General History X: 1715–1799
The eighteenth century offers you the opportunity to study the foundations of the modern world. After nearly a century of stagnation, population and economy began to grow and by 1800 Europe was the most developed commercial civilization the world had ever known. Economic growth, however, entailed growing social dislocation as the greater affluence of the few meant increased poverty and insecurity for the many. Economic growth, too, made it increasingly difficult to integrate new and old wealth within a society which associated rank with inherited and corporate privilege. Meanwhile the dominant Augustinian form of Christianity which underpinned that society was itself under attack from the new, much more egalitarian and secular ideology of the Enlightenment. Across Europe the philosophes and their allies made human betterment in this world the focus of their writing. Since many princes and their advisors after 1750 took up these new ideas in the hope that the abolition of the corporative society would increase the state's ability to mobilize its subjects’ resources, the stage was set for a battle royal between many of Europe’s governments and the privileged orders, which culminated in the American War of Independence and the French Revolution of 1789. While this provided an opportunity for the ideas of the Enlightenment finally to be turned into reality, it also proved the prelude to a decade of war as the French Revolutionaries, divided amongst themselves, attempted to impose their view of the new Jerusalem on the rest of the continent as well as on Frenchmen and women.
In such a period of conflict and change, there is no shortage of topics for you to study in tutorials. Central topics are the Enlightenment, the leading ‘Enlightened absolutists’ (Frederick of Prussia, Catherine of Russia, Joseph II, Charles VIII of Naples and III of Spain), the failure of administrative and fiscal reform in France, the outbreak and impact of the French Revolution. There are, however many other topics in economic, social and cultural history which you can explore, among them popular culture and changing attitudes to women and children.
Nor need your attention be confined to Europe. The eighteenth century was a period when Europe and the rest of the world were more tightly bound together than ever before. There is a large secondary literature in English on the American Revolution and the framing of the 1787 Constitution. The decline of the Mughal Empire in India and the coming of the British to Bengal are also well covered, as is the development of Spanish America in the eighteenth century. It is also possible now to study Japanese, Chinese and aspects of African history.