Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Early Modern Europe

Early Modern Europe  is arguably my favorite era. The momentous events, colorful characters, and groundbreaking ideas that have shaped modern history never fail to fascinate me. Granted, I'm easily entertained when it comes to history, art, and literature.  It was during this time (c.1500-c.1800) that Europe started to attain global hegemony for good or ill, thanks to its political strength and, above all, its nascent technological and military superiority.

The 17th century started out with a bang, as Europe experienced the worst war in its history to date, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), surpassed perhaps only by what historians are now calling the New Thirty Years War between 1914 and 1945. If you were to go back in a time machine, don’t select “1600s” on the lever, for it was an age of adversity. Chronic wars, political upheavals, ethnic cleansing galore, famines, witch hunts—the riders of the Apocalypse evidently descended on the century to unleash a “General Crisis.” But Early Modern Europe, as we call this period of history nowadays, is also replete with cultural achievements and technological advancements unmatched anywhere else in the world. It’s no accident that the Scientific Revolution occurred at this time, for “enterprises of great pitch and moment” in the realm of thought often occur in times of tragedy and suffering. The Peloponnesian Wars, for instance, produced a golden age in Greek antiquity; while the economic recession and internecine struggle between Italian city-states, not to mention the fall of the Byzantine Empire, contributed to the Italian Renaissance.

So like most eras, this one had its highs and lows. How did people back then struggle with the rapid changes, the upheavals, and revolutions? I for one listen to the voices of the past, for they often have application today. I tend to find more continuity than difference when  I study these early modern communities.