THE 16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES--CHANGES, CHAOS, AND A SEARCH FOR ORDER
(Partly edited and reorganized--1/15/04 and 8/22/17)

You have probably heard the saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  In this class, we are going to be (at least metaphorically) travelling thousands of miles.  We'll be doing some time travelling as well, and we're about to take the first step along our more than 400 year journey.  But, if we're going to have a good trip, it's useful to know just where we are going.

For convenience sake, historians divide history into three major periods:
Note that these periods overlap--there are no sharp breaks between these different periods, though there are some broad general differences.  The ancient period of history, for instance, is dominated by polytheistic societies, while the medieval period sees the rise of monotheistic civilizations.

Note also that history has for us a beginning: roughly 3000 BC.  There were people on earth before that time, and the anthropologists and archaelogists can tell us some things about them and their societies.  However, until the emergence of writing (roughly 5000 years ago), we can't investigate the kinds of questions historians really care about.  We don't know people's religious beliefs or their laws.  Most of all, we can't know anything about individuals, their choices and the consequences of those choices. 

The ancient period of history saw the beginnings of many great civilizations.  These include:
We don't cover ancient history in this course: that's a topic for History 121.

The medieval period covers, among other things, the emergence of three great monotheistic civilizations including Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire), Islam, and the beginnings of  Western European Civilization.  Again, that's not a period we cover in this class.  That's in History 121.

Also in History 121, we cover
the earliest subdivisions of of Modern history including the Renaissance (1350-1600) and the Reformation (1517-1648)

That's a lot of material to cover: 4500 years of human history in a semester--and, quite early in my teaching career, I realized that this wasn't the best starting place for first-semester freshmen.  So, quite deliberately, I decided that I would teach all my History 121 classes in the Spring and all my History 122 classes in the Fall.  We'll only be covering 400 years of history in this class.  Still a lot, but easier.

I've devided the class into three sections.  In the first 1/3 of the class, I'll be focusing on the 17th century (the 1600's), though I'll have to sometimes have to go back to the 16th century to add a bit of necessay background.  We'll then have a "midterm" exam covering that material.   In the next 1/3 of the class, I'll talk about the 18th and 19th centuries.  We will then have another "midterm" exam covering that material.  After the 2nd midterm, we'll be talking about the 20th and 21st centuries, and the final exam will cover that material.

With each period we cover in the class, I will have a general theme, one big idea that most of the material will relate to.  For the 1st 1/3 of the class, the general theme is change.
  What I want you always to remember about the 16th and 17th centuries is that it was an age of change.  The period began on the brink of chaos.  Just about everything taken for granted in earlier times had changed, was changing, or was about to change.  We will be looking at these changes and how Europeans eventually adjusted to those changes, bringing a certain amount of order to what had been a chaotic situation.

Now there is some change during all historical periods, but changes in the 16th and 17th century were particularly rapid.  One reason for this, the discoveries made by
Christopher Columbus. 

Most of you are familiar with basic story of Columbus,  the Genoese explorer who though he could find an easier route to China and India by sailing westward across that Atlantic.  You probably know that, eventually, he found backing from the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella and that, rathering than finding the better trade-routed he had hoped for, discovered what--to Europeans--was a new world.  You probably discussed in school some of the positives of Columbus's discovery,
things like interchange of crops that ultimately benefited both Europe and the Americas and the introduction of European technology which also was of some benefit to the benefit to New World.

But you proably also know that Columbus' discovery meant disaster for native populations in America.  He and successors brought diseases like smallpox to the New World.  Many natives had no resistance to these diseases, and perhaps 80% of the population died--many having never even met a white man!


Columbus discovery also brought major changes to Europe, including the following:

1.  A changed economy

Because of Columbus' discovery, trade routes shifted.  Trade across the Atlantic rather than the traditional Mediterranean trade routes became the most important ticket to wealth.  This meant economic growth first for Spain and Portugal, then later for England, the Netherlands, and France.  This meant a shift of wealth, and ultimately also a shift in the cultural center of Europe.  As Italy lost its economic preeminence, it also lost also its cultural preeminence.  Artists, writers, musicians go where the money is, and that meant England, France, and the Netherlands eclipsing Italy in terms of cultural importance.

