AP European History Unit Seven: 19th-Century Perspectives and Political Developments


In the 19th century, European politics were dominated by the idea of the nation, which was understood to be a community bonded together by a shared language and culture. Loyalty to the nation was encouraged through romantic idealism, liberal reforms, political reunification and, in the case of Zionism, an attempt to counteract the growing anti-Semitism of Europe.

In Italy, ideas of nationalism motivated a failed attempt to unify the various principalities in 1848. Although that revolution for Risorgimento failed, it inspired Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Count of Cavour, two Italian reformers interested in developing a cohesive Italy, to put aside their differences in favor of unifying the peninsula. In Germany, Otto von Bismarck used realpolitik, a political philosophy that emphasized practicality along with some ideas of nationalism, liberalism, and socialism, to unify the disparate and warring states left over from the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. Through “blood and iron”, Bismarck developed a unified Germany, as well as the alliance system that would eventually lead to World War 1.


Art mirrored the broader intellectual shift from objectivity to subjectivity and generally moved away from representational forms. Post-impressionist artists focused on abstract forms and expressive representations in order to challenge the idea of what art should be. Unlike impressionist artists, who were primarily interested in depictions of nature and light, post-impressionists often depicted distorted forms and geometric shapes using unnatural colors and thick applications of paint. Emile Bernard’s painting Breton Women in a Meadow exemplifies the distorted coloring, flexibility with form, and playful treatment of geometry that characterized post-impressionist art.


New developments in science in the 19th century emphasized rationality and the power of observation through positivism. Using this framework, Charles Darwin concluded, based on his observation of finches in the Galapagos Islands, that all animals undergo a process of evolution over time during which they become increasingly adapted to their environment. Although many religious leaders in the 19th century opposed Darwin’s scientific conclusions, Darwin’s ideas very quickly revolutionized both scientific thought and the broader society.

Social Darwinism argued that human civilizations were also based on ideas of natural selection and the survival of the fittest that Darwin observed in the animal kingdom. Social Darwinists argued for limited government regulation, low taxes, and unbridled self-interest with limited government intervention to protect the socially marginalized. This approach rapidly became one of the most prevalent philosophical approaches of the late 19th[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]The best way to get better at something is by practicing.

That’s why it’s so important that you take practice tests to help you get better at the AP European History Exam. Only then can you expect to get a good score—and even improve your score.

Download your free AP® European History practice test HERE.

Download your printable study guides for all of the units for AP European History HERE.

Scroll to Top