Nationalism Case Studies: Italy and Germany

Important People:

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882)- Romantic Italian nationalist who conquered southern Italy and united it with Piedmont-Sardinia to create a unified Italy; he also led the red shirts

Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898)- Conservative prime Minister of Prussia who worked to strengthen Prussian power and create a united German state in the late 1800s; most famous for his skillful use of realpolitik to achieve his goals

The Ideal of Nationalism

This demonstrates the rise of nationalism and national pride that occurred throughout the world in the 1800s.

Nationalism in the 19th century was based on a desire for an independent nation-state. Europeans believed that bonds of nationality, language, culture, history, religion, and territory were necessary for the creation of such a nation- state. Romantics, especially, advocated that nations, like people, had a right to be independent.

Nationalism Shakes Aging Europe

The Hapsburg dynasty was founded by a German prince, Rudolph. The family rose to control most of central Europe, but was toppled during the 1800s by rising calls for independent nation-states.

The large empires of ages past, namely the Hapsburgs, the Austro- Hungarians, and the Romanovs, were comprised of many different ethnic groups. They were all destroyed as a result of nationalism.

A Force for Disunity or Unity?

Wilhelm II, and his minster Otto Von Bismarck, successfully used nationalism to unify Germany and create an autocratic state: the "Second Reich."

Nationalism was initially regarded as a purely centrifugal force, as it was seen to breakup long- established empires. Eventually, however, people began to recognize its potential as a unifying, cohesive abstract. Many authoritarian rulers utilized nationalism to create nation-states and retain absolute control.

The Breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

This map shows the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into nation-states after WWI.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled over many different ethnic groups, like Germans, Poles, Italians, and Slovaks. The empire was defeated in the Austro-Prussian War, and lost considerable territory to the formation of new ethnic states. After WWI, following a century of conflict, the empire split up into many nation-states.

The Russian Empire Crumbles

Czar Nicholas II was the last Romanov Czar. He, and his whole family, were executed in 1917.

In Russia, the czars ruled over a diverse population. Their policy of Russification led to resentment and the growth of regional identities and cultures. Following the double shock of WWI and the Communist Revolution, the empire crumbled in the early 1900s.

The Ottoman Empire Weakens

This image from the Greek War of Independence depicts the harsh response of the ottomans to Greek rebellion.

The Ottoman Turks controlled vast lands and peoples in the lower Balkans. Tension between different ethnic groups (i.e.. Turns, Greeks, Arabs, Bulgarians, Armenians) and outside pressure led to civil equality attempts that shook the conservative Turkish culture. The results were horrific deportations and an Armenian Genocide. The Ottoman Empire also broke up after WWI.

Cavour Unites Italy

Cavour led an Italian movement to create an independent nation-state- what we think of as Italy today.

Although nationalism broke up some empires, it served as a unifying force and helped create the country of Italy. After the Congress of Vienna, Italy was ruled by foreign leaders. Throughout the 1800s, a movement for a distinct national identity developed, which led toward a unified and independent Italian state.

The Movement for Unity Begins

The Rebellions of 1848 were a Europe-wide series of revolts inspired by nationalism and a desire for independent nation- states. They were overwhelmingly unsuccessful, though they did plant seeds for later successes.

In the mid 1800s, Giuseppe Mazzini created the nationalist group "Young Italy." He led revolts against the Austro-Hungarians during the Rebellions of 1848, which failed, and Mazzini and other nationalist leaders were exiled.

Sardinia Leads Italian Unification

The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia led the drive for Italian unification.

Following the exile of Mazzini, The Italian city-state of Piedmont-Sardinia rose t the forefront as a leader of Italian unification. King Victor Emmanuel II, and his advisor Camillo di Cavour, worked tirelessly to expand Piedmont-Sardinian power, utilizing an alliance with the French against the Austrians. As an effect, they successfully unified Italy.

Cavour Looks South

Garibaldi was a nationalist leader who fought for a united Italy. After capturing Sicily, civilians voted to unify Piedmont-Sardinia with the South, thus creating a unified Germany under King Emmanuel II.

In the south, Cavour aided Giuseppe Garibaldi, a Romantic who led a group of "Red Shirts." This group of passionate Italian soldier-soldier-volutnteers conquered Sicily and unified Southern Italy with the expanding Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

Challenges After Unification

Although the Italian state controlled the city of Rome, the Pope and the Catholic Church retained authority over the small micro-state of Vatican City, an agreement that still exists today.

