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The Impacts of Liberalism in the 19th Century

  • Identify how groups of people were affected by the introduction of liberal principles and values.
  • Rank the significance of the political, social and economic impacts of changes initiated by liberalism.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students explore the impacts of classical liberalism and identify the most significant changes prompted by classical liberalism on 19th century politics, social structures and economics.

  1. Identify how groups of people were affected by the introduction of liberal principles and values.

Reflect on liberalism
Students will need to have background information on liberalism in 18th century European society in order to address this critical challenge. If the students have completed The Origins of Liberalism (Critical Challenge), ask them to review their observations and descriptions of 18th century European society. Alternatively, you may wish to review relevant reference materials such as the authorized student resources.

Encourage students to reflect on the perspectives of groups such as workers, merchant class, middle class, aristocrats and nobility. Brainstorm what effects various members of European society would have seen in the realms of politics and power, social values and norms, and economic structures with the introduction of laissez-faire capitalism, industrialization, class system and limited government. Possible responses include creation of more factories and jobs, development of constitutional monarchies, the rise of the middle class, and changes in resource use and settlement patterns. You may wish to ask students to refer to historical maps and other geographical sources to support this activity (see References).

Explore the effects of liberalism
Divide the class into teams and assign each team a perspective to research. Possible roles include the following:

  • entrepreneurs and factory owners
  • aristocracy
  • farmers
  • workers
  • women.

Provide students with a variety of resources that describe how European society was affected by liberal thought. Instruct students to use their assigned perspective to guide them as they record on a diagram the specific changes in society that occurred in the 19th century. The diagram illustrates the relationships between these areas: the specific classical liberal idea; the nature of the political, economic or social change; and the impact of that change on designated groups.

You may wish to refer to Concept Maps (Support Material) to structure this activity.

Identify the most significant impacts
Instruct students to use criteria for comparing significance to determine which of the identified impacts and changes were the most significant. Criteria may include the following:

  • Prominence at the time
    • Was the event, idea or person noticed at the time as having importance?
    •  How long did this recognition last?
  • Consequences:the impacts of events, ideas and persons
    • Magnitude of the impact: How deeply felt or profound was the impact?
    • Scope of the impact: How widespread was the impact?
    • Lasting nature of the impact: How long-lasting were the effects?
  • Subsequent profile
    • Remembered: Has the event, idea or person been memorialized?
    • Revealing: Does it inform our understanding of history?

You may wish to use Comparing Significant Events, Ideas or People (Support Material) to structure this activity.

  2. Rank the significance of the political, social and economic impacts of changes initiated by liberalism.

Evaluate the impacts
Invite students to develop a quadratic continuum to illustrate the significance of the impacts of liberal ideas.  This type of graphic organizer allows students to add the element of positive and negative impact in comparisons of significance.

For example, it is possible for an event to be Most Significant (+3) and have a very Negative Impact (–3). Inform students that a 3, either positive or negative, signifies great impact or significance. Encourage students to consider various perspectives when plotting impacts. For example, a worker in the 18th century may have had a different view regarding the significance of private property than a member of the aristocracy.

An alternative organizer could be a simple continuum that ranks only the impacts from least significant to most significant.

After students have completed the quadratic continuum or the simple continuum, ask groups to present their judgements to the class. Use these presentations as a basis for a whole-class discussion about the impact and nature of the spread of liberalism.

Last updated: January 30, 2009 | (Revision History)
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