Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability

Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability

Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability

Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability

Synopsis

Fifty years after the beginning of the debate about the "general crisis of the seventeenth century," and thirty years after theodore K. Rabb's reformulation of it as the "European struggle for stability." this volume returns to the fundamental questions raised by the long-running discussion: What continent-wide patterns of change can be discerned in European history across the centuries from the Renaissance to the French Revolution? What were the causes of the revolts that rocked so many countries between 1640 and 1660? Did fundamental changes occur in the relationship between politics and religion? Politics and military technology? Politics and the structures of intellectual authority?

Excerpt

Over the past generation, powerful trends in historical study have discouraged historians from thinking big. A generation ago—or so it can seem to nostalgic professors themselves well into middle age—giants such as Fernand Braudel, Pierre Goubert, Law- rence Stone, and E. P. Thompson strode the land, opening up vast new vistas of social history and arguing passionately about such questions of interpretation as the general crisis of the seventeenth century, the origins of the modern family, and the causes of the Industrial Revolution. In their eyes, as well as in the eyes of prominent historians from other countries who rushed to join these debates, understanding these big questions of the past held the key to illuminating important problems in their own day: the roots of revolution, changing family forms and rising divorce rates, the possibilities and recipes for third-world economic growth. Since then, the collapse of Marxism has deprived even non- Marxist historians of the stimulus to engage with what was unquestion- ably the most ambitious explanatory scheme of historical change, and the one that did more than any other to direct historians' attention to important issues of long-term change. An intense scepticism about all “master narratives” has conquered many quarters of the historical pro- fession. The relentless advance of specialized research within an ever- expanding universe of publishing scholars grinds each previous genera- tion's bold generalizations into a fine powder of carefully weighed quali- fications, regional nuances, and differences of class, race, and gender at an accelerating pace. Specialists must work so hard to keep up with the literature in their own research domains that attempting larger surveys encompassing several centuries or the history of more than one country seems increasingly difficult. Not for nothing are most synthetic histories now written collectively by teams of specialists.

In light of the powerful trends encouraging this drift toward the microscopic, it seems more important than ever periodically to revisit the big questions. Precisely because the past generation has brought such an accumulation of specialized knowledge about so many aspects of history, we now have new vantage points from which to take stock of old gener-

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