Medicine in the West

This course surveys two thousand years of medicine as theorized and practiced in the West. Beginning in Antiquity and continuing through the Enlightenment, we follow not just physicians and surgeons but also trace the rise and fall of a wide range of healers ranging from astrologers and alchemists to midwives and dentists. We focus especially on the shifting balance between theoretical and empirical medical knowledge, and how that knowledge and its practitioners drew on and contributed to contemporary society and culture. Though this course is grounded in Europe, we also explore how European medical practice became a global concern as it attempted to manage the growing traffic of people and pathogens to and from the rest of the world. Although the course ultimately focuses on early modern Europe (i.e. 1500–1800), we begin with the medicine of Antiquity because Hippocratic and Galenic medicine cast a long shadow over professional and amateur medical practice, and indeed helped to set boundaries between the two. With a firm understanding of ancient medicine in hand, we’ll move quickly into the heart of the course, focusing on particular topics week by week.

First French Empire

France in the 17th and 18th centuries witnessed cycles of ambitious colonial expansion and spectacular collapse. In this period overseas empire became a lens through which French thinkers viewed the metropole, often with a critical eye. At the same time Enlightenment science found application in the projection and preservation of imperial lines of power. This course approaches early French empire from a variety of angles, including its commercial, military, ethnographic, and medical dimensions, among others. We will explore the better-known New France and the Caribbean, as well as French forays into the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and beyond.

The Enlightenment

What was “The Enlightenment” and what is its legacy? Attempts to define and interpret the eighteenth century’s predominant intellectual and cultural movement have shaped both contemporary and retrospective understanding of the Enlightenment. Moreover, they have conditioned our interpretation of subsequent events in Europe and farther afield up until the present day. This course will explore the Enlightenment from two closely related perspectives. First, we will sample period texts, focusing primarily on eighteenth-century France. Next we will trace shifting interpretations of the Enlightenment up through the present day.

Taste, Fashion, and Consumption in Early Modern Europe

What is taste? Why do we say that some people have good taste? Bad taste? No taste? How can we measure this quality? During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, new ideas emerged about taste and its relationship to individual sensibility, social order, and the marketplace. This course will explore shifting understandings of taste, its origins, and its social and cultural significance. We will investigate two main questions. First, how did contemporaries explain taste? By studying period texts like Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees and Hume’s Of the Standard of Taste, we will examine taste’s rich nexus of social and cultural concerns. Second, what were the consequences and manifestations (intended and accidental) of the period’s new tastes? Taste was considered central to the early modern period’s accelerating cycles of fashion and consumption that historians regard as essential to the period’s “consumer revolution.” Along with an analysis of various kinds of “tastes” – of art, literature, clothing, food, furniture, and housing, to name a few – we will explore the origins of modern consumer culture.

Old Regime and Revolutionary Europe

This course explores the history of Europe from the end of the Thirty Wears War in 1648 through Napoleon’s defeat and the resulting Congress of Vienna in 1815. The first part of the course will contrast two responses to the social, economic, political, and military crises of the seventeenth century: the rise of absolutism in France and the concurrent constitutionalism in Britain. The middle part of the course will examine the intellectual and cultural movement known as the Enlightenment from its scientific origins through its philosophical and social contributions to human understanding. The final part of the course will focus on collapse of the Old Regime in France, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic wars that transformed the face of Europe. In each phase of the course we will pay particular attention to the interplay between Europe and its increasingly important global networks. (Syllabus)

The French Revolution

The French Revolution was one of the great defining events of modern history, and for many historians it marks the very beginning of “modernity” itself. The Revolutionary period was a time of extremes: on one hand it promised a new social order governed by universal suffrage, women’s rights, and civil equality; on the other hand, the Revolution unleashed horrifying violence and oppression, most notoriously in the form of the Terror and its famous guillotine. Even as the Revolution unfolded, contemporaries struggled to understand it, and historians have continued the debate ever since. By studying historians’ diverse interpretations, we can learn much about the practice of history itself. The goal of this course is for students to move from consumers to producers of history, and we will use the French Revolution and its debates to frame the process of formulating a historical question, conducting research, and writing a polished paper. In addition to the main texts assigned, we will investigate a series historical texts interpreting the event that came to be recognized as the Revolution’s most important moment: the fall of the Bastille on 14 July 1789.