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Historical Period: 19th Century

Updated on April 19, 2018
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Film reviews from across the cinematic landscape. Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


A period of massive expansion, the 19th century extends from 1801 to 1900 CE (Common Era).

Marked by the collapse of the Spanish, Napoleonic, Holy Roman and Mughal Empires as well as the abolition of slavery and the Second Industrial Revolution, the British, German, and Russian Empires, United States, German Empire, French colonies and Meiji Japan rose to prominence in this era. Of them, Britain and Russia became the world’s leading powers, with Russia broadening itself throughout central and eastern Asia and Britain encompassing territories in Canada, Australia, Africa and India. As the 19th century came to a close, one quarter of the world’s population were a part of the British Empire and it was said to be an empire in which the sun never set.

In the United States, purchase of Louisiana from France initiated migration westward. People settled in lands west of the Mississippi River, populating the American frontier. Through said migration, treaties with foreign nations and Native American tribes, political compromise, military conquest, the building of farms, ranches and towns and mining, America transformed from a former European colony into its own identity where values included equality, democracy, optimism, self-reliance and individualism.

Additionally, the United States experienced a Civil War from 1861 to 1865, initiated because of the Confederate States seceding for a multitude of reasons. It ended when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to United States General Ulysses S. Grant.


Art in the 19th century is defined largely by Romanticism, emphasizing emotion, individualism and the glorification of the past and nature, and Realism, portraying contemporary people and situations accurately and truthfully.

Early forms of Romantic art showed themselves in landscape painting by British artists. Later artists would express feelings verging on mysticism and German Romantic painters started the Nazarene movement, seeking to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art.

Realism began in France by painters depicting ordinary people in ordinary surroundings. It spread beyond France, influencing a number of artists in places such as Germany and the United States, allowing them to paint works dealing with social issues. In its spread to America, painters tended to portray the daily life of society’s poorest members.

Literature varied widely throughout the 19th century from the Romantics emphasising women and children, criticizing the past, and respecting nature and Victorian authors writing about the struggle of working people and the triumph of right over wrong to Transcendental writers viewing objects as small versions and calling people to trust individual intuitions and those of the Naturalism movement favoring facts, logic and impersonality over imagination, symbolism and the supernatural.

Romantic music spanned the entire century. Composers brought forth more expressive and emotional works, and were discontented with musical formulas and conventions. They were known for large orchestrations, more elaborate harmonic progressions and a wider range of dynamics. The size of the orchestra grew as did the assortment of instruments within them. Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, Vincenzo Bellini, and Hector Berlioz are some Romantic composers.

The 19th century also contained the beginning of film, a result of photography's emergence. The Edison Company demonstrated a prototype of the Kinetoscope, enabling one person to view moving pictures in 1891, and the Lumière brothers were the first to present projected moving pictures to a paying audience in 1895 Paris.

Science & Technology

The Industrial Revolution ended between 1820 and 1840 due to an economic recession. Nevertheless, developments in its latter half saw the likes of steamboats and steamships, hot blast iron smelting, the telegraph and the adoption of locomotives. Furthermore, economic growth after 1870 permitted for the Second Industrial Revolution. Known for advancements in manufacturing and production technology, it permitted widespread adoption of telegraphs, gas and water supplies, sewage systems, electrical power and telephone lines and lasted until the beginning of World War I. Photography developed in this era, too, evolving from permanent photoetchings to flexible photographic roll film.

Sociological Timeline

  • Jan 1, 1801 - Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland merge to form the United Kingdom
  • Jan 4 - 1803 - William Symington demonstrates the first practical steamboat
  • 1804 - World population reaches 1 billion
  • Aug. 11, 1804 - Austrian Empire established
  • 1810 - University of Berlin founded
  • 1814 - Elisha Collier invents Flintlock Revolver
  • Feb. 6, 1819 - Singapore established by the British East India Company
  • 1820 - Antarctica discovered
  • 1820 - End of the Maratha Empire
  • Sept. 27, 1821 - First Mexican Empire established
  • Dec. 26, 1825 - Decembrist revolt in Russia
  • 1831 - Native Americans begin to be forcibly relocated on the Trail of Tears
  • Oct. 2, 1835 - Texas Revolution
  • March 2, 1836 - Republic of Texas established
  • Nov. 3, 1839 - First Opium War begins
  • Aug. 29, 1842 - First Opium War ends; Treaty of Nanking cedes Hong Kong to the British
  • 1843 - First wagon train sets out from Missouri
  • 1845 - Irish Potato Famine begins
  • Jan. 24, 1848 - California Gold Rush begins
  • Feb. 1848 - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto
  • Feb 23, 1848 - Revolutions of 1848 begin in Western and Central Europe
  • July 19-20, 1848 - Seneca Falls Convention first women’s rights convention
  • 1849 - Revolutions of 1848 end; first recorded air raid, Austria employs 200 balloons
  • 1851 - Great Exhibition in London the first international World Fair
  • 1852 - Irish Potato Famine ends; Frederick Douglass delivers “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” speech
  • Oct. 8, 1856 - Second Opium War begins
  • 1857 - Sir Joseph Whitworth designs first long-range sniper rifle
  • May 10, 1857 - Indian Rebellion of 1857 begins
  • Nov. 1, 1858 - Indian Rebellion of 1857 ends
  • May 31, 1859 - Big Ben completed in London
  • Oct. 24, 1860 - Second Opium War ends
  • April 12, 1861 - American Civil War begins
  • 1863 - International Red Cross formed
  • May 9, 1864 - American Civil War ends, Reconstruction era begins
  • 1867 - Austrian Empire ends
  • Nov. 17, 1869 - Suez Canal completed
  • March 1, 1872 - Yellowstone National Park established
  • 1876 - Gilded Age begins in United States
  • May 8, 1886 - Coca Cola developed
  • Oct. 28, 1886 - Statue of Liberty dedicated
  • March 15, 1889 - Eiffel Tower completed
  • 1890 - First use of the electric chair as a method of execution
  • 1892 - fingerprinting officially adopted for the first time
  • 1893 - New Zealand first country to enact women’s suffrage
  • April 21, 1898 - Spanish American War begins
  • Aug. 13, 1898 - Spanish American War ends


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