I recently enjoyed a little lunchtime flurry on Twitter after asking about when the “Long” 18th century ended, in people’s opinion. That’s because The Day Parliament Burned Down makes the case for 1834 as one of the possible dates when the 18th century comes to a halt for various reasons. (In fact, I also argue that 1834 is the last gasp of various institutions and practices from the middle ages).
In his book Waterloo, Andrew Roberts describes the battle as the exclamation mark at the end of the century, but I think it’s much later, even though traditionally 1815 is often the end of school and university courses in the UK. Dates which Twitter correspondents came up with included 1820 (end of Regency), 1830 (death of George IV, revolutions), 1832 (Great Reform Act), 1837 (accession of Victoria), 1848 (more revolutions) and even 1850. And working backwards, the eighteenth century might even begin in the 1660s (or even the 1640s!) for some. In the USA, 1812 is seen as the end of pro-British aspirations.
The whole periodisation issue is a bit of a red herring anyway, and obviously artificial. After all, we don’t go around thinking we’re living through the dying days of the long 20th century. People today might be tempted to view 9/11/2001 as the “end” of the 20th century – but will it really be seen as that in 250 years’ time? I doubt it. In Europe we’re still living through the fallout from the Cold War: the point is, to contemporaries of any time or place, right now and before right now is seamless. So it’s all relative. But still fun to play around with – many thanks to all the tweeps who sent in their ideas!