scientists. Richards argues that Romantics have practiced serious natural science and that their scientific aesthetics and moral values remained with biology at least until Darwinism, and most likely to this day.

He draws from biographies, autobiographies, historical works, and on published letters, diaries, notebooks, etc.; from the Acknowledgements, it seems as if he also utilized archival sources in Europe and the US, but these are not listed in the reference section. In some ways, this history is the German complement to Tresch’s history of Romantic science in technology, but it would be more apt to call it a forerunner of it. Whereas Tresch sees it as established that the Romantic movement also permeated and was driven by scientific pursuits and technological inventions devices, Richards’s main concern is to prove precisely this point.

With almost equal attention to biographic detail as Richards but with much more popular appeal, Richard Holmes’s The Age of Wonder provides an account of English Romantic natural philosophers, their scientific practice, their technological means and aspirations (in particular the air balloon), as well as their personal and professional relationships, including role models admired from afar. Drawing on the archival papers of the Herschel siblings, on published primary sources, and on historical accounts, Holmes provides insight into the collaborations between scientists, the relationships with their families and friends, with financial supporters, scientific institutions, and the industries for supplies from roughly 1770 to 1830. Like Mitchell, Ruston, and Tresch have already made clear, Holmes also considers the close relations between art and ‘science’ or natural philosophy. The book is driven by a remarkable enthusiasm for the enchanted science of the Romantic period; Holmes advocates for a re-inspiration of 21st-century research by pointing out that “we need the three things that a scientific culture can sustain: the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe” (p. 469). Accordingly, Holmes frames the book with an autobiographical prologue and epilogue, never hiding his own fascination for both now and then contemporary science.

The absence of academic jargon, complex theoretical frameworks, or long notes in combination with the title, lucid prose, beautiful colored plates, a 13-page “Cast List,” and a thematically organized bibliography suggest an intended readership beyond academic circles. This is not surprising as Holmes has published many biographies of wide appeal before, most notably those on several of the Romantic individuals he includes in The Age of Wonder. In contrast to Richards, who mentions women mainly as objects of his actors’ love affairs, or Izenberg, who embeds them into psychoanalytical frameworks, Holmes pays remarkable attention to women and treats, for instance, Caroline Herschel as not only her brother’s assistant but an astronomer in her own right. Nonetheless, the two major figures of this account are two men, namely musician and astronomer William Herschel and chemist and poet Humphry Davy. Joseph Banks, a botanist and diplomat, is a third person who permeates the story “as a kind of chorus figure or guide” (p. xxi), who became the President of the Royal Society during four very formative decades. Holmes pays particular attention to research on “nebulae” (Herschels), air and gases (Davy), and the attempt to harness this knowledge for ballooning (Banks). Accounts of scientific expeditions show in similar ways how the Romantic minds were striving for knowledge beyond traditional material and geographical boundaries. It is striking that the French Revolution is not linked to these observations, probably a consequence of the never explicitly analytical focus of the book.

Juergen Kocka et al.‘s edited volume provides a comparative analysis of Bourgeois Society in Nineteenth-Century Europe. The seventeen contributions are selections from a 3-volume collection that was published in German in 1988. The authors focus on Germany, France, and Britain, but the present volume also includes chapters on Italy, Hungary, or German Jews as individual society (Part IV). Many of the contributions are comparative within themselves, focusing on German and Britain (Part II), Germany and France (Part III), or on Europe more broadly (Part I). The volume as a whole helps make the analytically useful and contextually important distinctions between the concepts of middle class, bourgeoisie, Buergertum, consisting of Wirtschaftsbuergertum and Bildungsbuergertum, and borghesia. In addition, the observation that the German Buerger was at the same time a citizen and a member of the Buergertum (or literally translated the bourgeoisie) makes clear the differences between bourgeoisie, civil society, and liberalism.

