Why study early modern European history?
Because in early modern Europe our obsession with the past first took the shape that it still has today. The turn towards an ancient past conceived as distant from ourselves, but needed for understanding who we are; the desire for emancipation from an immediate past conceived as somehow corrupt; the division of time into the trinity of ancient beginnings, medieval interludes, and modern aspirations to the future; the hunt for original documents with which to grasp the past so firmly as never again to let it slip from our comprehension; these themes and others like them have their origins in the centuries of Renaissance and Reformation, from Petrarch to Descartes, from the Hundred Years War to the Enlightenment, from the decline of the medieval church to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Early modern Europe is the point in time and place to which historians and social scientists, humanists and neo-humanists, modernists and post modernists continue to refer, knowingly or unknowingly, in writing their books, taking their stand, and spreading their wings.
Why study early modern Europe at the University of Chicago?
Because we area dynamic group of scholars who interact with one another and will teach you how to do the same. Some of us are professors, others are students. We meet in classes, seminars, office hours, workshops, and conferences. We read, we write, and we talk. As a group we cover political, economic, intellectual, legal, institutional, and social history. In terms of geographical focus, our interests extend from the Iberian peninsula to the Ottoman empire, from Italy to the Germanies, from the British Isles to Scandinavia. Our interests, our ideas, and our specific expertise differ widely. But we share them with one another in pursuit of the same fundamental goal. Maitland said, "Such is the unity of all history that anyone who endeavors to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web." We confess. Guilty as charged. Any division of knowledge is artificial, including national boundaries and sub-historical divisions. If you want to understand England, you need to know what happened in Spain. If your interest is focused on commerce, you should consider politics as well. If you wish to study the Reformation, it may be useful to read Wittgenstein and Foucault . In order to master the most recent scholarship, it may not be a bad idea to read some good old books. Or so we believe. Nothing keeps us more firmly united than the passion with which we question the boundaries of our field. But where does it end, you ask? It doesn't, we say. But isn't it impossible to deal with infinite complexity? It isn't. But how can that be? We promise we will explain.