History 301 introduces students to the history of Europe from the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648), through the age of absolutism and Enlightenment, to the French Revolution and its extension throughout Europe by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. The period begins with a pan-European diplomatic treaty—the Peace of Westphalia—the first in a chain of such international settlements that continues down to the present. These years also witnessed the first, full efflorescence of the modern sovereign state—whether it took the shape of royal “absolutism,” as in France and several of the German states, or was characterized by the ascendance of representative institutions, as in the case of Britain, the Netherlands, and (in the eighteenth century) Sweden. And of course virtually every aspect of modern culture and intellectual life was shaped, to one degree or another, by the European Enlightenment. The period ends with the French Revolution, that complex series of events without which no modern political movement—liberalism, conservatism, socialism, even fascism—can be fully comprehended. But to us “Old Regime” Europe is also a strange time and a foreign place, in which kings cured scrofula by the touch of their hand, a time when pigs that injured humans could be tried in court and put to death, an era in which married life was punctuated more often by death than divorce, and in which whole populations might still face exile on the grounds of heresy.
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