Juergen Kocka’s “The European Pattern and the German Case” (ch. 1) lays out very clearly that the German Buergertum as it emerged in the 19th century in the industrialized/-ing capitalist German lands was no class according to Marx or Weber’s traditional definition as it comprised individuals of quite distinct economic power and self-determination. At the same time, it was not comparable to one of the traditional estates either, because this group of people was not offset from the rest by distinct social or political privileges. Instead, Kocka explains that the different German buergerliche subgroups shared an identity that was negatively defined, as the opponents of the traditional nobility and orthodox clergy. An additional factor that offset the Buerger from the traditional higher estates—and the working class, of course—was its distinct culture, which the Buergertum shared through education, forms of family life, and engagement with the arts in public and in private clubs.

Kocka also has interesting revisions to offer pertaining to the feudalization theory that seems to be an explanation for why the German Buergertum failed at liberating Germany, which eventually succumbed to National Socialism. Kocka explains that, on the one hand, the Buerger did in fact mingle with the old nobility and some of them even bought land and lived like the former aristocrats themselves in the later 19th century (the Grossbuergertum or haute bourgeoisie). In addition, after the first strong attacks of the Buerger against the nobility during the 1840s and particularly during the rise of the Wirtschaftsbuergertum between 1840 and 1870, the Buerger henceforth performed more boundary work on the lower end, towards the working classes, with whom the Buerger shared the city, whereas the nobility was out of sight on the countryside. On the other hand, he asserts, the cooperation between nobility and bourgeoisie was a broader European phenomenon, which, in fact, started much earlier in France and Britain than in Germany, as the Buergertum rose to power rather late in Germany as compared to its neighbors. Moreover, he asserts that the Buerger were constitutionally forced to share much of the political power with the nobility and they did not even mind doing so, since many of their goals aligned in the years leading up to the unification. Finally, in particular because of the geographical divide between the nobles and the Buerger in Germany, Kocka argues, the differences between the two groups got even more pronounced over the course of the second half of the 19th century in Germany than in Italy or Eastern European countries in which the aristocracy was not disempowered.

Curiously enough, Kocka nonetheless insists on the Sonderweg theory, stating that the bureaucratization of the German state and Buerger were an exclusively German development and hindered the Buerger to ally with other social groups and finally overpower the nobility and liberalize the German state. This division between the Buerger and the proletariat, several authors in this volume suggest, is a much more decisive characteristic of the German Sonderweg than the alliance with the nobility. Chapter 6 asserts that this division was so strong despite—or because—of the associations (Vereinswesen), in which working class individuals and Buerger encountered one another on theoretically friendly terrain but practically reinforced their differences. Further contributions spell out the aforementioned points in more detail in the European context, add sociological data, zoom in on the importance of business and entrepreneurship or the status of Jews in the Buergertum, use public health as a lens to look at modern bourgeois values, or even investigate into bourgeois morals and images of masculinity through the history of the duel. Solely chapter 9 illuminates women’s lives in 19th-century Europe, drawing on property rights and concluding that female members of the bourgeoisie and Buergertum experienced more relative disenfranchisement than virtually any other minority at the time.

  1. Burrow’s The Crisis of Reason is an intellectual history of the years between the revolutions of 1848 and WWI in Europe. Burrow focuses on philosophical, fictional, and scientific writings as well as other cultural products, such as operas and paintings, in the German countries, France, and Britain. He occasionally considers developments in Italy and Russia, too. The monograph is thematically structured and attends to the views of well- and lesser known figures and the ways in which they coped with the “disillusionment” (p. xii) after the failed revolutions in 1848. The wide range of writers and thinkers Burrow includes in his well-contextualized study is impressive. The reader has to take Burrow by his word, though, when he explains that this work does not provide an exhaustive history of the subject; similarly, the individuals mentioned are only referred to in as they fit Burrow’s project, which is not to provide an introduction into the works of the thinkers and writers he refers to. Slightly confusing as to the question of the intended audience is the absence of notes despite the academic tone of the book; instead, Burrow provides a short bibliographical essay for each individual chapter.

