Europe in the World, ca 1450-1780

Course Material 2023/24
Kanō Sanraku - captains convening on a terrace in a foreign country, and Western women wearing fanciful garments.

The period spanning from 1450-1780 has long been viewed as one foundational for our modern world. In it, historians have hunted for – and often found – the origins of everything from capitalism to racism to secularisation. Perhaps most powerfully of all, it is the era we associate with ‘the rise of the West’. To be sure, there is much in the period that prefigures our own, not least the increasing density of global networks of communication and trade. But there are also deeply unfamiliar features, such as the inextricable relationship between science, magic and religion in this period or the simple fact that most of the world’s population lived outside of urban centres. This paper examines both what is familiar and what is foreign in what is known to historians as ‘the early modern period’. It seeks to understand Europe as one of several world regions contributing to the politics, economy and culture of the early modern world. The Michaelmas term introduces some of the geographies and chronologies that structure European and world history. At the same time, it aims to de-centre traditional Eurocentric narratives, for example ‘the Renaissance’ or ‘the Enlightenment’. The Lent Term is more thematic in approach, looking at broader trends across the period, from understandings of gender to the globalisation of disease, from war and the state to environmental extraction and enslavement. Throughout, it makes the most of the paired lectures, using one lecture to introduce a topic and the other for a case study; or one lecture for Europe and one for the world beyond; or to examine the same theme from first a social and then an intellectual perspective. 

The course aims to strike a balance between European and global contexts. At the same time, primary sources are given a pride of place. Often, these sources will be visual and material, in addition to textual, with the aim of introducing students to different types of source analysis. In supervisions, students will have further opportunities to study and discuss objects, images and texts. Essays will be set every other week and, in the intervening weeks, students may be asked to prepare a short book review, a learning diary or a presentation on a primary source. 

Page credits & information

Image: Attributed to Kanō Sanraku (ca.1559 - 1635). Six-panel folding screen on silk showing captains convening on a terrace in a foreign country, and Western women wearing fanciful garments.