The Enlightenment c. 1680-1800: Ideas and the Public Sphere
(class leader: Brian Young)
This option offers the opportunity to engage with a range of exciting new scholarship on the Enlightenment, covering the period from the second half of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century. It takes inspiration from recent rebuttals of the postmodern critique of the ‘Enlightenment project’, and addresses the subject in comparative and transnational perspective. We shall cover Enlightenment both as an intellectual movement and as a social phenomenon, examining how thinkers across Europe engaged with new publics.
For the first four weeks we shall explore the major interpretative issues now facing Enlightenment historians, including:
- the coherence of Enlightenment – whether we should think in terms of one Enlightenment or several;
- the importance and duration of ‘radical’, irreligious Enlightenment;
- the relation between Enlightenment, the republic of letters, and the ‘public sphere’;
- the politics of Enlightenment: public opinion, reform, and revolution.
During the second half of the course, participants will be encouraged to set their own more precise study agenda, related to the topics of their course papers. They may explore in more detail the intellectual content of Enlightenment, its various contexts, its social framework, and its impact, within and across national and political frontiers. Topics which might be studied at this stage are:
- Enlightenment contributions to natural philosophy, and the ‘arts and sciences’;
- the Enlightenment ‘science of man’, as pursued in philosophy and political economy;
- writing sacred, civil and natural history in the Enlightenment;
- women, gender and Enlightenment.
Participants will also be encouraged to attend the research-oriented Enlightenment Workshop, which meets weekly in Hilary Term.