Exam preparation materials


One of the consequences of the Napoleonic era was that it intensified nationalism, or feelings of connection to one’s own home, region, language, and culture. France, Spain, Portugal, Britain, and Russia, of course, had already unified and, in some cases, built enormous empires. But the Italian and German city-states were still very feudal, and were constantly at the center of warfare among the European powers. In the second half of the nineteenth century, however, all of that changed. Italy and Germany unified, and with unification, they eventually altered the balance of European power.

The Unification of Italy: Italians Give Foreign Occupiers the Boot

In the mid-nineteenth century, Italy was a tangle of foreign-controlled small kingdoms. Austria controlled Venetia, Lombardy, and Tuscany in the north. France controlled Rome and the Papal States in the mid-section. And Spain controlled the Kingdoms of Two Sicilies (which included Sicily and the “foot” of Italy including Naples) in the south. Only the divided kingdom of Sardinia (part of which was an island in the Mediterranean) was controlled by Italians.

In 1849, the king of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel II, named Count Camillo Cavour his prime minister, and nationalism in Italy took off. Both Emmanuel and Cavour believed strongly in Italian unification. Through a series of wars in which Cavour sided with European powers that could help him boot out Austria from Italy, he managed to remove Austrian influence from all parts of Italy (except Venetia) by 1859. Meanwhile, Giuseppe Garibaldi, another Italian nationalist, raised a volunteer army and in 1860 drove Spain from the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. So, by 1861, a large chunk of present-day Italy was unified, and it declared itself a unified kingdom under Victor Emmanuel.

In the following decade, the Italians managed to gain control of Venetia after siding with Prussia in its war against Austria (which previously controlled Venetia) and finally won control of Rome in 1870 when the French withdrew. Still, even though Italy was essentially unified, the boundaries of Europe were still very shaky. Some Italians thought that southern provinces of Austria and France were far more Italian than not and that those provinces were rightly part of Italy. What’s more, Italy had a hard time unifying culturally because for centuries it had developed more regionally. Still, now unified, Italy was more able to assert itself on the world stage, a development that would impact Europe in the next century.

The Unification of Germany: All About Otto

The provinces that comprised Germany and the Austrian Empire (the Hapsburgs) hadn’t been truly united since the decline of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages. Since the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which asserted the authority of regional governments, two areas in the region of the former Holy Roman Empire had politically dominated it: Prussia and Austria. Prussia, under the enlightened monarch Frederick the Great and his successors, achieved economic preeminence by embracing the Industrial Revolution. They also strongly supported education, which created a talented work force.

Many in Prussia wanted to consolidate the German territories into a powerful empire to rival the great powers of Europe, particularly Britain, France, and increasingly Russia. So, in 1861, the new king of Prussia, William I, appointed Otto von Bismarck prime minister with the aim of building the military and consolidating the region under its authority.

In order to achieve this consolidation, Bismarck had to defeat Austria, which he did in only seven weeks, after he won assurances from the other European powers that they would not step in on Austria’s behalf. Through further war and annexation, Bismarck secured most of the other German principalities, except for heavily Catholic regions in the south. So, the crafty Bismarck formed an alliance with the Catholic German states against aggression from France, and then, in 1870, provoked France to declare war on Prussia, starting the Franco-Prussian War—a war which, once won, consolidated the German Catholic regions under Prussian control. In 1871, the victorious Bismarck crowned King William I as emperor of the new German Empire, which was also known as the Second Reich (“second empire,” after the Holy Roman Empire, which was known as the First Reich).

After unification, Germany quickly industrialized and became a strong economic and political power. But Otto was not popular with everyone, especially socialists. In 1888, Germany crowned a new emperor, William II, who wanted to run the country himself. In 1890, he forced Bismarck to resign as prime minister and re-established authority as the emperor. With the Industrial Revolution in Germany now running full throttle, he built a huge navy, pursued colonial ambitions in Africa and Asia, and oversaw the rise of Germany into one of the most powerful nations in the world. By 1914, Germany felt capable of taking on any other power.

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