History 351: Seventeenth Century Europe 2011

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History 351: Seventeenth Century Europe


History 351, 2011

  • Syllabus is at http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/351/351%20course.htm

  • Lecture outlines at http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/351/351OUTLINE.htm

  • Weekly readings will be assigned by the TA (Yuan Chang)

  • Home page: http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/

Click on “Essays and papers” for information on how to do exams and term papers well.


  • Two Midterms (in class 10/12, 11/18)

  • A final (Sunday 12/18, 7:45 AM; place to be announced)

  • Four credit students do a 5-6 page paper due 10/28

  • Honors students do an extra paper, due 12/14

  • Attend discussion section; attendance and participation there count for 20% of the grade. Contact your TA if you need to miss discussion.

  • Readings: your TA will provide details

  • Graduate students: 2 papers, each of 12-15 pages; due 10/28 and 12/14; topics by arrangement.

Introduction: An Age of Revolution

  • Intellectual and Scientific Revolutions

  • Astronomy : Galileo, Kepler

  • Physics and Mathematics: Newton, Leibniz

  • Chemistry: Robert Boyle – “the Father of Chemistry”

  • Mathematics: Simon Stevin (Dutch; 1585) pioneers the decimal system of expressing fractions

Scientific and Intellectual Revolutions

  • Mathematics: John Napier (Scottish; 1614) pioneers the use of logarithms, simplifying complex calculations.

  • In 1642, Blaise Pascal (French) invented a mechanical calculator which is sometimes seen as the forerunner of the computer.

  • Medicine: William Harvey (English; 1628) discovered and described the circulation of blood.

A Pascaline - a mechanical calculator, invented by Blaise Pascal (1623-62) in 1642

William Harvey’s book on the circulation of blood, 1628. It has been called the most important book in the history of medicine

Scientific and Intellectual Revolutions

  • New Instruments: the microscope (Dutch; 1590)

  • The telescope (Hans Lippershey; German/ Dutch; 1608)

  • Note military use of telescopes; the practical, and especially military applications of science were important (especially to governments)

  • The borders between different sciences were not yet clear; scientists had broad interests; science (natural philosophy) was not clearly distinguished from philosophy in general

Scientific and Intellectual Revolutions

  • René Descartes (French; 1596-1650) is commonly seen as the founder of modern philosophy. He also pioneered co-ordinate geometry (using algebra to solve problems in geometry), and did important work in optics.

Scientific and Intellectual Revolutions

  • Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a philosopher (and lawyer and statesman) who stressed the importance of experiment in science, and the capacity for science to transform the world to the great benefit of humanity.

  • In 1626 he went out into the snow to do an experiment on refrigeration, when he caught a chill that turned into pneumonia and killed him.

Scientific and Intellectual Revolutions

  • Baruch or Benedict de Spinoza (1632-77) was a philosopher with a strong interest in the new scientific discoveries. He made his living by grinding lenses and died of lung disease perhaps caused by inhaling ground glass.

  • Born into the Jewish community in Amsterdam (Holland), Spinoza was excommunicated from it, and was regarded as an atheist by many Christian groups. Pioneers of new philosophical and scientific ideas were often criticized by the clergy.

Scientific and Intellectual Revolutions

  • Thomas Hobbes (1588-1677), the political philosopher, admired Galileo, and served as Bacon’s secretary when he was young. He shared many ideas with Spinoza, and was also accused of atheism. Hobbes attacked the claims to authority of the clergy, and was attacked by them.

Economic change: start of the agricultural revolution

  • A downturn in temperature: the “Little Ice Age” and the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715)

  • Worsening weather was accompanied by stagnation of the population (unlike the sixteenth century, when population rose sharply)

  • In response to stagnating demand for food, people tried to cut the costs of food production, and tried to develop new markets (in cloth and other industrial goods, and in places outside Europe)

Economic change: start of the agricultural revolution

  • One way of cutting costs was to reduce wages of agricultural workers, or give them no wages at all but turn them into serfs, forced to work for their lords; enserfment took place in Poland, Russia, and elsewhere in eastern Europe.

  • Another approach to cutting costs was to improve agricultural productivity, by introducing new farming techniques; this happened in the Netherlands, England, and some other areas in the west; it paved the way for the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Economic change: global expansion

  • Europeans greatly expanded their trade with distant parts of the world, especially in America and Asia. They set up trading bases and colonies.

  • Russians expanded eastward across the land mass of Siberia. They set up a fort at Yakutsk in the 1630s, and reached the Pacific in 1639.

  • Europe’s center of economic gravity moved from the Mediterranean to the northwest and the Atlantic.

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