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A man works on a laptop computer during anti-government demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt. Joel Carillet/iStock.com

A hundred and fifty years ago there was no Internet, cell phones or 24-hour global news networks. But there were grassroots political movements that spread from country to country in a way that's not so different in today's age of instant information. It's hard to imagine how this was possible.

NYU Abu Dhabi Associate Professor of Social Research and Public Policy Peter Stamatov has received a prestigious research grant from the European Research Council to figure this out through the study of centuries-old social movements in Western Europe. The goal is to understand why and how revolutionary political ideas back then managed to travel over borders and sometimes even transcend cultures.

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It's important that we understand these historic models because it gives us a template for further change.

Peter Stamatov, NYU Abu Dhabi Associate Professor of Social Research and Public Policy

"There are remarkable similarities to our current model of political globalization and citizenship," explained Stamatov, "because there were frequent expressions of solidarity across borders." In those days, people in different countries mobilized over issues like women's rights and universal voting while today it's the Greek debt crisis and Arab Spring.

“A lot of the freedoms we take for granted today are the result of long-protracted political struggles that happened in a transnational or global context many years ago," Stamatov added." It's important that we understand these historic models because it gives us a template for further change."

The five-year research project received 1.1 million euros and will seek to understand how a small group of activists across Continental Europe in the 19th century were able to spur change locally then build momentum to affect policy change in places like Great Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands.

By Andy Gregory, NYUAD Public Affairs