European Nationalism

It was in the 19th century that nationalism became a widespread and powerful force. During this time nationalism expressed itself in many areas as a drive for national unification or independence.  The spirit of nationalism took an especially strong hold in Germany, where the nationalism that inspired the German people to rise against the empire of Napoleon was conservative, tradition-bound, and narrow rather than liberal, progressive, and universal. When the fragmented Germany was finally unified as the German Empire in 1871, it was a highly authoritarian and militarist state.


After many years of fighting, Italy also achieved national unification and freedom from foreign domination, but certain areas inhabited by Italians (e.g., Trieste) were not included in the new state.  In the latter half of the 19th cent., there were strong nationalist movements among the Balkan peoples subject to the supranational Austrian and Ottoman empires, as there were in Ireland under British rule, and in Poland under Russian rule.


At the same time, however, with the emergence in Europe of strong, integrated nation-states, nationalism became increasingly conservative. It was turned against such international movements as socialism, and it found outlet in pursuit of glory and empire - the age of New Imperialism dawned. Nationalist conflicts likewise had much to do with bringing on World War I. 

Napoleon and European nationalism



Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 in the city of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. His father was Carlo Buonaparte, an important attorney who represented Corsica at the court of the French King. He had four brothers and three sisters including an older brother named Joseph.

Coming from a fairly wealthy family, Napoleon was able to attend school and get a good education. He went to a military academy in France and trained to become an officer in the army. When his father died in 1785, Napoleon returned to Corsica to help handle the family's affairs.

While in Corsica, Napoleon became involved with a local revolutionary named Pasquale Paoli. For a while he helped Paoli in fighting against the French occupation of Corsica. However, he later changed sides and returned to France after the French Revolution occurred in Paris. The people revolted against the King of France Louis XVI and took control of the country. The royal family and many aristocrats were eventually killed.

Upon Napoleon's return, he had allied himself with a radical group of the revolutionaries called the Jacobins who ere responsible for these executions. He received a position as the artillery commander at the Siege of Toulon in 1793. The city of Toulon was occupied by British troops and the British navy had control over the port. Napoleon came up with a strategy that helped to defeat the British and forced them out of the port. His military leadership in the battle was recognized by the leaders of France and, at the young age of 24, he was promoted to the position of brigadier general.

In 1796, Napoleon was given command of the French army in Italy. When he arrived in Italy, he found the army to be poorly organized and losing to the Austrians. Napoleon, however, was an ambitious man and a brilliant general. He used superior organization in order to move troops rapidly around the battlefield so they would always outnumber the enemy. He soon drove the Austrians out of Italy and became a national hero.

After next leading a largely unsuccessful but still well publicised military expedition in Egypt, Napoleon then returned to Paris in 1799. The political climate in France was changing. The current government called the Directory were losing power. Together with his allies, including his brother Lucien, Napoleon formed a new government called the Consulate. Initially, there were to be three consuls at the head of the government, but Napoleon soon gave himself the title of First Consul. His powers as First Consul essentially made him dictator of France.

As the dictator of France, Napoleon was able to institute a number of government reforms. One of these reforms was the famous Napoleonic Code. This code said that government positions would not be appointed based on a person's birth or religion, but on their qualifications and ability. This was a big change in the French government. Before the Napoleonic Code, high positions were given to aristocrats by the king in return for favors. This had often led to incompetent people in important positions.

Napoleon also helped to improve the French economy by building new roads and encouraging business. He reestablished the Catholic Church as the official state religion, but at the same time allowed for freedom of religion to those who weren't Catholic. Napoleon also set up non-religious schools, so anyone could get an education.

Napoleon's power and control continued to grow with his reforms. In 1804, he was crowned the first Emperor France. At the coronation, he did not allow the Pope to place the crown on his head, but instead crowned himself.



How did Napoleon change the world?


  • Using your CCWH answers and your extra details from historychamps, complete the googledoc table on the right by clicking the question mark icon...

  • 2-3 bullet points about how Napoleon changed France and then Europe…

  • Then think about what he introduced to change the world - what kinds of thing(s) did he introduce that changed how we think + act?

  • Once you’ve chosen something(s), then explain why it was so important, what did it cause or change..?

With the expansion of the his French Empire from the Iberian peninsula to the gates of Moscow, Napoleon Bonaparte had a great say in how European ideas evolved over the 19th Century.  His Code Civile was used across the continent as a basis for restructuring the political systems in each conquered territory.  Whilst formally unifying the Empire under one system, it also meant the continent's population was exposed to Enlightenment ideas such as freedom, brotherhood and equality.  These ideas prompted individual peoples across this vast area to start calling for unity amongst their own ethnic, cultural and linguistic groups.  In turn, this growth of nationalism across Europe not only spelled disaster for Napoleon's Empire, but also created the nationalistic and increasingly imperialistic Europe who eventually saw no other option but starting a war in 1914 which would unleash hell...

