Dr. Ronald Fritze
January 9, 2004
"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."
The concept expressed in the previous quote is true, at least in part. We are going to study the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of European history. The course title talks about "absolutism" and about "enlightenment." How is this past foreign to us? Absolutism is a good example of that foreignness. In many countries and for much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many people supported the concept of an absolute monarch as the best and more proper form of government for humans. For Americans used to the idea of government of the people, by the people and for the people, this is an alien way of conceiving government, although many early modern people would have said the same thing about the American democratic republic that we live under.
Early modern society largely accepted the idea of a nobility of the blood. This meant that some people were naturally better than others and as a result they were also privileged under the law. Early modern people believed that this form of social structure was natural and good. Modern people, in contrast, make equality under the law and egalitarianism their ideal of the good society. At the same time various social changes such as the beginning of the industrial revolution and many of the ideas propounded by the Enlightenment brought about a transformation of European society that lay the foundations of the modern world that we live in today. The American Revolution had some of its roots in the Enlightenment. This era of the Old Regime in Europe from 1600 to 1789 may be two, three, or four centuries distant from us, but it remains relevant for an understanding the modern world and who we are.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also had their fair share of the great, the famous, and the infamous of human history.
Richelieu plotted to make France great.
Louis XIV built his palaces and fought his wars.
Gustavus Adolphus marched across Germany winning battles and losing his life.
Galileo sought to expand the universe, but ended up under house arrest. Peter the Great drug Russia into Europe and into greatness.
Frederick the Great fought against impossible odds and survived to lay the foundations for the emergence of a German nation.
It was the world of Bach, Mozart, and Handel. This era forms the setting of the historical novels of Alexander Dumas, Henrik Sienkiewicz, and Sir Walter Scott. High culture, savage warfare, the rise of modern science, violent religious conflicts are all a part of the Old Regime.
This class will also incorporate the use of some electronic technology. It is the first time that I have tried this approach. Most of the students in the class are already more familiar with it than I am. Please bear with me. My hope is that you find this class to be rewarding and enjoyable in terms of what you will learn.