This course examines the dynamic transformation of Europe across four centuries of social, cultural, political, and economic change. The course begins with the development of an urbanized Europe increasingly linked by commercial exchanges but still dominated by a rural society of lords and peasants. We follow the changing social relations and growth of state and religious institutions in what is known as the High Middle Ages until its close with the demographic and political crisis of the fourteenth century brought about by famine, plague, and seemingly endless wars. The second half of the course traces the recovery and spectacular expansion of Europe in the world in the early modern period from the cultural efflorescence of the Renaissance to the creation of direct trade networks connecting Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. European overseas expansion occurred as political division hardened and Western Christendom split with the Reformation, leading to the creation of territorial states and wars that lasted until the end of our period. Throughout the course we will emphasize social and cultural changes, investigating the lives of common women and men as much as princes and the nobility. At all points emphasis will be placed on historical thinking and trying to better understand past cultures rather than memorization of facts and figures.
Over such a broad chronological span it is not possible to cover all issues of this interesting period. The course will focus on key developments that highlight Europe’s interactions with the wider world. These include the institutionalization of political and religious authority and the creation of the fiscal-military state; the development of commercial capitalism in which the economic and cultural center of Europe migrated from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic; and the gradual change from a cultural perspective that emphasized truth in universals to a society that increasingly accepted the singular and particular.