In chapters 1 and 2, Burrow focuses on “the Promises of Science” and the appeal of positivism in the ‘natural’ and social realms. He explains that the new excitement for scientific investigations into biology, psychology, social life, evolutionary theory, and human history more generally was “equally optimist” as the revolutions of 1848 but had a more lasting impact (p. xii). Chapter 3 illuminates the experienced and projected downsides to the alleged social progress illustrated in the previous chapters. Thinkers like K. Marx, T. Carlyle, W. Riehl, and F. Toennies argued and/or feared that the new technological and scientific possibilities to some extent and, most significantly, industrialized capitalism, urbanization, and bureaucratization lead to estrangement and a disintegration of traditional community and social cohesion. A discussion of imperial ideology and politics is surprisingly absent. Chapters 4 and 5 describe how the scientific, philosophical, and social challenges to late-19th-century notions of the self revitalized the quest for individuality and subjective experience in the early 20th century. Akin to the striving of the Romantics, privileged Europeans around 1900 came to re-appreciate ‘the Unconscious’, the irrational, or ‘the Dionysiac’, as F. Nietzsche called it.

Historian and veteran Stuart Hughes’s study of Consciousness and Society chronologically succeeds Burrow’s work as it treats the decades from 1890 to 1930, but it was published almost half a century earlier. Hughes provides an old-fashioned yet biographically well-integrated intellectual history that summarizes and relates “the thoughts and emotions of [a select group of white] men” (p. 3) from Germany, France, and Italy, born in the mid- to late 19th century. This “‘cluster’ of genius” (p. 17) allegedly produced high culture, that is, philosophy, psychology, social and political science, history, anthropology, theology, and literature. Drawing on the written works of these individuals, Hughes aims to provide detailed insight into the self-conscious belief in the power of the human unconscious and the limited nature of human freedom and rationality, which Burrow discusses in his fourth chapter in particular.

This is a history of turn-of-the-century thought that broke with both traditional Enlightened rationality and its reincarnation in late-19th-century positivism (ch. 2). Not “the technical development of social science” is Hughes’s concern, but to provide an account of “a common store of social and moral ideas available to men of a general humanistic education” that was created and passed on by the aforementioned individuals (p. 20). The new ideology is more closely related to the Romantic primacy of subjectivity and may be cautiously termed irrational, “neo-romantic,” or “neo-mystic(ism)” (p. 34), but is best captured as anti-positivist movement, Hughes suggests. The protagonists of this study derive their self-confidence from a new intuitive social theory with the irrational and oftentimes spiritually motivated human in the center, “open to metaphysical possibilities, yet wary of dogmatic assertion” (p. 32). Hughes makes explicit that he himself considers this the superior mode of inquiry over any historical alternative.

Chapter 3 engages with late 19th– / early 20th-century responses to Marxism and attempts to judge its usefulness for social theory that is doctrine-free, as much as possible unbiased, and not fatalistic. Chapter 4 describes Henri Bergson’s, Sigmund Freud’s, and Carl Jung’s more intuitive theories of the self and the unconscious and chapter 5 degrades Georges Sorel to a fanatic opponent of positivism whose contribution lay in raising the right questions to confront positivists with, rather than to come up with an apt social theory himself. Furthermore, the book provides lengthy treatments of social thinkers deemed positivists, including Emile Durkheim (chs. 2 and 8) and Vilfredo Pareto (ch. 7), the sooner of which radically turned away from positivism and towards neo-idealism (ch. 6) over the course of his life. Max Weber, then, overcame neo-idealism and replaced it with an economic-historical approach in his work (ch. 8). The First Moroccan Crisis in 1905 and WWI then, Hughes argues, stripped social science of its “sentimentality” and the romantic concepts of “social cohesion” and the “individual self” (p. 391; ch. 9). While some of the aged renowned anti-positivists were still around after WWI, new measured rationalists hit the scene and ended the anti-positivist versus positivist debate (ch. 11).

Deborah Coen’s monograph Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty traces the interplay of Science, Liberalism, and Private Life by following three generations of the Austrian Exner family, from 1840 to 1926. In Coen’s words, she provides “a study of a utopian project to train liberal minds on an imperial scale” (p. 15). She focuses on the private and public origins of the family’s liberal ideals and scientific theories by closely attending to their turn-of-the-century Vienna lives as well as the intimate relationships between family members and their research in the Exner summer retreat in Brunnwinkl by the Wolfgangsee. Coen draws from published scientific, philosophical, and pedagogical sources as well as a rich collection of manuscripts in German and Austrian archives. She complements her primary sources with empirical as well as theoretical secondary literature in German and English. Even though her sources are less polemical than Dagmar Herzog’s and they are from a Austria instead of Baden, Coen shows in similar ways the extent to which liberalism was rooted in both family life and education, thus spanning the private and the public realms—at least in the case of the Austrian Bildungsbuergertum. In fact, Coen argues, liberal families deliberately strived for a family life that would be an exemplar from what public life should look like, actively inviting debates and visitors that crossed the private-public boundary.

