Society and Culture in Early Modern Europe, c. 1400 - 1750

Home/ Society and Culture in Early Modern Europe, c. 1400 - 1750
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLS2HS2084

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester (but need not be offered in sequence or in tandem with other specific courses)

Course Coordinator and Team: Prof. Denys P. Leighton

Email of course coordinator: denys[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: none

Aim: Scholarship on the late medieval and early modern periods in Europe (c. 1400 – 1750 CE) has been remarkably engaging and innovative and has made considerable impact on studies of other times and places. Over the past fifty years historians of early modern Europe have been heavily influenced by (and participated in) the so-called Annales School practice of ‘total history’—a methodologically rigorous model of doing comprehensive history to bring together economic, political, social, cultural and environmental factors. Scholars such as Norbert Elias, N. Z. Davis, Peter Burke, E. P. Thompson and Stephen Clark have creatively applied anthropological and sociological insights to study of early modern Europe—attempting to explain collective behavior, manners and morality of people in (and beyond) early modern Europe. Historians of early modern Europe have pioneered the practice of ‘micro-history’, relating the lives of often obscure, marginal or eccentric individuals to the histories of larger social groups and changes in social structure and behavior. And most recently scholars have revised our understanding of ‘European’ events and processes--for example, the Renaissance, religious Reformation/Counter-Reformation, witchcraft/occult practices, devotional cultures--by focusing on ‘encounters’ between Europeans and people of the Americas, Asia and Africa. This course previews key events and processes that signal a shift from pre-modernity to modernity in Europe and its early colonies while shedding light on historical methods that can be applied to study of other times and places.

Course Objectives:

  1. Obtain an understanding of the consolidation of Europe c. 1500 – 1700 C.E. as a distinctive socioeconomic, political and cultural formation; comprehend the simultaneous ‘distancing’ of Europe from other civilizations and the modified reproduction of European-ness in other regions of the world through colonization.
  2. Investigate ‘the idea of Europe’ and the emergence of pan-European consciousness during this period, and understand the relation of the idea of Europe to consciousness of nation, class, religious belonging, etc.
  3. Understand the transformation of Europeans’ manners and morals, their changing understanding of relations between ‘divine’ and ‘worldly’ orders and between natural and supernatural powers.
  4. Course Outcomes: On successful completion of the course:
  5. Students will have become acquainted with types of historical investigation (methods) that have been used by historians of early modern Europe and that have been applied or could be applied to the study of other times and places.
  6. Students will have acquired or improved advanced critical reading and reporting skills through group oral presentations, short writing exercises (‘thought-pieces’) and a literature review.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. European identity to 1700 CE: Myths, cultural inheritance and identity consciousness. (Weeks I & II)
  2. Meanings of ‘Renaissance’. Italy and humanism; a graphic and visual revolution. The Renaissance in the North and East. (Weeks III & IV)
  3. The natural and the supernatural in Europe before Martin Luther. Protestantism, Counter-Reformation Catholicism and communalism. Religion in relation to aristocratic, bourgeois and peasant ‘politics’, c. 1500 – 1650. (Weeks V & VI)
  4. Making the New World old. Cultural hybridity, achieving social dominance: New Spain, New France. The Orient in the European world picture. (Weeks VII & VIII)
  5. Student (group) presentations: Weeks IX & X.
  6. Rituals of life and death, c. 1400 – 1600. Family and ‘individualism’. Gender and social experience. A witchcraft ‘craze’. (Weeks XI & XII)
  7. ‘Scientific Revolution’?: changing relationships between Man and Nature. (Week XIII)
  8. Reflection. (Week XIV)

Assessment Details with weights:



Date/period in which assessment will take place



Literature review (writing assignment: 600 – 1000 words)

Week IV



Oral (group) presentations

Weeks IX – X



Thought pieces/ short writing assignments (5 pieces of 250 – 500 words)




End-semester exam (essay answers)

per School examination calendar



Reading List:

  • Beik, William, ‘The Violence of the French Crowd from Charivari to Revolution,’ Past and Present, 197 (2007), pp. 75-110.
  • Bossy, John, ‘The Counter-Reformation and the People of Catholic Europe,’ Past and Present, 47 (1970), pp. 51-70.
  • Burke, Peter, ‘Did Europe Exist Before 1700?,’ History of European Ideas, 1 (1980), pp. 21–29.
  • Burke, Peter, ‘Images as Evidence in 17th-Century Europe,’ Jo. of the History of Ideas, 64/2 (2003), pp. 273-296.
  • Burke, Peter, ‘Languages and Anti-Languages in Early Modern Italy,’ History Workshop Jo., 11 (1981), pp. 24-32.
  • Cameron, Euan (ed.), Early Modern Europe. An Oxford History (OUP, Indian edition, 2011): selected chapters.
  • Clark, Stephen, ‘French Historians and Early Modern Popular Culture,’ P+P, 100 (1983), pp. 62-99.
  • Clark, Stephen, ‘Inversion, Misrule and the Meaning of Witchcraft,’ P+P, 87 (1980), pp. 98-127
  • Davies, C. S. L., ‘Peasant Revolt in France and England,’ Agricultural History Review, 21 (1973), pp. 122 – 34.
  • Davis, Natalie Z., ‘The Reasons of Misrule’, P+P, 50 (1971), pp. 41-75
  • Davis, Natalie Z., ‘The Rites of Violence’, P+P, 59 (1973), pp. 51-91.
  • Debus, Allen G., Man and Nature in the Renaissance (Cambridge: CUP, 1978): selected chapters.
  • Eisenstein, E. L., ‘The Advent of Printing and the Problem of the Renaissance,’ P+P, 45 (1969), pp. 19-89.
  • Kelley, Donald R., ‘Martyrs, Myths and the Massacre,’ American Hist. Rev., 77/5 (1972), pp. 1323-1342.
  • Lee, Wayne E., ‘Peace Chiefs and Blood Revenge: Patterns of Restraint in Native American Warfare,’ Jo. of Military History, 71 (2007), pp. 701-741.
  • Merchant, Carolyn, ‘Hydraulic Technologies and the Agricultural Transformation of the English Fens,’ Environmental Review, 7/2 (1983), pp. 165-78.
  • Monson, Craig A., Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Magic, Music, Art and Arson in the Convents of Italy (Chicago: Chicago UP, 2010): selected chapters.
  • Monter, E. W., ‘Women in Calvinist Geneva (1550-1800),’ Signs, 6/2 (1980), pp. 189-209
  • Pagden, Anthony, ‘Ius et Factum: Text and Experience in the Writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas,’ Representations, 33 (1991), pp. 147-62.
  • Parry, J. H., ‘Juan de Tovar and the History of the Indies,’ Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 121/4 (1977), pp. 316-19.
  • Roper, Lyndal, ‘”Going to Church and Street”: Weddings in Reformation Augsburg,’ P+P, 106 (1985), pp. 62-101.
  • Ruff, Julius, Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001): selected chapters.
  • Thomas, Keith, ‘Numeracy in Early Modern England,’ Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th Series, 37 (1987), pp. 103-32.
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh, ‘The European Witch-craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries,’ in The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001 [1967]), pp. 62–115.
  • Yapp, M. E., ‘Europe in the Turkish Mirror,’ P+P, 137 (1992), pp. 134–155.