HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World

Module 1. The Pre-Modern West

Big Question for Module 1

What were the main underlying patterns of European life before the modern era of representative democracies?

Video Introduction



Maybe you’ve heard the saying: “The past is a foreign country.” When you travel (perhaps a distant experience in these COVID times), you become sensitive to what makes your home unique. The flip-side of this sensitivity is that you notice also what is strange and new to you about other people’s homes. You would certainly notice differences between Ontario and Europe, if you were allowed to travel there today: for example, foods, languages, entertainment, traffic signs, conventions of politeness, the organization of political parties, and on and on. Of course, you can find out more about these aspects of European life on the internet -- but that's not as engaging.

Today you will also notice significant parallels between Canada and Europe (or other continents -- we're focusing on Europe, because it is particularly important for this Module). Even if you have never been to Europe, you are probably familiar with most of its basic organizing features. These include democratic constitutions, the rule of law governing public life (although this is increasingly in dispute in some countries), freedom of association and the press, consumer-oriented markets, well-developed transportation and communication networks. There are lots and lots of other possible examples. Maybe you can think of some if you’ve ever been to Europe – or even if you have just watched British or European TV, or have read about Europe?

For this course, you have to try to imagine a completely foreign world and a very foreign Europe – the Europe of the past, and in particular the past before 1800. In this first Module you will learn about some of the basic differences between Europe then and now. Understanding these differences is a good starting point for the course, because they will provide a point of reference for thinking about some basic historical questions that lie at the foundation of this course: How did power and authority function in early modern Europe? What changed between approximately 1400 and 1850?

Why is our first Module devoted to Europe alone when our course is supposed to be about Europe, Africa, and the Americas? The answer is that in the early modern period European men and women played major roles in shaping the lives and environments of people and animals across the Atlantic world. Therefore, we will begin by learning about the ways they thought about and organized their own lives in their European home territories.

In this first Module you will also begin practising the skills that historians use to investigate any subject. These are the skills of historical thinking and research. In the first Module you will concentrate particularly on the skills required to use primary sources effectively.

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