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States and State-building

In writing political histories of the modern world, historians often interrogate the ‘state’, elucidating what exactly is meant by this term. Thinking about states involves a consideration of how they have expanded, contracted, and at times, collapsed. It also entails a close examination of the development of bureaucracies, administrative practices, and the relationship between officials (police etc) and civil society.

In this seminar, we will look at a recent work on state-building in nineteenth-century Central Europe, to help us see how historians have grappled with these ideas in practice. Central Europe has become fertile ground for studies of state-building. Here, Enlightenment thought inspired a range of experiments with new state-building techniques. In addition, many German rulers felt exposed during the Napoleonic Wars, prompting them to strengthen state structures thereafter. They looked to unify laws and official practices across their domains. And they sought to stamp their authority over minority subjects/citizens in provinces and borderlands, who spoke other languages alongside German, and often ascribed to different denominations or religions. At the end of the century, Central Europe also saw a second phase of heightened state-building, with the dramatic redrawing of borders and building of states after the collapse of Europe's land empires in WWI, and again after 1989 with the end of the USSR. We will examine the larger questions evoked by all these twists and turns in state-building, and end the seminar by making sure to think about other regions around the world where questions of state-building have been particularly pertinent to historians, including the role of international state-building.

Core Reading:

  • Iryna Vushko, The Politics of Cultural Retreat: Imperial Bureaucracy in Austrian Galicia, 1772-1867 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015)

Seminar Questions:

  • What is a state and what is state-building? Are they the same across time and space? [Note, the introduction to John Deak's work as cited below is helpful for thinking about these questions, p. 2ff]
  • What was the relationship between the imperial centre in Vienna and Austrian Galicia? Was there a gap between expectations and realities in the implementation of imperial policies? Why? What were the unintended consequences of bureaucratic decision-making in Austrian Galicia?
  • Is it more productive to focus on the successful expansion of states or the limitations to state-building?

Further Readings:

General social-science literature on state-building:

  • Francis Fukuyama, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the Twenty-First Century (London: Profile Books, 2004)
  • Bob Jessop, 'Bringing the State Back in (Yet Again)', International Review of Sociology, 11 (2001), 149-73
  • Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol (eds), Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990 (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990)
  • Charles Tilly, 'Reflections on the History of European State-Making', in Charles Tilly and Gabriel Ardant (eds), The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975)

Examples of historical works that explore the rise and fall of central European states:

The Habsburg Empire:

  • John Deak, Forging a Multinational State: State Making in Imperial Austria from the Enlightenment to the First World War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015)
  • Pieter M. Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016)
  • Paul Miller and Claire Morelon (eds.), Embers of Empire: Continuity and Rupture in the Habsburg Successor States after 1918 (Oxford: Berghahn, 2019)


  • Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (London: Allen Lane, 2006)
  • Reinhart Koselleck, Preußen zwischen Reform und Revolution: Allgemeines Landrecht, Verwaltung und soziale Bewegung von 1791 bis 1848 (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1967)
  • Christopher Clark, 'After 1848: The European Revolution in Government', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 22(2012), 171-97
  • Anna Ross, Beyond the Barricades: Government and State-Building in Post-Revolutionary Prussia (Oxford: OUP, 2019)

The Third German states:

  • Abigail Green, Fatherlands: State-Building and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  • Bodie A. Ashton, The Kingdom of Württemberg and the Making of Germany, 1815-1871 (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)

Examples of state-building in borderlands:

  • (*) M. Anderson, Frontiers: Territory and State Formation in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • (*) Peter Sahlins, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees (Berkeley, 1991)
  • George Gavrilis, The Dynamics of Interstate Boundaries (Cambridge: CUP, 2008)
  • Omer Bartov, Eric Weitz, Shatterzone of Empires. Coexistence and Violence in the German, Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands (Bloomington, 2013)
  • Eugene Rogan, Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850-1921 (Cambridge, 1999)
  • (*) Andrew S. Tompkins, 'Binding the Nation, Bounding the State: Germany and its Borders', German History, 37(2019), 77-100 [Review essay of recent works on this topic in modern German history]

For an example of state-building through a focus on the control of a particular resource:

  • David Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany (2006)

Essay Questions:

  • "Histories of state-building are, in essence, stories of expansion." Discuss.
  • How can perspective transform histories of state-building?