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EUH 4930: Newton to Napoleon

The Eighteenth Century European Experience

Professor Steven Kreis

Florida Atlantic University, Davie
Fall 1996

COURSE OUTLINE: This course is designed to present the upper division undergraduate with a firm grasp of the major intellectual, economic, cultural and political developments of 18th century Europe. We will begin with Isaac Newton and investigate the ways in which his scientific world view fashioned the mental landscape of the educated. We will also illuminate the economic structure of European society paying special attention to the now-familiar European class structure. The course ends with a detailed analysis of the French Revolution and finally, a biographical appreciation of Napoleon. This much said, the main focus of the course is the Age of Reason, also known as the Age of Enlightenment. To this intellectual and cultural movement we shall devote a great deal of time since it is this age which helped so much to fashion the intellectual framework of the 19th and 20th centuries. There are no stated prerequisites for this course, however, your instructor assumes that you have a basic grasp of the main parameters of western civilization.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: Attendance and informed participation at ALL class meetings is not only expected but required. This means that you (1) show up to class on a regular basis and (2) complete your reading assignments on time. The entire success of the course, both from my standpoint and from yours is that you get involved, get interested, and get motivated to study a continent whose history is inextricably connected to our own. Keep the following statement in mind for the duration of the semester and you should do just fine: "Education is nothing more than dialogue and, according to the master of dialogue, Socrates, good dialogue ought to improve both instructor and student." When all is said and done, the primary task of this course is to challenge you to think and discuss your ideas openly. There are no wrong answers!


Leonard Krieger, Kings and Philosophers, 1689-1789
Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre
Isaac Kramnick, ed., The Portable Enlightenment Reader
Vincent Cronin, Napoleon

ON READING HISTORY: Make no mistake, the study of history requires reading. I have chosen texts which I believe represent my approach to the subject matter and therefore should serve as aids to your general understanding of the 18th century. Krieger’s Kings and Philosophers is an adequate treatment of the 18th century as a whole. Well-balanced and informative, his book will provide you with a general overview of almost the entire period under review. Darnton’s The Great Cat Massacre, a masterful work of French cultural history, will force you to challenge our somewhat stereotypical images of the felicitous 18th century. Despite all that "light," Darnton reveals the cosmology of the common man and his common experience. Kramnick, on the other hand, has edited a volume which illuminates the mental world of the educated elites, or philosophes, to give them their 18th century name. Here you will meet John Locke, Franklin, Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Adam Smith and dozens more. Finally, Vincent Cronin has penned a worthy edition to the literary canon devoted to Napoleon.

The assigned reading may be difficult at times, but you should not give up. For some of you, the reading will illustrate stuff you already know. For others, you will be treading on unfamiliar territory. My advice is to do the reading and raise questions in class. An encyclopedia will help you if you find more information necessary. And there are dozens of general history surveys which you can browse in the library. A computer and an encyclopedia on CD-ROM will also be a big help.

Try not to worry so much about specific names, dates or events. Think more in terms of broad-based themes and ideas for that is the approach I take. If you have any specific problems with the readings or if you desire some different texts, please do not hesitate to ask. The reading assignments may seem a bit hefty. You will be asked to read about 100 pages per week and you must make every effort to keep up with the reading assignments. If you have not done the reading for a specific week, you should make the effort to show up to class just the same.

GRADING: I will assign two or three take-home examinations during the course of the semester. These will be essay exams which ask you to synthesize, comment and reflect upon topics we have dealt with in class. The exams will all be announced in advance and you will have one week to complete each of them. For those of you interested in submitting a research essay in lieu of the exams, please see me as soon as possible to discuss your somewhat different course requirements. Your final grade is based is based on two variables: (1) your performance on the take-home exams or research essay and (2) the level of your participation in class. At least 15% of your final grade will be determined by this last variable.

THE INTERNET: I would urge all of you to sign up for your FREE VAX account at FAU. In this way we can communicate after hours on any subject which may have been discussed during class time. I cannot force you to get this FREE account but I do recommend that you do obtain this FREE account as soon as possible. If you already have access to email (via American Online, CompuServe, MSN or Prodigy) or if you have a full Internet account, fine. If you don’t have an account, get one NOW!

