This course is about Europe in the seventeenth century - probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory. In the same century strong centralized European states entered into worldwide international competition for wealth and power, accelerating the pace of colonization in America and Asia. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and others, all struggled to maintain and extend colonies and trading-posts in distant corners of the globe, with profound and permanent consequences for the whole world. They also fought one another in Europe, where warfare grew increasingly complex and expensive. To gain an edge against other powers in war, European governments invested in research in military technology, and the seventeenth century was consequently an age of military revolution, enabling Europeans from then on to defeat most non-European peoples relatively easily in battle.
The course will examine the main social, economic, intellectual, religious, cultural and political developments that occurred in the seventeenth century. It will begin by exploring European religious divisions at the opening of the seventeenth century - divisions that led to assassinations and to widespread warfare, especially in the Thirty Years War of 1618-48. This war devastated much of Germany, and for a while made Sweden a great power. It also profoundly affected France, Spain and the Netherlands. In France, Cardinal Richelieu and Jules Mazarin strengthened and centralized state power, though at times their policies came perilously close to disaster. In Spain, disaster struck, and the Spaniards lost their long war with the Dutch, who formed a prosperous independent republic. Spain also lost control of Portugal, and for a while it seemed that Catalonia too would break free from Spanish control.
seventeenth century, Spain declined but France rose to become the
greatest power in Europe. In the second half of the century Louis XIV
increased royal power at home and French power abroad, but at a very
high cost in lives and cash. The France of Louis XIV threatened to
dominate Europe, and to oppose him other powers laid aside their
religious differences (which were becoming less important in the
increasingly secularized and scientific atmosphere of the late 1600s)
and joined forces against France. By the end of the century two powers
in particular were rivaling France, namely Holland and England. Both
benefited from the shift of Europe's economic center of gravity from
the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. In both, agricultural and
commercial changes were taking place which would soon pave the way for
the Industrial Revolution.
Schedule of Topics
The Thirty Years' War 1618-48:
The Maritime Powers to c. 1660:
the Dutch and the English
SPRING BREAK: MARCH 15 TO 23
TERM PAPER DUE IN CLASS: 4/4
and the English Civil War
France against Europe: the wars of Louis XIV
HONORS PAPERS DUE IN CLASS, 5/9
PLACE TO BE ANNOUNCED.