Christopher Clark

Christopher Clark is Regius Professor of History at Cambridge. Revolutionary Spring, about 1848, is out now.

Predicamental: Gravelotte, 1870

Christopher Clark, 21 September 2023

On​ 18 August 1870, French and German forces clashed along a six-mile arc between the hamlets of Gravelotte and St Privat, in a Lorraine landscape of open fields and low rolling hills. Four weeks into the Franco-Prussian War, it proved to be the deadliest battle of the conflict, prefiguring the butchery of 1914-18. After directing six hours of intense artillery fire from emplacements just...

Bristling with Barricades: Paris, 1848

Christopher Clark, 3 November 2022

Ascene​ in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, 1848: standing on an armchair taken from inside the building, Alphonse de Lamartine addresses the crowd. Around him are the men of the newly formed provisional government. Smoke wafts over the people and there are signs of recent fighting: a small artillery piece, the rubble of a barricade, a dead or dying horse, a man on a makeshift...

A Rock of Order: Through Metternich’s Eyes

Christopher Clark, 8 October 2020

In the course of a face-to-face meeting in Dresden in June 1813, Metternich, by now the Austrian foreign minister, reminded Napoleon of the appalling human cost of his wars. ‘In ordinary times,’ Metternich observed, ‘armies are formed of only a small part of the population. Today it is the whole people that you have called to arms.’ This was a matter also of ‘future generations’, he remarked, in reference to the extreme youth of many in the latest cohort of recruits who had perished on the Russian campaign. Napoleon made an extraordinary reply. ‘You are no soldier,’ he barked, ‘and you do not know what goes on in the soul of a soldier. I was brought up in military camps, I know only the camps, and a man such as I am does not give a fuck about the lives of a million men’ – ‘un homme comme moi se f(out) de la vie d’un million d’hommes.’ Metternich sometimes wondered how Napoleon did not shrink from himself in horror at the pain and injury he had inflicted. Here was the answer.

Still messing with our heads: Hitler in the Head

Christopher Clark, 7 November 2019

Knausgaard recalls the sensation of near nausea that overcame him as he began reading Mein Kampf: ‘Hitler’s words and Hitler’s thoughts were thereby admitted to my own mind and for a brief moment became a part of it.’ Brendan Simms confesses a similar apprehension: ‘the author,’ he writes, ‘has tried throughout to get into Hitler’s mind, without letting [Hitler] get into his.’ Whether Hitler gets into our minds, or we mislay something of our own inside his, it’s clear that this strange and hateful man, who has been dead for 74 years, is still messing with our heads.

Short Cuts: What would Bismarck do?

Christopher Clark, 26 September 2019

What​ would Otto von Bismarck, the chief architect of Germany’s 19th-century unification, do in the situation currently faced by the British government? This apparently esoteric question is more pertinent than one might think, because ‘what would Bismarck do?’ is something that Dominic Cummings, political playmaker to Boris Johnson, who has been ‘gaming’ the...

Kings Grew Pale: Rethinking 1848

Neal Ascherson, 1 June 2023

The revolution was significantly different in each country it visited. The fearsome events unfolding in Vienna can’t be understood without taking into account the simultaneous eruptions in Hungary....

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Some saw the collapse of the German Empire as a decisive and traumatic break in the historical continuity of the state. Nothing, in Christopher Clark’s view, more profoundly exemplified this revolt against...

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The weakness and unreliability of the alliances, and the lack of certainty about who would be on whose side, exacerbated the crisis of summer 1914.

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Black Legends: Prussia

David Blackbourn, 16 November 2006

Too much history can be bad for you. ‘The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’ – that was Marx’s famous comment on...

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