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The Industrial Revolution and Urbanism

The Industrial Revolution and Urbanism
Bolstering the major changes and developments taking place in late modern Europe was an unprecedented economic and social transformation, known as the Industrial Revolution. This revolution brought with it the transition from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. As a result of this transformation, the predominantly agrarian and rural societies of Europe became industrial and urbanized. While industrialization and urbanization brought about an increased volume and variety of manufactured goods and an improved standard of living for some, it also resulted in often grim employment and living conditions for the poor and working classes. It therefore fostered a sense of disillusionment and discontent among large segments of the European population.
Coupled with the nationalist ideas of belonging and otherness, these feelings would have an important role in the development of antisemitism. One of the major results, one of the major impacts of the Industrial Revolution was the process of urbanization - the growth of the major industrial cities and towns. Now, how are these two developments related to antisemitism? The cities became, on the one hand, the center, the foci, of nationalist movements, of nationalist leadership, based on the popular masses in the rural agricultural villages. On the other hand, the cities gradually became the center of cosmopolitan activities in terms of commerce, relations with the outside world and so on.
The Jews found themselves in the period of the Industrial Revolution what I would call the center of action, center of action in the sense that they became especially in central and eastern parts of Europe the backbone of the modern industrial, middle-class industrial society which needed the enterprises, needed the introduction of commerce and so on. The Jews played a major role because of their knowledge of languages, their transnational contacts, their moving from one place to another, and their long-range activities or long- term activities in the fields of commerce and money, and finances. They became a major part of the urban middle classes. Thus, the nationalist movements combined in their antisemitic perceptions,
antisemitic narrative and stereotypes two elements: one is that the Jew is a foreigner, not part of our national ethnic identity, and parallel to this, the Jew takes our place in this new urban civilization and tries to destabilize our national values by introducing more and more Jewish ideas, or Jewish cosmopolitan ideas, or what were identified as Jewish cosmopolitan ideas, which are, in fact, anti-national, anti-nationalist. So we see a very interesting combination between the romantic perception of the nation, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the growth of the industrial society of the major urban centers, in which the Jews, as part of the growing middle class, played such a vital role.

Dr. Raphael Vago

The Industrial Revolution and the gradual urbanization that accompanied it, brought with them new challenges to the population of Europe. These would play a vital role in the rise of new movements and ideologies as well as have a major influence on the evolution of modern antisemitism.

How did the sense of disillusionment and discontent that festered among large segments of the European population in this time period affect the development of antisemitism?


  • Dotterer, Ronald L., Deborah Dash Moore and Steven Martin Cohen, (eds.), Jewish Settlement and Community in the Modern Western World (Selinsgrove : Susquehanna University Press, 1991).

  • Evans, Richard J., The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 (New York: Viking,2016).

  • Mendelsohn, Ezra, ed., People of the City: Jews and the Urban Challenge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

  • Teich, Mikulas and Roy Porter, eds., The Industrial Revolution in National Context: Europe and the USA (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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