Two generations of Exners raised their children with liberal ideals and were closely linked to the state in their administrative, artistic, or scientific academic careers. By the 1860s, an emphasis on statistics became a quintessential feature of the Exners’ and other liberals’ ideological change “from certainty to doubt to probability” (p. 337). Probability theory and skepticism, as opposed to religious certainty, Hegelian mystical pietism, or social stability, became the foundation for the secularized education in the Gymnasien that philosopher Franz Exner fought for (ch. 1) and the ground on which the Exners built their professional research and intellectual ideas (ch. 2). Science and art performed in professional circles and the family as well as life lived in the capital and on the countryside educated broadly minded individuals, so the Exners believed (ch. 3; 6; 8).

This boundary-crossing life disintegrated when the public and the private spheres got increasingly indistinguishable around the turn of the 20th century, evidenced, for instance, in the legal divorce movement. Reactionary calls for middle-school and academic reforms in the 1900s questioned the suitability of bourgeois family models for public education (ch. 7). The rising socialist movement of the 1920s with its focus on worker education and social welfare challenged probability liberalism as well (ch. 9). The socialists incorporated statistical notions, but their movement went counter to the bourgeois model of apolitical liberalism. As Coen summarizes: “Where the nineteenth-century Bildungsbuergertum had built public education on a domestic model, early twentieth-century Austrian socialists attempted an inversion, opening up private life to public reform” (p. 340). It is important to note that the artists, lawyers, physicists, physicians, physiologists, meteorologists, historians, and biologists of the second and third Exner generations covered in Coen’s book still exhibited anti-Judaism and sexism (ch. 5) and some of them even converted to Nazism (Conclusion). This would be an interesting entry into the Sonderweg debate, but Coen decides to not join the conversation on this matter explicitly.

Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin’s co-authored monograph provides insight into Wittgenstein’s Vienna, providing a yet more focused study than Coen, published more than three decades before her study of the Exner family first came out. Janik and Toulmin argue that the main concerns in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only book Wittgenstein ever published (1921), derived from his cultural and social experiences as a young man in Vienna and a son to one of the richest families in the capital in the years leading up to WWI. After attending to the Viennese cultural richness and scientific prospering around 1900 as illustrated by Coen, this argument seems reasonable despite the fact that Wittgenstein received his philosophical training in Cambridge under Bertrand Russell after giving up his studies in engineering. Moreover, Pinkard’s work makes comprehensible the important legacy of neo-Kantian thought in the intellectual environment of Wittgenstein’s youth. To the liberally raised Wittgenstein, “logic and ethics were [and remained] essentially bound up with each other and with the critique of language” (p. 22). In particular, this also means that most of his British students and colleagues misunderstood Wittgenstein’s habits and social convictions as individual idiosyncrasies when, in fact, they were essential facets of this “integral and authentically Viennese genius who exercised his talents and personality on philosophy among other things, and just happened to be living and working in England” (p. 22). The authors arrive at this conclusion by drawing on historical works, contemporary philosophical publications, Wittgenstein’s letters, notebooks, and interviews with his descendants.

