Revolutions in an age of transformation

Towards a transimperial history of “1848”

Date: 1 September 2017, 04:00–06:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 334



When revolutions shook Empires, polities and dynasties in 1848, the breakup of the Ancien Regime all over Europe picked up pace. Our panel aims at examining this process from two relatively new perspectives, which have proved useful in a number of investigations over the past few years: We firstly suggest a Global History approach to the development. We are particularly interested in what we call trans-imperial dynamics during the first half of the 19th century; namely the role of historical connections across various European empires for the outburst of the 1848 revolutions. Secondly, we focus on the history of knowledge by asking how a relatively new and growing class of the population – the bourgeois middle classes – used knowledge from across the world in setting up their post-1848 modern state infrastructures. By scrutinizing a.) trans-imperial communicative spaces and b.) the massive shift in what was considered knowable around 1850, we would like to shed new light on global entanglements of a small number of case studies that do not usually feature very prominently in Global History: Switzerland, the Habsburg Empire, Italy and Spain. We are interested in connections between these cases as well as with the non-European world. We thus challenge purely internalist explanations, which so far dominated research on the 1848 upheavals. We believe that broadening the focus and further integrating basal overarching processes into analysis can help to sharpen an understanding of 1848 as a turning point not only in the history of European nations, but much rather in the History of trans-imperial connections among various Nations within Europe and the non-European world.


Wolfgang Göderle (University of Graz)

Bernhard C. Schär (ETH Zurich)


Martin Dusinberre (University of Zurich)


Lucy Riall (European University Institute Florence)


Bernhard C. Schär (ETH Zurich)

Wolfgang Göderle (University of Graz)

Pieter Judson (European University Institute Florence)

Stephen Jacobson (University Pompeu Fabra Barcelona)



Bernhard C. Schär: From Borneo to Bern: Catholic resistance to and imperial dimension in the 1848 Swiss Federal State

The Swiss Federal State, established in 1848 after a short civil war, is often considered to be one of the very few immediately successful outcomes from the early 19th century liberal bourgeois revolutions. This paper seeks to explore a radically new reading of 1848 in Switzerland by focusing on the global biographies of the Swiss 'Founding fathers'; namely the authors of the 1848 Federal constitution. The 23 authors were part of the old patrician and new bourgeois elites. They were all connected via economic, scientific, military and other networks not only to the larger European powers, but also to their colonies overseas. The paper shall focus in particular on the connections between the conservative, catholic Swiss cantons to the conservative powers in the Habsburg Empire and Spain in the turbulent years between 1815 and 1848. During this period, these Swiss cantons provided mercenaries to these powers and received rents and arms for their struggle against the Swiss protestant cantons in return. These connections shall be examined on depth through the career of Louis Wyrsch (1793-1858) from the small alpine canton of Nidwalden. Wyrsch's family had served for generations as officers in the Swiss regiments for Spain. Louis himself ended up as an officer in the Dutch colonial army in South-East Asia. He governed newly conquered colonies in southern Borneo in the 1820s and 30s. Upon his return to Nidwalden he was made commander during the short Swiss civil war. Wyrsch shall thus serve as a lens to examine the role of the 'catholic international' and the role of 'imperial careering' (Lambert & Lester 2010) among the Swiss elites in the decades leading up to the civil war and the founding of the 1848 Federal State.

Wolfgang Göderle: Amsterdam, London, Vienna, the Orient: Trans-imperial networks and the idea of the modern state in the 1848 Habsburg Empire

The relevance of the revolutionary years of 1848/49 to Central European History has been analyzed mainly in the framework of its contribution to the nationalization of societies, histories and politics. 1848 serves as a starting point for the narration of national emancipation and the demise of empire. This paper suggests a broader reading of the events against the personal backgrounds of agents of revolution in the Habsburg Empire. A closer prosopographical look upon activists involved in the Frankfurt Parliament reveals a number of structural parallels between many of these men. To a certain extent, Karl von Czoernig, a native of Bohemia, was quite representative of this group: A top-official in the Habsburg administration, his career featured a high degree of mobility, his traveling and work experiences spanned half of Europe. In his professional life, achievements as a publicist and businessman added to his career as a civil servant. Czoernig was thus a man of very – though in the context of his time and social class not unusually – broad horizon. His biography will help to illustrate a transimperial network of relations, which circulated ideas, visions, options and chances of and to a growing social group. I would like to explore the role that this connectedness played in the “birth of the modern world” (Bayly 2004).

Pieter Judson: From Trieste to Brody in 1848: the common world of nationalists and imperialists in the long 19th century

One unfortunate legacy of the post-Habsburg century is that we persistently forget the ways that structures of empire influenced the ways that political activists, scientific experts, and popular journalists shaped ideas about political nationalism in nineteenth century Central Europe. In particular, we continue to render invisible the critical role played by the common experiences and structures of empire, imagining instead that the rise of nationalist feeling was a product solely of the prior existence of national communities in Imperial Austria. The rise of political nationalism in 1848 was hardly a product of ineluctable forces from below that made empire anachronistic by moving Europe in the direction of a nation-state telos. Nor did revolutionaries develop a vision of an alternate future for Europe that excluded empire. Although 1848 in Central Europe is generally understood to be a key moment in the rise of ethnic forms of political nationalization, this rise owed almost everything to specific imperial institutions, laws, and practices that offered politicians and scholars and journalists the opportunities or spaces to develop a politics of cultural difference. Thus far from being binary concepts, ideas about empire and nation developed in tandem with each other, built upon each other’s examples, nurtured each other, and depended on each other for meaning. In the spring of 1848, for example, Italian nationalists in Trieste who supported the anti-Habsburg revolution in nearby Venice, opposed that kind of a revolution for their own city. Why? Because they valued their place in the empire and saw how much their nation gained from its place within empire, (especially in terms of global trade). Similarly, when nationalists in the Kremsier Parliament forged a system of national civil rights they did so within an imperial framework, reinforcing the multilingual and later multinational character of the empire. In fact, I argue that in 1848, in most cases empire remained the most desirable partner for nations (with a few significant exceptions). Empire legitimated modern nations in ways hitherto considered to be impossible, while many nationalists continued to legitimate the empire through their activism.

Stephen Jacobson: From domestic revolutionaries to imperial legionnaires: The global diaspora of Barcelona militiamen in the wake of the progressive biennium (1854-1856)

The Progressive Biennium (1854-1856) was a period of great hope but failed democratic revolution, the Spanish equivalent of Europe's 1848. As in previous progressive periods, the National Militia enjoyed immense popular prestige and stood as the symbol of the liberal-democratic aspirations of the populace. In Barcelona, the militia became radicalized after taking the side of textile workers in the city's first general strike, taking on the Spanish Army from the barricades. The end of the Biennium featured the persecution and exile of much of the leadership. After things settled down, however, many militiamen took part in imperial adventures. They formed corps of democratic volunteers for the maiden Franco-Hispanic invasion of Vietnam, the Moroccan War (1859-1860), the occupation of Mexico (1861), the annexation of the Dominican Republic (1861-1864). Others left Barcelona to participate in military campaigns for the State of Buenos Aires in its war against the Indians, or to join Garibaldi in Italy.  The paper will examine the way that new overseas and imperial endeavors helped forge a consensus among popular and bourgeois classes in the wake of the intense divisions of the revolutionary era.

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