The Modern Revolution 1750-1914 ce

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Big Era Seven

Panorama Teaching Unit

The Modern Revolution

1750-1914 CE

PowerPoint Overview Presentation

Industrialization and Its Consequences

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Unit objectives


Time and materials




The historical context


Lesson 1: The Atlantic Revolutions



Lesson 2: The Industrial Revolution: What Difference Did it Make?


Lesson 3: Wanting to Be Top Dog: Colonialism 1750-1914


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Correlations to National and State Standards


Why this unit?

All too often, we restrict our study of modernization to the trappings of modernity—industrial capitalism, representative government, and rapid communications. We see societies that most obviously exhibit these characteristics as representing, somehow, our full historical development as a species. Societies that do not match these criteria are deficient or possibly pathological. We do ourselves and our students a great disservice, however, when we adopt this interpretation. In seeing things this way, we miss the fact that the years 1789-1914 witnessed revolutionary change in all parts of the world, not only in those that built factories and had elections. More than anything else, the formation of unequal relationships of dependence between colonizer and colonized changed the world as a whole irrevocably. In fact we cannot separate modernity from this new global inequality.

Unit objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Evaluate how effectively each of the four Atlantic revolutions lived up to the ideals of liberty and equality.

  1. Describe basic characteristics of the Industrial Revolution, and explain major changes that industrialization brought about worldwide by 1914.

  1. Explain that changes occurred gradually, at varying rates, and not necessarily everywhere in the world.

  1. Analyze the concept of “progress.”

  1. Identify reasons why European countries became colonial powers.

  1. Explain connections between nationalism, colonialism, industrialization, and racism.

  1. Give examples of the range of attitudes that affected relationships between colonizing and colonized peoples.

  1. Describe ways that colonialism led to long-term transformations in the lives of colonized peoples.

  1. Evaluate the benefits and costs of colonialism for both the colonizers and the colonized.

Time and materials

If teachers introduce all the lessons, this unit will take ten to fifteen class periods.

No special materials are needed other than Student Handouts provided in the lessons.


Dr. Anne Chapman served for many years as history teacher and academic dean of Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio. She has served as a history education consultant to the College Board, the Educational Testing Service, and the National Center for History in the Schools. She has also edited a volume of World History: Primary Source Readings for West Publishing.

Bill Foreman has taught high school in California since 1997. Academically, he focused on modern Europe and later studied Russian history at the University of California, Riverside. Following graduate school, he embarked on a teaching career. He lived and taught in Senegal in 2005-06. He currently teaches at Hayward High School in Hayward, CA.

The historical context

The invention of the railway locomotive, the steamship, and, later, the telegraph and telephone transformed global communications in Big Era Seven. The time it took and the money it cost to move goods, messages, or armies across oceans and continents were drastically cut. People moved, or were forced to move, from one part of the world to another in record numbers. In the early part of the era African slaves continued to be transported across the Atlantic in large numbers; European migrants created new frontiers of colonial settlement in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres; and Chinese, Indians, and other Asians migrated to Southeast Asia and the Americas. International commerce mushroomed, and virtually no society anywhere in the world stayed clear of the global market. Underlying these surges in communication, migration, and trade was the growth of world population, forcing men and women almost everywhere to experiment with new ways of organizing collective life.

This was an era of bewildering change in a thousand different arenas. One way to make sense of the whole is to focus on three world-encompassing and interrelated developments: the democratic revolutions that took place in the lands around the rim of the Atlantic Ocean, the Industrial Revolution, and the establishment of European dominance over most of the world. 

Political Revolutions and New Ideologies

The American and French revolutions offered the world the potent ideas of popular sovereignty, inalienable rights, and nationalism. The translating of these ideas into political movements had the effect of mobilizing unprecedented numbers of ordinary people to participate in public life and to believe in a better future for all. Liberal, constitutional, and nationalist ideals inspired independence movements in Haiti and Latin America in the early nineteenth century, and they continued to animate reform and revolution in Europe throughout the era. Democracy and nationalism contributed immensely to the social power of European states and therefore to Europe’s rising dominance in world affairs in the nineteenth century. Under growing pressures from both European military power and the changing world economy, ruling or elite groups in Asian and African states organized reform movements that embraced at least some of the ideas and programs of democratic revolution.


The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution applied mechanical power to the production and distribution of goods on a massive scale. From an environmental perspective, this development depended on what historians have called the Fossil Fuel Revolution, the harnessing of energy from coal, and, a bit later, from petroleum, to animate steam and electrical engines. The Industrial Revolution also involved mobilizing unprecedented numbers of laborers and shifting them from village to city and from one country to another. Industrialization was a consequence of centuries of expanding economic activity around the world. England played a crucial role in the onset of this revolution, but the process involved complex economic and financial linkages among societies. The Industrial Revolution was an event that happened to the world, though some countries and regions took part in it, not as manufacturers, but as producers of raw commodities. Together, the Industrial and democratic revolutions thoroughly transformed European society. Asian, African, and Latin American peoples dealt with the new demands of the world market and Europe’s economic might in a variety of ways. Some groups argued for reform through technical and industrial modernization. Others called for reassertion of established policies and values that had always served them well in times of crisis. Japan and the United States both subscribed to the Industrial Revolution with rapid success and became important players on the world scene. 

European Dominance

In 1800, Europeans controlled about 35 percent of the world’s land surface. By 1914 they dominated as much as 88 percent. The British empire alone grew from about 9.5 million square miles in 1860 to 12.7 million in 1909; on the eve of World War I that empire embraced about 444 million people. In the long span of human history European world hegemony lasted a short time, but its consequences were profound and continue to be played out today. Western expansion took three principal forms:

  1. Peoples of European descent, including Russians and North Americans, created colonial settlements, or neo-Europes, in various temperate regions of the world, displacing or assimilating indigenous peoples;

  2. European states and commercial firms exerted considerable economic power in certain places, notably Latin America and China, while Japan and the United States also participated in this economic expansionism;

  3. In the later nineteenth century European states embarked on the “new imperialism,” the competitive race to establish political as well as economic control over previously uncolonized regions of Africa and Asia. Mass production of new weaponry, coupled with the revolution of transport and communication, permitted this surge of power.

The active responses of the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America to the crisis of European hegemony are an important part of the developments of this era: armed resistance against invaders, collaboration or alliance with colonizers, economic reform or entrepreneurship, and movements for cultural reform. As World War I approached, accelerating social change and new efforts at resistance and renewal characterized colonial societies far more than consolidation and stability. 

This section is an adaptation of the “Overview” of Era 7 (An Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914) in the National Standards for World History, National Standards for History, Basic Edition (Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1996), 185-6.

Lesson 1

The Atlantic Revolutions


This lesson is designed on one level to introduce students to the idea of an Atlantic revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Usually, the four revolutions here examined, the American, French, Haitian, and Venezuelan, are split from each other in some fashion. Usually, the American and French are seen as “Western,” and the Haitian and Venezuelan, if examined at all, are “Latin American.” Here we see them as distinct but related parts in a larger whole.

Fundamentally, Atlantic revolution is the broad movement by various Atlantic peoples to forge new governments based on the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality. The students will examine revolutionary processes as a whole, not simply in terms of the visible linkages between the individual revolutions themselves, but as a history of how ideologies of liberty and equality played out in different societies. Students will evaluate which of the revolutions most effectively implemented those ideals.

The following materials will need to be prepared:

  • Class sets of Student Handouts 1.1-1.5.

  • Questions for competition. Print one copy of questions (Student Handout 1.6) and cut into strips so each question is on its own strip. Students will pull strips out of a hat or bag during the competition.

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