The Internet is an amazing platform for intellectual improvement. Since it is there and access is now so inexpensive and easily available, you would be doing yourselves a severe injustice if you did not take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer. If you have any questions about the Internet, please do not hesitate to ask me. I’ve been trolling the Net for two years now and when I am not teaching European history at FAU, I also find time to teach seminars at Barnes & Noble, Borders and elsewhere.

To facilitate our experience with 20th century European history I have made my email address public knowledge.

I have also set up a web page called The History Guide. There you will find valuable information about the study of history including tips for taking notes and exams, how to write an essay and the answers to the big questions like: what is history? Or why study history? 

As an added feature, I have decided to make my lectures available at my web page! Isn’t that incredible! Your instructor is going to let you download, read or print each lecture. Why would I do this? Well, what better way to "hear" the lecture if you missed it. Not only that, if my lectures are made public perhaps you’ll spend less time writing down everything I say and more time listening to what it I am saying, right? With any luck, these lectures will be made available to you before the next class meets, that way you will already have an idea of what it is I am going to talk about. Again, if you have any questions about the Internet, do not hesitate to ask me.

THE CLASS: My conduct in this class, as you will soon see, is based on a genuine respect for the intellect of each and every student. My approach is informal and, at times, irreverent. Just the same, I take my work very seriously and I expect you to do so as well. If you show up late for a class I expect you to enter the room as discreetly as possible. If you miss any class it is your responsibility to make sure that you make up for lost ground. I have found that a format of lecture and discussion works to the advantage of everyone involved, including myself. If you are not prepared to at least think about our subject, then I suggest you will have a tough time overall. In other words, come to class prepared to learn and discuss new ideas and, above all, THINK!


August 29 (1) Course Introduction: Objectives and Expectations
(2) The Mid-Century Perspective of William Hogarth: The Artist as an Agent of Social Change
September 5 The Scientific Revolution, 1543-1687
(1) Origins
(2) The First Wave: Copernicus - Galileo
(3) The Second Wave: The Diffusion of Knowledge
(4) "A solitary genius": Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
READINGS: Krieger, pp.1-111
September 12 The Economy:
(1) Population, Prices and Agriculture
(2) Towns, Money and Manufactures
READINGS: Darnton, pp.3-72
September 19 European Society I: The Ruling Orders
1. Land
2. Power
3. Internal Tensions
READINGS: Darnton, pp.75-189
September 26 European Society II: The Ruled
1. The Country
2. The Town
READINGS: Darnton, pp.191-261 and Krieger, pp.115-136
October 3 The Spirit of the Enlightenment
READINGS: Krieger, pp.137-169 and Kramnick, pp.ix-xxiii, 1-22, 26-38
October 10
Reason and Nature in the 18th Century
READINGS: Krieger, pp.170-207 and Kramnick, pp.39-74
October 17 Reason and God
READINGS: Krieger, pp.208-238 and Kramnick, pp.75-155, 160-166, 174-180
October 24 Reason and Humanity
READINGS: Krieger, pp.241-256, 280-308 and Kramnick, pp.181-209, 222-235, 242-280
October 31 Reason and Society I: History and Politics
READINGS: Krieger, pp.309-343 and Kramnick, pp.351-480
November 7 Reason and Society II: Economy, Gender and Race
READINGS: Kramnick, pp.483-515, 560-579, 591-601, 609-628, 637-644, 645-657 and Cronin, pp.15-110
November 14 The French Revolution I
(1) Origins: social, political, intellectual, economic
(2) The Moderate Stage, 1789-1792
READINGS: Cronin, pp.111-209
November 21 The French Revolution II
(1) The Radical Stage, 1792-1794
READINGS: Cronin, pp.210-319
November 28 No Class
December 5 General Discussion: Napoleon: The Man and the Myth
READINGS: Cronin, pp.320-440
December 12 General Discussion:
(1) From the Age of Reason to the Industrial Age and Beyond
(2) The Legacy of the 18th Century
(3) Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason
December 16 Grades Due

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copyright � 2000 Steven Kreis
Last Revised -- April 13, 2012