The authors observe how the political language no longer fit the political and social realities of the early 20th century and illustrate that the concept of language (ch. 3) and art (chs. 4 and 8) as representation was firmly established in the Viennese intellectual circles by 1910. The new concept of representational language included an acknowledgment of the hypocrisy of the popular press and the normative moral power of language (ch. 3). The Tractatus, thus, did not “initiate this discussion, but … [drew] the threads finally together by providing a completely general and definitive analysis” of “symbolisms and media of expressions” (p. 31). Like Pinkard shows for the neo-Kantians and Breckman for the German Hegelians, Wittgenstein’s philosophical thinking was primarily ethical, as he made explicit in his letters (p. 192; ch. 6). The aesthetic aspect of his work were overrated by his British colleagues and students (ch. 7). They never experienced the challenges to Viennese identities after the exclusion from the German Empire, the suicide or aestheticism of the privileged, alongside the housing crisis, prostitution, and the misery of the working classes, problems only superficially detained by the police state (ch. 2). But the Viennese did, and so “the Tractatus was a key book for Wittgenstein’s contemporaries” (p. 169).

Frederick Brown, biographer of Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola, provides an account of Fin-de-siecle France with his monograph For the Soul of France. The latent issues that came to the surface during the Dreyfus Affair (1894–1906) are central to the idea of the book, even though the actual account of the Affair takes up only one chapter. Brown uses the debate between the military, predominantly Catholic, anti-Dreyfusards and the republican, oftentimes secular, Dreyfusards as an anchor point around which to analyze the French society that was shattered by Napoleon III’s loss of the Franco-Prussian war (1870/1) and drenched with anti-Judaism. Between the table of contents and the Preface, the book provides a “Chronology” containing the names and dates of the “Principals” of Brown’s history as well as the major political developments between the 1848 Paris revolts and the proclamation of the Second Republic to the interment of Zola’s remains in the Pantheon in 1908. This overview of the core dates and characters in combination with the extensive index section serves to heighten the accessibility of this anyhow very readable work. The absence of numbered endnotes or a bibliography, however, make the utilization of Brown’s book hard for the professional historian.

As Brown shows, the Dreyfus controversy was not primarily a question of the guilt or innocence of an individual but a much bigger debate surrounding the degree of political and religious traditionalism that France had or wished to acquire. This was an ideological war that was fought in the popular press at least as much as in court, Brown illustrates. The failed Revanchist revolution under General Boulanger in 1889 marks an earlier eruption of the hostility between rural and working-class Germanophobe traditionalists and the liberal bourgeoisie. Reactionaries suggested that the defeat by Germany was the price the French had to pay for the French Revolution and their secular republicanism. They believed that the Jews wanted to drain France financially for the benefit of Zionism and that the Germans hated the French more than they disliked the Jews—thus the fear of pro-German Jewish espionage in the French military. Liberal republican rationalism and individualism, so the traditionalists, “undermined an organic, historical community … [and] exorcized their collective soul” (p. 122), thus the title of the book.

Robert Jensen’s monograph Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siècle Europe provides the reader with an account of the turn-of-the-20th-century European art market. He draws from unpublished letters, exhibition documentations, art catalogues, periodicals, autobiographies, and similar contemporary sources in order to provide insight into the discourse surrounding “[a]esthetic modernism” (p. 33) between artists, dealers, exhibitors, critics, and the consuming public. Jensen shows that this aesthetic movement co-evolved with its institutions and practices to promote the art created and thus modernized not only art itself but also the ways in which it was consumed by the European and US-American middle classes. His argument goes beyond the claim that art was commodified; upholding the myth that artists were alienated from their products and a rhetoric of the denial of commercialization, so Jensen, even increased the commodifying process. Money and art were inextricably linked in modernism. This is why, in his view, a rigid distinction between avant-gardism and modernism cannot be upheld. On a more geographical note, he argues that Paris was not the lone center of the new art, but that Berlin was a crucial hub of “the critical reception of modernist art” as well (p. 7).

A second line of argument concerns the demands within modernism. Jensen shows how artists had to position themselves aesthetically and ideologically between “the two poles of fin-de-siecle critical thought”—idealism and naturalism (p. 13). The rise of a new historiography that selectively interpreted the development of art as well (before J. Meier-Graefe’s attempts to correct the historiography of art; ch. 8), added to the pressure on artists to be marketable for a certain style (ch. 4). Other dealers were more ideological than entrepreneurial, seemingly disinterested protectors of the impressionists who provided the public with access to political art. A third way to commercialize modernist art was the allegedly independent exhibition; as opposed to the focus on an individual dealer, these exhibitions brought commercial success by suggesting an unauthoritarian group effort, oftentimes backed by associations and publicized in their own periodicals (ch. 3). All three types of dealership transformed galleries into serious competition for museums (chs. 2 and 4). The Secessions in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, to name only the most notable ones, were art exhibitions incepted shortly before 1900 and put together by individuals of the juste milieu who saw themselves as the heirs to impressionism (ch. 7) and wanted to tap public sources of funding, or, in Jensen’s words, “sought to achieve a precarious balance between the private market and the rewards of official commissions” (p. 171). But these attempts often ended in ideological conflicts between public institutions and artists (e.g., Klimt in Vienna); additionally, they oftentimes led to an even greater institutional elitism amongst the artists (ch. 6).

