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?
Maybe you’ve heard the saying: “The past is a foreign country.” When you travel, 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 Canada and Europe, if you were to travel there today, and certainly, that is part of the charm that travel offers. Most notably, you might notice different foods, languages, entertainment, traffic signs, conventions of politeness, or even the organization of political parties.
But today you will also notice significant parallels between Canada and Europe. 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 many 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.