|Maps like this one enabled governments to read and interpret their territories,|
facilitating the growth of state power.
In today’s rather chaotic edition of European History Since 1648 at UNLV, we once again failed to escape the 17th century, a dark age for an historian of the 20th century who likes his sources neatly typed. In truth, the class is designed to proceed as much thematically as chronologically, and so our themes today—Transportation, Communication, and Power—built some bridges with our earlier discussions about states and societies in Europe during this period.
After reviewing Locke and Hobbes’ views of the relationship between state and society we used brief selections from Montesquieu (writing on the French court of Louis XIV), Mary Astell (writing on the subjugation of women), and Ludwig Fabritius (describing a Russian uprising) to identify some of the critics of both absolutist and constitutional order in Europe. Each of these critics drew in some way on a notion of a voided social contract, and students began the process of making connections between seemingly disparate themes like “gender”, “the state”, “the social contract”, and the political geography of Europe that we touched on last week.
This led us, perhaps circuitously, to a discussion of the manner in which more ambitious European states were able to exercise their power. Thinking about European rule in the Americas suggested that transportation and communication both facilitated the expansion of state power.
Our core source for this part of class was the writing of Jacques Marquette, a French missionary on the Mississippi. Students identified how, in his descriptions of the North American landscape, Marquette described the landscape, its resources, its people, and their customs. This information, they concluded, provided European governments—in this case the French government—with the anthropological and statistical knowledge essential to their rule over these territories.
The fact that Marquette was a missionary on the vanguard of colonial expansion should lead us nicely into Tuesday’s session, in which we’ll discuss the role of religion in 17th and 18th Century Europe, a theme which in turn will feature in our upcoming discussions of the Slave Trade and its abolition, and Enlightenment-era Europe.