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9-08-2015, 14:39

Structure of the book

This book is designed to cover more than three hundred years of European history, viewing Europe as both larger and more connected to the rest of the world than it often has been. Thus it defi nitely faces the challenges just noted, which emerge fi rst as decisions about how best to structure the story. Any arrangement is an intellectual scheme imposed by an author on a group of events, developments, individuals, and groups. Some books arrange material over a fairly long period topically, which allows readers to see continuities and long-term changes, and better understand aspects of life that change fairly slowly, such as social structures, economic systems, family forms, or ideas about gender. Some books arrange material more or less chronologically, which works better for things that involve dramatic change, such as epidemics, wars, and revolutions. This book splits the difference. It is arranged in two general parts, one covering roughly 1450–1600 and the other roughly 1600–1789. The midpoint of 1600 is fl exible and somewhat arbitrary, but there were signifi cant breaks in many realms of life around that time: the French Wars of Religion ended, the Tudor dynasty in England gave way to the Stuart, serfs in Russia were completely tied to the land, the Dutch established the United East India Company and began trading ventures in Asia, and Galileo used the recently invented telescope to see the movement of the heavens, beginning a new era in astronomy. Within each part there are fi ve topical chapters, each with a chapter summary and discussion questions: “Individuals in society”; “Politics and power”; “Cultural and intellectual life”; “Religious developments”; “Economics and technology.” At the beginning of Part I and at the end of each part is a chapter titled “Europe in the world”; these look at the relationships between Europe and the rest of the world in 1450, 1600, and 1789 in terms of travel, trade, exploration, colonization, and other types of contacts. Chapter 1 also provides an overview of European society in 1450 in each of the fi ve topical areas, setting the stage for the rest of the book. Chapter 7 ends with a summary of Part I that brings together the major developments from all realms of life for the period 1450–1600, and following chapter 13 is an epilogue refl ecting changes and continuities across the entire period 1450–1789. The book covers the basic events long identifi ed with this period – the Renaissance, the Reformation, the rise of capitalism, the voyages of discovery, the growth of the nation-state, the Scientifi c Revolution, the Enlightenment – but also highlights ways in which historians see these as problematic, in the same way that they have interrogated “early modern” and “Europe.” Each chapter discusses a historiographical debate or two, that is, disagreements among scholars about the ways in which material should be interpreted, processes analyzed, or causation ascribed. Such debates are not new in history, and the discussions here include both long-standing debates in historiography, such as those about the origins of capitalism, and very recent disputes, such as those about the origins of sexual identity. Each chapter also presents several original sources, and there are many more sources available on the website for this book. Questions about the concept “early modern” have made it clear that any beginning date is relatively arbitrary; some of the processes understood as modern began in the Middle Ages, if not in antiquity. But developments in the fi eld of history over the past several decades have made 1450 seem a better starting point than the earlier designation of 1500. Why? The focus on the ways in which the past gets recorded has led to greater interest in the mechanisms of recording as both cultural and technological phenomena. Around 1450, printing with movable metal type was invented in Germany by artisans – Johann Gutenberg and others – who adapted existing techniques from metallurgy, wood-block printing, wine pressing, fabric stamping, and paper-making. (Artisans in Korea developed a similar technology somewhat earlier, but there is no evidence that this spread from Korea to Germany.) Though the number of people who could read and write, and who were thus immediately infl uenced by this new technology, was quite small, its ultimate impact as a vehicle of social change was enormous. Gutenberg was recently ranked, in fact, as the “most infl uential person of the millennium” by a cable-television network. In addition to printing, by the 1450s Portuguese ships were sailing regularly back and forth to Cape Verde in West Africa, bringing back gold and slaves through contacts with the Mali Empire and laying the groundwork for Portugal’s later colonial empire. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks under Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, and began to establish themselves fi rmly as a European power. Both of these developments are signifi cant in a European history that pays more attention to Europe’s place in the world, and together they dramatically infl uenced Columbus, who was trying to fi nd an alternative route to the east to challenge both the Portuguese and the Muslim Turks. The year 1453 also marked the end of the Hundred Years War between England and France, a war whose last battles, like the siege of Constantinople, involved the use of artillery, which some military historians view as the beginning of modern warfare. It is hard to imagine any development that has had more impact on the lives of all types of people – not simply soldiers and their generals – than modern warfare. Thus we can continue to debate the problematic notion of “modernity,” but still fi nd some (imperfect) markers in the 1450s. The same is true for the point at which “early modern” became “modern.” The beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 is the conventional breaking point, though historians have long recognized that using this date privileges the political history of western Europe. The late eighteenth century did bring signifi cant developments in other areas and realms of life, however. During the 1780s, Edmund Cartwright invented the steam-powered loom, opening a spinning and weaving factory that used his new machines and represented a new type of workplace. In 1787, the fi rst fl eet of convicts set sail from Britain to Australia, carrying about a thousand people to a new colony on what was not yet designated a continent (that would come about a hundred years later). In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published The Vindication of the Rights of Women , the fi rst explicit call for political rights to be extended to the female half of the population. In the early 1790s, Prussia, Austria, and Russia completed their carving-up of Poland, which disappeared from the map until the end of World War I. The years around 1789 therefore saw changes in economic structures, the process of colonization, political theory, and international relations, though the French Revolution has not lost its role as a major turning point.

 

 

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