Thursday, August 28, 2014

European History, Day 2

In spite of the impending long week-end, there was a good turnout for Day 2 of European History Since 1648 at UNLV, so far un-derailed by my efforts to use classroom technology.
Frans Hals, Archers of St Hadrian's*
We began with introductions, which will allow me to begin the slow process of getting to know the very diverse group of students in the room who were drawn to the course for diverse reasons—both utilitarian and intellectual.  There are students from Computer Science, Biology, and Anthropology Departments, to name but a few.  Most, however, are history or secondary education majors. 
By way of orienting students to the 17th century, our starting point for the course, we had a conversation about beginnings.  After all, narratives are shaped by their starting points.  A conventional rationale for 1648 is the Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the 30 Years War and created a new framework for European power relations.  
But other moments in 1648—the independence of the Dutch Republic; the resumption of the English Civil War which culminated in the execution of a king; a treaty with the Omani imam which led to the expulsion of the Portuguese from the Persian Gulf—provide us with different snapshots of a formative year for Europe, and different starting points.  Each of those allow us to say very different things about where Europe was "coming from", and where it was "going" in 1648.
For the remainder of the class, we discussed what Europe looked like in the 17th century, in terms of geography, demography, and economics.  My organizational skills leaving much to be desired, we ran out of time to discuss the political and religious realms, but we’ll pick up with those on Tuesday, and they should serve as a good introduction to our conversations about Locke, Hobbes, and other theorists of states and societies. 
The first two days have involved me doing a lot of talking, but next week, when students begin reading primary sources, we'll start what I hope will be the more exciting part of the class.

Stay tuned, and happy Labor Day!
* One of many civic groups which claimed credit for freeing the Netherlands from Spanish rule


  1. So I gather the mandate of this course was to cover 1648 to the present? If you could pick a different year/event to start a modern European history class would you?

    Way back in the heretofore when I took a european history class we started with 1453/fall of Constantinople. I think that was to give more room for the renaissance. I think we were given some rational about it closing the 'chapter' of ancient/middle ages Europe, and people fleeing Constantinople to Italy helped starting the renaissance. Of course, it was so long ago, we were just a lot closer to that know easier to get class speakers who were there and all that....

    1. Good question...I think 1648 is as plausible a break as any. You could do 1688 as a very Anglo-centric starting point. I might do something like say 1600 and argue that the East India Company and its activities embody many of the developments associated with the "modern world".
      The version of this I GSId for at Berkeley started probably around when your European history class did, and covered the Renaissance, Reformation, etc.
      I'm sure the guest lectures by Machiavelli and Martin Luther were pretty entertaining...