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Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations

Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations

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Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations

Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations

Course No.  3940
Course No.  3940
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Course Overview

About This Course

48 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

In 1347, a merchant ship traveling from Crimea in central Asia docked at Messina in Sicily with a crew of desperately sick sailors. As they were taken ashore, rats also left the vessel, carrying with them fleas infected with the bacterium for bubonic plague. The Black Death had arrived in Europe.

The plague in its several forms would eventually kill up to half the population of Europe, initiating a catastrophic economic depression, peasant revolts, and fierce power struggles among the nobility.

Yet from this near total disaster, a new spirit arose. The exhaustion of medieval society inspired intellectuals in northern Italy to make a new start—to create a new society through a search for revival and rebirth that would come to be called the Renaissance. And this radical break with the past was just the beginning.

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In 1347, a merchant ship traveling from Crimea in central Asia docked at Messina in Sicily with a crew of desperately sick sailors. As they were taken ashore, rats also left the vessel, carrying with them fleas infected with the bacterium for bubonic plague. The Black Death had arrived in Europe.

The plague in its several forms would eventually kill up to half the population of Europe, initiating a catastrophic economic depression, peasant revolts, and fierce power struggles among the nobility.

Yet from this near total disaster, a new spirit arose. The exhaustion of medieval society inspired intellectuals in northern Italy to make a new start—to create a new society through a search for revival and rebirth that would come to be called the Renaissance. And this radical break with the past was just the beginning.

In this course, you will explore the political, social, cultural, and economic revolutions that transformed Europe between the arrival of the Black Death in the 14th century and the onset of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century.

An Award-Winning Teacher Probes the Ideas Behind Events

Your guide in these 48 lectures is Professor Andrew C. Fix, an award-winning teacher and scholar who specializes in the history of ideas in early modern Europe.

Dr. Fix does much more than recount the events of this intriguing era; he consistently puts things into a wider context, discussing the causes, implications, and ultimate effects of the unfolding drama that is taking place on the European stage. For example:

The Renaissance: Why was the Renaissance born in northern Italy in the late 14th century and not, say, in France in the 15th century, or Britain in the 16th century? Professor Fix examines the social and political factors that explain the time and place of this extraordinary explosion of creative energy.

The Protestant Reformation: One of the key trends that prepared the way for the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century was the growth of popular piety. Unsanctioned by the church, this movement had its roots in the preoccupation of the medieval papacy with power politics, which hindered clergy from focusing on the spiritual needs of the people. Martin Luther himself was affected by this need, and his own solution showed the way for millions of others.

The Thirty Years War: Fought from 1618 to 1648, this disastrous conflict had complex causes and far-reaching consequences. It not only pitted Catholics against Protestants, it was a civil war between the emperor and German nobles, and also an international struggle to appropriate German lands. Germany would not recover as a nation until the arrival of Otto von Bismarck, 200 years later.

The Dutch Miracle: Why was the Dutch Republic the most successful commercial nation in 17th-century Europe? "It's almost a miracle how this little country turns out to be such an economic powerhouse," observes Professor Fix, who proposes an explanation based on a clever Dutch innovation in ship design.

What You Will Learn

This course covers a remarkable breadth of subjects relating to European history from 1348 to 1715. While religion, politics, wars, and economics dominate Professor Fix's presentation, you will also learn about art, exploration, science, and technology.

The course is divided into four parts of 12 lectures each:

Part I (Lectures 1–12): Professor Fix begins with the growing series of crises in the 14th century that culminated in the Black Death, which set the stage for the profound changes in society that followed. He then makes an in-depth study of the origins and nature of the Italian Renaissance, focusing on its roots in the Humanist movement, the key role played by the city of Florence, and the remarkable artistic output of the time. Also examined is Europe's overseas expansion during the Age of Discovery, with special reference to the economic and political changes these developments brought to Europe.

Part II (Lectures 13–24): Professor Fix highlights the problems within the Catholic Church and proceeds to an analysis of Martin Luther and the early Reformation, which started as a grassroots movement of ordinary people but was transformed by events into a highly politicized cause dominated by German princes. Next, Professor Fix covers the social, political, and economic contexts of the German Reformation, examining the political structure of the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg conflicts with France and the Ottoman Empire, the Knight's Revolt of 1523, and the Peasant Revolt of 1525. Other branches of the Reformation are also examined, including the Swiss Reformation of Zwingli and Calvin, and the Radical Reformation, whose most notorious event was the creation of Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster.

Part III (Lectures 25–36): Completing his survey of Reformation movements, Professor Fix discusses the English Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He then surveys the disastrous series of religious wars that struck Germany, France, and The Netherlands in the years 1546–1648. Beginning in Germany with the Schmalkaldic War, these conflicts ripped apart the continent. In France, noble families fought for control of the throne and the dominance of their religion; in The Netherlands, the Calvinist Dutch struggled for independence from Catholic Spain; and the terrible Thirty Years War left Germany devastated. This part of the course ends with a look at the problems in the European economy at the start of the 17th century.

