A Companion to Europe: 1900-1945

A Companion to Europe: 1900-1945

A Companion to Europe: 1900-1945

A Companion to Europe: 1900-1945

Synopsis

This volume brings together a distinguished group of international scholars to discuss the major debates in the study of early twentieth-century Europe.
  • Brings together contributions from a distinguished group of international scholars.
  • Provides an overview of current thinking on the period.
  • Traces the great political, social and economic upheavals of the time.
  • Illuminates perennial themes, as well as new areas of enquiry.
  • Takes a pan-European approach, highlighting similarities and differences across nations and regions.

Excerpt

Europe, over the course of the first half of the twentieth century, was transformed, and its transformation was caused primarily, if not entirely, by the experience of war. The geopolitical map, politics, society, and culture were reshaped, rethought, and reconstructed, and it is impossible to understand Europe at the beginning of the twenty-first century without coming to grips with the sufferings endured by Europeans between 1914 and 1945. This is not what people had expected in 1900. Viewed from the vantage points of London and Paris, Berlin and Vienna – even St. Petersburg and Rome – the twentieth century was expected to be Europe’s finest. The “world” was European: controlled by Europeans and their descendants, or becoming “European” by accepting its political institutions, its economic model, and its values. The wars of religion that had beleaguered the continent were distant memories, of interest only to antiquarians; the last great war of ideology – that waged against the French revolutionaries – was now remembered as a triumph over Napoleon. Secular societies aimed not to impose their vision on other Europeans, but to improve the health and welfare of their own people. Governments were coming to regard it as their duty to eradicate crime, promote education, protect the sick, and sustain the elderly. The sciences – both physical and social – promised to find ways of achieving these lofty goals: technology was producing undreamed-of prosperity and creature comforts; research into the minds and bodies of human beings was unraveling the mysteries of behavior and disease. Civilization was European, and the twentieth century would be the most civilized, humane, and progressive in the history of humanity. Europeans could believe in this future in spite of problems that were evident – particularly to critics – in 1900: poverty, prejudice, racism, and violence, both within Europe itself and within the European empires in Africa and Asia. But even Europe’s harshest critics believed that Europe could overcome these problems; indeed, that it was Europe’s duty to humanity as a whole to do so.

By 1945 these expectations seemed naive at best, wicked at worst. The nineteenth century, reviled by the “modernists” of 1900–14, seemed peaceful, comfortable, and civilized in comparison with what Europeans suffered between 1914 and 1945. The world wars, the civil wars, the influenza pandemic, and the Holocaust had killed . . .

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