Heyday: the 1850s and the dawn of the global age

"People in the 1850s had a sense they were entering a new period of history": Ben Wilson talks to Matt Elton about his new book, which argues that the 1850s was a pivotal decade in global development – and that its innovations and concerns have vital lessons for today...

An illustration from Dickinson's ‘Comprehensive Pictures of The Great Exhibition’. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine 

In context

Ben Wilson argues that the 1850s should be seen as a distinct period within the Victorian era because its developments shaped the world for decades. Key among these are the 1851 Great Exhibition, held in London to promote British technology; the ‘gold rushes’, migration to areas with newly discovered deposits of gold; and the first underwater transmission of a telegraph message, from London to Paris in 1851 – which, in theory, meant that the whole world could be linked in such a way.

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