The 19th century gave birth to the modern world, so can an epic new history revitalise interest in this period?by Samuel Moyn / June 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Stockport viaduct, 1845: faster transport connected the world in new ways.
In the imagination of historians, the 19th century once reigned supreme. The French Revolution of 1789, some said, had given birth to a “permanent revolution,” as the forces of progress and reaction struggled for supremacy. Karl Marx insisted in his essay, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” that the spirit of communism seemed to be burrowing through the 19th century like a mole that would eventually break ground definitively. Twentieth-century historians, who had the benefit of hindsight, knew he was right. Eric Hobsbawm gained fame largely for picking up Marx’s narrative of capitalism and its contradictions and showing how, through the ages of industry and empire, it still held good in the 20th century.