Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Associations in the European Revolutions of 1848

The revolutionary organizations in Paris and Berlin around 1848.

2010 - 2015

This research project is about an influential event in the history of our modern democracy: the European revolution wave of 1848. In this revolution wave three developments occurred which were of crucial importance for the emergence of democracy:

  1. the emergence of a free and extensive public debate,
  2. the acknowledgement of the existence of the political opposition inside and outside the parliament,
  3. the acknowledgement of the people as a factor of political power.

With a study of the revolutionary people associations and organizations of 1848, mainly the ones in Paris and Berlin, the historian Geerten Waling shows how great parts of the population became political conscious and active, and how the ‘folks politics’ became part of the European political culture.

The PhD candidate Geerten Waling MA studies revolutionary organizations in Paris and Berlin around 1848. Based on the availability of sources and literature, the research will focus on new organizations founded in 1848-1849, by two groups in two revolutionary cities: the socialists and women of Paris and Berlin. The critics of their associations include both those who believed in an armed revolution and thought voluntary associations to be weak tools, and the representatives of the post-revolutionary political order, who persecuted leaders of non-violent revolutionary organizations as well as their violent comrades. Their trials will be studied to better understand the fear of organization in Paris and Berlin around the mid-century. The research project draws from a rich literature on revolutionary life in both cities, in which organizations figure prominently. Not only does the study aim to better understand the revolution, it also analyses the role and development of organizing during the revolutionary months. Additional archival research will be conducted in Berlin and Paris to further investigate relevant trials, debates, individuals and organizations.

Aims of the project are:

  • to analyze the importance and meaning of socialists and women, as well as their critics, attached to ‘organizing’ and ‘association’ as concepts and as a practice,
  • to chart the transition from older, heterogeneous revolutionary political associations and clubs to the more modern, homogenous type,
  • to analyze the biographies of the ‘modern’ revolutionary organizers, in contrast to ‘old-fashioned’ ones and to those who rejected and later prosecuted the organizers,
  • to reconstruct the way the legacy of the associational mania of the decades leading up to 1848 was employed during the revolutionary years, and how it was challenged again by the post-revolutionary order.
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