Why study early modern European history?

Because Europe between the Black Death and the French Revolution birthed so many innovations which define the modern world.  It birthed new concepts: progress, human rights, the scientific method, humanist education. It birthed new institutions: modern banking, Protestantism, constitutional monarchy, the first democratic revolutions. It birthed new disruptions: the printing press, large-scale use of gunpowder, European contact with the New World, and scientific discoveries which dethroned Aristotle, Ptolemy and Galen.  Examining the exponentially accelerating changes—good and bad—which shaped early modern Europe offers us models to understand the accelerating change that defines our own era, especially as we ask how Europe—which had lagged behind many other civilizations in technology, population, organization, and military strength—grew so quickly to become a global power.

Why study early modern Europe at the University of Chicago?

Our faculty’s interests extend from the Iberian Peninsula to the Ottoman Empire, from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, and from the European continent around the globe through bidirectional networks of trade, cultural exchange, and colonial activity. We feel that national boundaries and sub-historical divisions distort the historical picture. If you want to understand the Italian Renaissance, you need to understand England, Spain, and the Ottoman World. If you want to write a history of the Reformation, your narrative will be deeper and richer if you can draw on a range of sources, from financial records, to the metal content of coins, to Shakespeare.  By training students to cross borders, methods, and source bases, we prepare young historians to ask new questions and solve them in innovative ways.


Partnerships and Conferences

Our special resources for early modern study include The Nicholson Center for British Studies, The Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine, the Renaissance Studies Program, a world-class collection of early modern books and manuscripts in our Special Collections Research Center, and partnerships with the Newberry Library, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Folger Institute Consortium.  We often help students attend professional conferences, such as the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference (SCSC), the Renaissance Society of America (RSA), the German Studies Association, Frühe Neuzeit Interdisziplinär, the American Historical Association, the annual conference of the Spanish and Portuguese Historians (SSPHS), the Forum on European Expansion (FEEGI), and many others.