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A Social History of Europe, 1945-2000

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A Social History of Europe, 1945-2000
Recovery and Transformation After Two World Wars.
By Hartmut Kaelble
Translated by Liesel Tarquini
Berghahn Books: New York & Oxford, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8574-5377-8

A History in Review Book of the Week Selection

Reviewed by Boris Segel - May 27, 2013

The Europe of today bares only a superficial connection with pre-World War One Europe. Two world wars, the financial, economic and social recovery that Europe went through after the wars, the impact of the cold war, the formation of the European Union, the influx of immigrants, and much more has served to alter the social and political landscape of Europe. In A Social History of Europe 1945-2000, Hartmut Kaelble examines how and why European society has changed over the years since the end of World War II, and how these social changes have impacted the political, economic, and international parameters of European life.

In writing this book, Kaelble has crafted an essential guide to European Social history. He has also helped to define exactly what Europe is - both socially and geographically. Along the way, he also explores whether the period from 1945-2000 was one of overall decline, progressivity, or a combination these two factors. In terms of the changing social condition in Europe over this period, Kaelble looks at not only the traditional realms of social history such as family and religious life, but also by the role played by labor, consumption, urban planning, and more in shaping the new European social milieu that has emerged in Europe during the post war period.

In this work, Kaelble examines that while Europe is often viewed as a whole, there are multiple divergences within Europe. These divergences not only arise out of east and west disparities, but also between the various nation states that comprise Europe. He looks at how minority groups, women, the socially and economically disadvantaged, and other groups altered the social landscape by seeking equality and by seeking to change their place in the social hierarchy. Along the way, Kaelble also offers a definition of what, exactly, social history is and how it differs from other forms of historical research.

Hartmut Kaelble is Professor Emeritus at Humboldt University in Berlin, and he has written widely on comparative history and various aspects of European history. The series of essays in this book provide readers of every ilk with a solid overview of European social history, and the factors that caused it to change over the course of the second half of the 20th-century. This book will prove invaluable to scholars working in all fields of modern European history, and it will aid politicians, social activists, and others, plan for the future by learning from the past. In short, A Social History of Europe 1945-2000 is destined to be a classroom standard, and it deserves a place in every library.

The text is divided into three sections. The first covers the basic parameters of social life - namely the history of family and the changes that have occurred in its structure and inter-family relations. Labor is also covered. Not just the various types of work that was available but employee-employer relations, the role of women in the workplace, and the inevitable rise and fall of unemployment over the years. Lifestyle changes, including those induced by changes in the standard of living and attitude toward the consumption of mass produced and artisan products. Changing value systems and the increase in secularization is also covered in this section.

The second section of this book covers the changing role and attitudes of both the economic and intellectual elites. This section also deals with issues related to social mobility, social inequalities, and migration. In the realm of migration, Kaelble looks at the forced migration that occurred after the end of World War II, as well the rise of voluntary migration, within Europe by Europeans, of laborers looking for work. Immigrants entering Europe, both political refugees and economic immigrants are also examined.

The changing role of the media over this period, the various social movements that arose, and civil unrest are all covered in the final section of this book. In addition, this section also includes essays on the rise of the welfare state, the expansion and role of urban areas, as well as changes in the educational systems throughout Europe.

As Kaelble states in the book's summary, "This book has addressed three primary concerns: the extent of change within European societies, the divergences and convergences between societies, and hallmarks distinguishing Europe from non-European societies." (Pg. 312.) In the process of examining these issues, Kaelble has produced a comprehensive and authoritative overview of the social history of Europe from the end of World War II through the year 2000. The end result of reading A Social History of Europe 1945-2000 is that you will come away from this book with a firm understanding of the subject, and the methodologies by which European social history is studied.


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Warfare and Society in Europe, 1898 to the Present, by Michael S. Neiberg.
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The Wiley-Blackwell Dictionary of Modern European History Since 1789, by Nicholas Atkin, Michael Biddiss, and Frank Tallett.
This is an authoritative and accessible reference guide to the major people, events, and issues that have shaped the development of Europe from the French Revolution to the present day.

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