Also, the influx of gold and silver from New World meant rapid inflation and a drop of real wages throughout Europe.  Inflation is always a particular problem for working class people as their real wages go down and  the outlook for subsequent generations doesn't look good.  This leads to the kind of discontent that may make for revolution.


2.  Increasing social and political tension

In addition to working -class discontent, there was discontent elsewhere in European society.  The Bourgeoisie (the merchants, bankers and traders) were able to  take advantage of new economic conditions and make for themselves great fortunes.  Generally, though, they had no say in political decisions.  This made them unhappy, since government decisions affect a business's  bottom line.  Bourgoise discontent also might contribute to civil war or revolution.

Further, many nobles were unhappy.  They were losing economic preeminence to the bourgoisie, and polical power to the kings. They are still wealthy and powerful, but not as wealthy or powerful.  This makes them discontent, and possible contributors to revolution or civil war.

Columbus' discoveries also aggravated tension between countries, making war even more likely than at earlier times. Why?  The struggle over the control of New World colonies made international realations a very high stakes game.

Tensions in Europe were aggavated by increasiing religious division. 
Until 1517, Europeans were generally united by their allegiance to the Roman Catholic faith, but by end of 16th century, the religious map of Europe had changed.  Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Anabaptists, Catholics, etc. all fervently wanted *their* version of Christianity dominant or at least tolerated.  The conflicts of this perioed ended up more intense because they were often religious wars as well.  The period from 1517-1688 is often called "The Age of Religious Wars," and there's a lot of truth to that label.

All this meant that Europe was a powder keg wating to explode--and sometimes it did explode.  Perhap the best example of the disasters created by these tensions: The Thirty Years' War (1618-48). 

The Thirty Year's War was faught mostly within what wa called the Holy Roman Empire. This Holy Roman Empire (not to be confused with the Roman Empire of Augustus, Nero, Constantine, etc.) was created by Otto the Great in 956. The empire included much of Italy, much of Eastern Europe, and most of the German speaking areas of Europe.  The emperors for a time had been successful and powerful, but, in time, they had become mere figureheads.  And the nobles liked it that way!


But Around 1500, a new dynasty of emperors (the Hapsburgs) became powerful.  They controlled Spain, Netherlands, Germany, much  of eastern Europe, and  a lot of colonies in the New World.  They had enough power to become true emperors, not just figureheads, and the nobles didn't like it.  Looking for an excuse to resist the growing power of the Hapsburgs, many nobles turned to Lutheranism.  This led to a round of religious wars within the HRE, wars settled by he Peace of Augsburg (1555).  This treaty allowed nobles to choose the religion of the people in their domains.

This agreement broke down in 1618 when the King of Bohemia died.  Ferdinand (a Hapsburg, soon to be HR emperor) was chosen to replace him.  Hoping to unite all his dominions, he insisted that the Bohemians leave the Protestant churches and embrace Catholicism.  This made the people of Prague (the Bohemian capital) furious, and they threw Ferdinands messengers out a window in protest. This event is called "The Defenestration of Prague," and, although Ferdinand's representative weren't hurt, Ferdinand was angry. He sent troops to wipe out Protestantism in Bohemia.  The Bohemians under their new leader Frederick hired mercenaries to protect them, but the mercenaries sold them out.  Ferdinand gained the upper hand in Bohemia, and then hired more mercenaries so he could get rid of Protestantism throughout the HRE.

All this led to 30 years of bloody war.  France (although Catholic!) and Sweden aided the Protestants, and the war dragged on and on.  It was finally settled by Peace of Westphalia.  This allowed the nobles of each region to decide the religion of their subjects.  Basically, this meant back to the same terms as Peace of Augsburg!  But while the war changed nothing as far as the religious situation in the Holy Roman Empire, there was a real winner and a real loser to the war.  France was the "winner" of the war, emerging as the most powerful country in Europe.  The German people (both Protestant and Catholic) were the losers.  The war left 1/3 of the German population dead and destroyed the German economy.  When it comes to the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind, the Thirty Years' War ranks near the top--but not at the top. Stick around: it will get worse.