Why Study Popular Politics?

Civil society’s toolkit to achieve social and political change was largely developed in Europe during the long 19th century, the period roughly between the French Revolution and the First World War. This was a period where ordinary people displayed an impressive creative capacity to generate innovative political practices.

TRANSPOP studies how ordinary people in Europe increasingly developed and adopted practices of political participation during the long 19th century. We aim to recover the complex diversity of civil society in that period. Forging a link between the social sciences and history, we seek to illuminate ordinary people’s creativity in engaging in politics and shaping the history of democracy. For this purpose, the project’s team brings together case studies that have previously not been analysed under a common analytical framework. Thus, our transnational and comparative approach includes not only the well-known cases of France, Britain and Germany, but also Spain, Italy, Hungary and the Netherlands.

Recovering Europe’s Democratic Heritage

The project contributes to the important task of rediscovering and highlighting the common European heritage of popular involvement in politics, of democratization, and of ordinary people taking their fate in their hands. To insist on this legacy of increasing and progressive popular empowerment has proven particularly timely against two challenges that arose in the last decades: the concomitant rise of authoritarian politics and of new forms of demagogic and, paradoxically, anti-democratic populism. We want to present the positive heritage of democratic civil society (with all its problems) to academic and wider audiences and amplify its resilient potential against the increasing subversion of democratic norms and of demagogic manipulation of reality.

Cases Studied

The project will focus on a set of substantive instances of popular mobilization in their national and supranational scales. We will study the movement against colonial slavery and the Atlantic slave trade; the international peace movement; the complex of (proto)national independence movements and “external” movements of solidarity, such as the Philhellene or Polonophile movement; and the international “free trade” movement, originating with the mobilization against the Corn Laws in Britain.

Project Objectives

To generate new data sets of public mobilization in the European long 19th century and offer them to the scholarly community for further research on the topic; to analyze the new data sets in order to uncover causal dynamics not captured by prevalent accounts; to experiment with new methodologies for coding and analyzing historical sources; and, to create a new theoretical framework for explaining the rise of popular politics.

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