Early Modern Knowledge (Section 14, Fall 2017)

About this class

To quote L.P. Hartley: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”  Early modern Europe (1500-1800) does indeed seem like a foreign land, where kings and queens ruled over a population that would be considered both ignorant and subservient by modern standards. And yet, this was a universe that had its own rationale and a time when important developments in scientific, philosophical, political, and religious knowledge laid the foundation for the world in which we live today. Western society embraced the notion that the earth revolved around the sun, and ideas about a divinely ordained monarchy gave way to the defense of democratic forms; theologians tore apart the Christian church, and people began to think through the implications of empire and conquest as Europeans spread themselves around the globe.

How was knowledge constructed in this period, and how and why did older forms of knowing give way to new ways of understanding the universe? Moreover, how were the various intellectual developments of the day interrelated, and what does all of this tell us about the production of knowledge more generally? This course will investigate how knowledge was produced (and also reformed) in the early modern world and, in the process, develop students' capacity for critical thought and analysis. It is organized thematically rather than chronologically, and incorporates workshops and in-class activities alongside lecture material. A participation mark will be also assigned.

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