Mary Gluck promises to radically change historians’ ideas of modernism with her intellectual history of Popular Bohemia in Paris from Romanticism until before WWI. She draws on the discourse about (male!) bohemians as it appears in written sources, visual art, music, and the like—both ‘pop’ and ‘high culture’. Gluck shows that the bohemia we have in mind when we think about artists who crucially influenced ‘modernism’ by crafting avant-garde art are not the ones who actually impacted it most. In four chronological chapters, Gluck follows different stages of the sentimental bohemian, from the melodramatic Romantic through the mid-century urban flaneur and the decadent hysteric around 1880 to the “Primitivist artist” in the early 20th century. Each of these groups, in her opinion, has engaged with mass culture and anchored it in modernist avant-garde. It seems problematic that Gluck’s ‘modernity’ starts in the Romantic age and is not divided in different stages like her bohemia; more historical political and social contextualization may have benefitted a more concrete vision of this ‘modernity’.

She distinguishes between two different types of bohemia. The first one, “sentimental bohemia,” reflects the traditional view of bohemia: a life style, in the conservative view a temporary one, of individualist “nonconformism and explicit challenge to moral conventions, social authority, and political hierarchy” resulting in an “emancipation from middle-class life” (p. 18). Regardless of whether this attitude lasts or is merely “a form of apprenticeship in the artist’s life” (p. 19), Gluck argues that this form of bohemia cannot exist or even be thought without the bourgeoisie; it defined itself actively against it and was yet accepted by it as a harmless or even culturally necessary curiosity that, deep down, acknowledged and helped uphold the bourgeois value system, first and foremost the idea of an autonomous identity. In contrast, the so-called “ironic bohemian” went not conform with middle-class myths because of its sarcastic and deconstructive approach to all traditional authorities, values, and identities. Most decisive was this bohemia’s alliance with urban popular mass culture, which it “rescued” and “transformed” in order to incorporate it into “enduring aesthetic forms” vital to modern art and culture (p. 21). Ironic bohemia, in Gluck’s account, is thus not (only) negatively defined as a reaction against the bourgeoisie like sentimental bohemia, but also productively active in its integration of pop culture.

Cultural historian Maiken Umbach approaches modernism and Buergerlichkeit through a material lens as well. German Cities and Bourgeois Modernism, 1890–1924 is an environmentally and aesthetically informed study of modernism as history (p. 26); it is more tangibly argued and better contextualized than Gluck’s study of Paris. Umbach focuses on Hamburg, Berlin, and occasionally other German cities in the decades around 1900 and fashions her case studies with many black-and-white illustrations that display the architecture and urban planning she describes in her text. She draws on archival collections in Germany, Boston, and the UK in order to display the “distinctive brand of modernism” that was created in Germany at the time (p. 1). Umbach first defines this modernism as “bourgeois” and specifies the particular Buergerlichkeit, which contributors to Kocka et al.’s edited volume unpack so well, in chapter 6. Nonetheless, she is able to show convincingly throughout the book that “the collective persona and the aspirations of a milieu whose members were at the peak of their social and political confidence” became “the hegemonic doctrine of the Wilhelmine era” (p. 1) and significantly shaped the life in the Weimar Republic in German cities before its dialectic nature disintegrated—or at least in Berlin and Hamburg; her extrapolation to other—and oftentimes smaller—cities is not always very detailed.