Austria gave up its claims to Northern Italy in 1866, and Italian forces conquered Rome from the Holy Catholic Church. Rome became the capital of the new united Italian state. Disputes between the north and south- which had vastly different cultures and languages, led to instability in government, and economic crises and peasant revolts meant that Italy was a poor country at the turn of the 20th century.

The Rise of Prussia

Modern-day Germany was divided into many district states.

In the 1800s, German central Europe was divided into 39 states, loosely unified into the German Confederation. Prussia and Austro-Hungary were the largest of these states. Prussia, aided by a homogenous German population, rapid industrialization, and a world-class army, eventually forged a unified German state.

Prussia Leads German Unification

Otto Von Bismarck and the Prussians looked to increase Prussian power and unify Germany.

Prussian King Wilhelm II, and his advisor Otto Von Bismarck, were a product of the conservative, Junker nature of post 1848 Prussian poltics. Bismarck worked to expand Prussian power and unify Germany- without the consent or oversight of the Prussian Parliament. He is known for his mastery of realpolitik.

Germany Expands

The Austro-Prussian War against Denmark was a quick success for the Germans, and a vital aspect of Bismarck's realpolitik tactics.

Bismarck skillfully forged an alliance with Austria, and their combined strength quickly defeated the Denmark, increasing German nationalism and the cry for a Prussian-led German state. He then created a system of co-rule over conquered Danish territory. He knew that this would lead to Austro-Prussian tension, which he intended to utilize to further strengthen Prussian power.

Bismarck Eliminates Austria

The Austro-Prussian War was a quick victory for the Prussians, who made good use of technological advancement and created a modern army.

Bismarck stirred up border conflicts with Austria to bait them into the Austro-Prussian or "Seven Weeks' War." The Prussians won quickly and decisively, establishing themselves as the sole powerhouse amongst the German states, and as the leaders in the unified North German Confederation.

The Franco-Prussian War

Wilhelm I became kaiser of Germany in the Palace of Versailles, following German victory in the Franco-Prussian War.

To gain support from southern German Catholics, Bismarck devised a ploy to "create" an outside threat. He stirred controversy with the French, prompting them to declare war on Prussia. Prussia and her German allies defeated the French, capturing Napoleon III and besieging Paris along the way. Internally, the war create a nationalistic surge that allowed for the formal unification of a German state that excluded Austria. In 1871, Wilhelm I of Prussia became kaiser of a unified Germany.

The Balance of Power Shifts

This map shows the powers of Europe in 1871.

The 1815 Congress of Vienna had established five, relatively equal, European powers: Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. The wars of the mid- 19th century led to the destruction of this balance of power and the rise of Britain and Germany as superior economic and military powers.

Terms and Names

Camillo di Cavour- King Victor Emanuel II's prime minister, and a leader of Piedmont-Sardinia and Italian unification

Giuseppe Garibaldi- Romantic Italian nationalist and revolutionary who conquered southern Italy and united with Piedmont-Sardinia to create a unified Italy

Red Shirts- Group of Italian nationalist soldiers who wore red shirts and fought under Garibaldi

Otto Von Bismarck- Prime Minister of Prussia who is credited with unifying Germany through the skillful use of realpolitik

Realpolitik- "The politics of reality," or governing without idealism; Bismarck used this to manipulate foreign and alliances, play nations off of one another, and achieve his goals

Kaiser- German emperor of the Second Reich


1815: Congress of Vienna- This established a balance of power in Europe following the destruction of the Napoleonic Wars

1848: Revolutions of 1848- Revolts wrack Europe as people demand ethnic independence

1866: Austro-Prussian War- Prussian victory over rival Austria ensures Prussia's position as the dominant German state

1870: Italian Unification- The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia under Emmanuel II declares a Unified Italian state


Bismarck was a 19th century prime minister of Prussia, at a time when nationalism and expansion were common European themes. He was a master of realpolitik and realistic politics, which is consistent with his sentiments in the above quote. This quote demonstrates his commitment to his willingness to do anything in order to achieve his goals. Wilhelm I, Bismarck's kaiser, would support his beliefs as thy both fought for a unified Prussian-led Germany.
Dumas was a French Romantic and a contemporary of Garibaldi. As a French nationalist and supporter of French independence, Dumas would have supported Garibaldi's role in unifying Italy.
Bismarck was a believer in realpolitk, and he was willing to do almost anything to achieve his goals. His ruthlessness and sly manipulation of other nations to get what he wanted, and his stances as a conservative junker politician are consistent with his strong superiority statements, as they are expressed above. Charles Darwin, and later proponents of his social Darwinism theory, would support Bismarck's beliefs about the :survival of the fittest."


Created with images by Will Palmer - "German Flag, Berlin"

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