The nineteenth century just isn’t what it used to be. Any number of indicators – from academic job postings and doctoral dissertations to journal articles and conference panels –suggest that interest in the nineteenth century among historians of Europe has been declining over the past three decades. In the discussion forum “The Vanishing Nineteenth Century in European History?” fourteen historians from Europe and the United States look behind the numbers and consider the place of the nineteenth century within their particular fields of specialization. Numbers alone, they find, do not tell the full story and give no sense of the range of innovative, thought-provoking research that is being done in nineteenth-century European history.

We argue with this forum that it is time to reinvigorate the study of the nineteenth century and make clear its continued relevance by taking up new questions, perspectives, and approaches. One important reason for this is that major, present-day challenges usually considered to be phenomena of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries actually have their roots in the nineteenth century: the challenges arising, for example, from industrialization, urbanization, large-scale internal and cross-border migration, as well as new conceptions of state, nation, citizenship, and rights. Other issues that link the present to the nineteenth century are the rise of nationalism, militarism, colonialism, empire-building, and, last but not least, the dichotomic Western gender order. To understand the roots of these developments, historians need to bring new questions and concepts to the study of this nineteenth century – and they need to communicate their findings and the concerns behind them more effectively to their students and to the public. We invite other scholars to join us in this debate about the future of modern European history and the role of the nineteenth century in it.

Explore articles from Volume 51 – Issue 4 here. Enjoy complimentary access until March 1, 2019.


  1. I would very like to hear from our readers how they are teaching the 19th century now. What topics do you emphasize, what readings do you assign, what format do you follow? Do you teach a ‘long’ 19th century (say 1789-1914 or 1918) or a ‘short’ century (1815-1914)?
    I have had good success with a course on 19th-century French and Russian literature in historical perspective, in which we read only (!) 6 novels, and the students write their own 19th-century historical novellas.

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