Umbach shows convincingly and in much detail the materiality of the new German modernism and helps make this concept more concrete than other authors who approach this topic through an exclusively intellectual, moral, social, or political lens. Her analysis of the Deutscher Werkbund, founded in 1907, shows how an association of designers and manufacturers created a normative style that was promoted as fitting the needs and wants of the modern German Buerger (ch. 5). Other organizations were similarly successful in gathering members and utilizing the new buergerliche purchasing power in order to promote German manufacturing, at once an economic, aesthetical, and political goal. Werkbund proponents like Hermann Muthesius also understood the new “functionalism” as a way to minimize the “alienation of the worker from the product” by designing “vernacular object[s that] would naturally express the worker’s identity, his sense of place, memory and nature” (p. 22).

Umbach’s emphasis on the political, social, and cultural interconnectedness of German urban modernism is a direct affront of the Sonderweg theory. In her introduction already, Umbach refutes the interpretation that the German Buerger did not complete their modernization and were too preoccupied with culture to advance political liberalism and prevent a National Socialist dictatorship. A high degree of individualism and a new sense for the fragility of one’s individualism were core experiences of bourgeois modernism and the infrastructure was only a secondary ordering principle, she suggests; “authority and repression” through infrastructure, administration, and cultural education were intrinsic to this modernism, but only secondary ordering principles, not any form of essential lingering fascism (ch. 6). In fact, Umbach illustrates that “German bourgeois modernism” was neither a passive or necessary precursor of either National Socialism nor of neoliberal capitalism, but a process of active negotiation and redefinition of German Buergerlichkeit as a “constant performance” that visibly shaped the infrastructure, the relationship to nature and its distinction from culture (ch. 4), as well as aesthetic and moral values of cities like Hamburg and Berlin (p. 15). This also included a new awareness for being located in a concrete place within a continuous stream of historical time (ch. 2) and a specific malleable environment (ch. 3), a notion very different from what Peter Fritzsche has written about the decades after the French Revolution—memory, as opposed to a lost past or appropriative historicism, is the new trope.

Harold James’s monograph Family Capitalism is another history told through the lens of a specific family, or rather of family businesses from the late 18th through the early 21st century. In James’s words, it is a story of “the interplay of three powerful social constellations, families, states, and markets” (p. 1). The work comprises three case studies in three different countries: the Wendel family in France (Lorraine), the Haniel family in Germany (Ruhr), and the Falck family in northern Italy. He gathers his information mainly from public and family archives as well as from interviews with living descendants. The stories of the sustained success of these three families, all majorly involved in the steel industry, oppose the theory that family businesses are dysfunctional and prolong modernization. James illustrates that entrepreneurship can be fueled and succeed within family businesses and that they can be flexible enough to react to political, social, and economic changes, provided that a creative and assertive personality is steering the business into a good direction. Despite this historical argument of James’s, the actors themselves experienced a notion of “backwardness in continental European capitalism,” in particular compared to the US and England, to which any of the three families had substantial connections. The result was waxing and waning state involvement into business.

James tells this history in five chronological parts. Not only family trees but also the structure of business are crucial to James’s analysis. He introduces three factors according to which the companies can be classified: publicly quoted vs. non-quoted joint-stock companies or a combination of the two (1); management consists of family members vs. outside directors (2); time that the company has been in business (3). In addition, James shows how the distinct economic situation (e.g., economic crises, tax laws), religious morals (e.g., the Wendels were Catholic, but most business families were Protestant), and the specific political affiliations (e.g., the Haniels supplied the counterrevolutionary armies with iron in the 1790s and the Haniels were close with the Prussian royal family) influenced the lot of these three families in different ways. He puts forth a “working hypothesis … that some sectors, activities, or technologies hold out more opportunities to the family firm than others” (p. 10), judging by the success of all of the studied companies who were initially successful as merchants, then in the steel industry, then deindustrialized, and moved into financial and service economy, which James calls “the legacy of steel” (p. 11). He cautions the reader, however, that these case studies cannot ever be proof for the fact that family businesses can generally be successful.

Cite this blog post
Tabea Cornel (2016, April 30). Second-to-Last Set of Book Summaries: Romanticism and Europe 1848 to the Great War. The Semipermeable Membrane. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

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