Click on the painting and read the article above to discover why and how German people in particular unified as a direct result of Napoleon and his policies, then answer the questions on the document accessed on its right...  This is an advanced document, with some academic English.  Answer as many qs as possible, but don't worry if you can't answer them all - we will go through them as a class....

Otto von Bismarck + German unification

The most obvious place to start when looking at the effects of Napoleon and his impact on Europe via nationalism is by examining what happens in the lands which were to become Germany.  Napoleon had smashed the 1000 Year First Reich when he dismantled the Holy Roman Empire, replacing it with his Confederation of the Rhine.  Once Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, the Confederation dissolved into 100s of tiny statelets, princedoms, alongside some major established powerful entities such as Prussia.  These splintered fragments of the old HRE proved fertile ground for the ideas within Napoleon's Code Civile, with the shared language, history and cultural base allowing for a gradual realignment.  However, it still needed the input of another great historical figure to completely remake the pieces into one whole again - enter Otto von Bismarck...

Who was Otto von Bismarck?

Otto von Bismarck was one of the individuals we study who genuinely changed the world in which he lived, and like Napoleon, continues to shape the modern world with the actions he took in the 19th century.  Born into a wealthy Prussian family, he was a member of the ruling classes from birth with Prussia being the largest of the states that emerged from the Holy Roman Empire, and one with a proud military tradition and heritage.  It would be along Prussian lines that the new Germany would based when it emerged in 1871.  Von Bismarck ensured that this would happen when his desire to unite the German-speaking peoples of Northern Europe started to become reality in the 1850s and 1860s.   With his Blood and Iron policies using a Realpolitik philosophy as their basis, OVB launched a series of easy, quick wars against much weaker opponents like Austria and Denmark to unify the people behind him and his ideas.  Once he then defeated France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, Germany came into existence.  Once united, Germany quickly established itself as the up and coming power in Europe quickly challenging the UK and another quickly growing power, the United States of America, in the race to become the world's leading superpower...

Cavour, Garibaldi + Italian unification

The second example of European Nationalism in action we will look at is the unification of Italy, a complicated process that is funnily enough completed in 1870, just before Otto von Bismarck unifies Germany in 1871. 

It was a complicated process as Italy had experienced nearly two millenia of separation since the collapse of the Roman Empire with multiple independent states operating under different rules with different cultures and identities.  However, they were all bonded by their Roman Imperial past and the Roman Catholic faith that had emerged from it.  By the mid 1800s, there was increasing support for the idea that Italy should become united and so compete on the world stage alongside the other Great Powers of the day.  For this to happen however, huge differences had to be overcome with determined and ruthless leadership central to any success.  The epicentre of this unification movement, or the Risorgimento, was surprisingly far removed from the historical centres of Rome, Florence, Milan Venice or Naples - it was on the island of Sardinia and its lands in North West Italy called Piedmont that Italian unification was plotted and launched...

Watch the 3 minute history summary on the left hand side of the screen.

Who were the following individuals and how did they affect the Risorgimento, or unification of Italy?

- Giuseppi Mazzini

- Count Camillo Cavour

- Giuseppi Garibaldi

- Victor Emmanuel II

- Napoleon III

- Otto von Bismarck

Choose who were most important and least important and then put into a diagram called a causal pyramid seen below:


_____B___     _____C__

______D____     _____E_______     ____F_____

Put the most important where A is and explain why; next important where B and C are (and explain); repeat for the least important individuals by putting them in D, E and F...and again explain why....

Now research the events in more detail using first the textbook copy which you can access by clicking on the map below

Print out wherever possible, read and highlight, and then make notes under the following headings:

(338) - Obstacles to Italian unity

(339) - Mazzini, Young Italy and the start of Italian nationalism

(339) - Who was Count Cavour?

(340) - How did Cavour and Garibaldi unite Italy?

Make sure you have completed a colour coded map of the unification using either the map in the text or on the website using the blank copy of the map available by clicking on the small Word icon bottom right of the map below...

Finally, we are going to examine the events and individuals in more detail (remember how the examiners love this subject!)

Access the big Word documents under the title to the map - on the left are the events and on the right are the individuals

- For the events make a revision poster timeline using the most important events and themes

- For the individuals, construct some revision summary flashcards OR crib sheets depending on your preference

Now, get out your original causal pyramid - do you still agree with your original judgements or have you changed any?  

Reorganise your pyramid where necessary, and explain either why you have kept your original choices in detail OR made the changes you have on the googledoc accessible below by clicking on the Italian flag icon...

download (3).jpeg

German unification in 3 minutes

OVB summary in 3 minutes

Franco-Prussian War in 3 minutes

Italian unification in 3 minutes

Italian unification lecture

Googledoc - Who was most responsible for the Risorgimento?

Ideologies - 1830 & 1848 Revolutions in Europe

Open publication - Free publishing

- `Little Dictator` clip - how does this show Napoleon? 

Who composed it?  Why?



BBC Rise of Napoleon : Hero or Villain



 PBS Empires series -Napoleon - 3/4 Summit of Greatness

PBS Empires series - Napoleon - 4/4 The End

Napoleonic Code