Part IV (Lectures 37–48): Professor Fix begins his study of the 17th-century era of state building with the rise of royal absolutism in France, symbolized by Louis XIV's dictum, "I am the state." The German principalities took a slightly different approach to royal absolutism, while in Spain absolutism was attempted without success, signaling Spain's decline as a leading power. The Dutch revolt against Spanish rule resulted in the first republic in any major nation in Europe, and in England, a protracted conflict between the House of Commons and the king successively led to civil war, regicide, dictatorship, restoration, and finally a constitutional monarchy. The course comes to a close with a look at the epic intellectual change brought by the Scientific Revolution and the early Enlightenment, which ushered in the 18th century.

An Eventful Course: History in Context

Throughout this very eventful course, Professor Fix puts history into a context that makes it more immediate and understandable. For instance, the European discovery of the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries is such a familiar story that it's difficult to appreciate it from the point of view of people living at that time.

"But imagine," says Dr. Fix, "the excitement if, all of a sudden, we discovered another Earth, right next to ours, that hadn't been explored at all." The impact on us would be analogous to that felt by Europeans who awoke to the existence of two previously unknown continents with all their potential riches.

When you listen to these lectures, you'll understand why Professor Fix has been lauded by his students as one of the most influential teachers of their college careers. He is a friendly and knowledgeable guide through a crucial stage of history—a time that is vastly different from our own but also recognizably the same, in which we see ourselves in what historian Barbara Tuchman called "a distant mirror," giving us a glimpse of our own civilization in its nascent, budding phase.

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48 Lectures
  • 1
    Crisis of the 14th Century
    Professor Fix opens the course with a survey of the disasters that shaped Europe in the 14th century. They climaxed with the arrival of the bubonic plague, which killed up to one half of the European population. x
  • 2
    The Hundred Years War and the Church in Crisis
    Among the calamities affecting church and state in the 14th century were the Hundred Years War (1337–1453) between England France, the Babylonian Captivity (1305–1378), and Great Schism (1378–1415), which sowed turmoil in the Catholic Church and the papacy. x
  • 3
    The Origins of the Italian Renaissance
    What was the Renaissance, and why did it begin in Italy in the late 14th century? We investigate these questions and discuss European reactions to the crises of the 14th century, exploring in particular the views of the first x
  • 4
    The Birth of Civic Humanism
    Civic humanism was introduced in Florence as an educational reform to produce enlightened citizens and leaders. This approach stressed the study of classical civilization as a model for a strong Florentine state. x
  • 5
    Renaissance Florence
    This lecture examines the multifaceted structure of the woolen cloth industry, which dominated the economy of Florence during the Renaissance and provided the organizational framework for all economic, political, and social activity in the city. x
  • 6
    Humanist Thought
    We take a closer look at humanist modes of thought, focusing on Francesco Petrarch, whose study of the evolving Latin language led him to a more dynamic view of history, in contrast with the static historical world-view of the Middle Ages. x
  • 7
    Florentine Politics and Society
    The political structure of Florence decentralized power into many hands to prevent a single family from gaining total power. We look at Florentine politics and the political environment that fostered the Renaissance. x
  • 8
    The History of Florence
    Florentine history is marked by turbulent politics and frequent social unrest. This lecture charts the rise to power of the great patrician families of Florence, their contributions to the Renaissance, and the many changes in government brought by the fall of the Medici family. x
  • 9
    The Italian State System
    We survey the other major political powers of Italy during the Renaissance, focusing on the two north Italian rivals of Florence, Milan and Venice, with a briefer examination of the southern powers of the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples. x
  • 10
    The Age of Discovery
    This lecture investigates the Age of Discovery, the period of overseas expansion that began at the height of the Renaissance. Economic motives were clearly in evidence as first Portuguese and then Spanish expeditions set forth. x
  • 11
    Inflation and New Monarchy
    The arrival of New World treasure in Europe coincided with the beginnings of population growth, stimulating a period of economic expansion. At the same time, European governments began to reconstruct themselves on a new political model. x
  • 12
    Renaissance Art
    The Renaissance was one of the greatest periods in art history. Professor Fix offers an interpretation of the evolution of the Renaissance style and shows how new patronage patterns explain the changing styles in art. x
  • 13
    The Church on the Eve of the Reformation
    The political preoccupations of the church during the 14th century cost it the spiritual leadership of the people, who began quietly to take religion into their own hands, paving the way for the Reformation. x
  • 14
    The Church on the Eve continued
    Continuing our study of events within the church that led to the Reformation, we focus on the corruption at all levels of the clergy and the resentment in Germany about papal control over the German church. x
  • 15
    Northern Humanism
    Humanists presented the first plans for church reform even before the Reformation arrived. Humanists in the northern countries of Germany, France, The Netherlands, and England took these reform ideas most to heart. x
  • 16
    Martin Luther
    More than most epochal events in history, the Reformation in its early stages was the personal product of one extraordinary individual: Martin Luther. We examine his ideas and personality, as well as his youth and family background. x
  • 17
    The Reformation Begins
    This lecture covers the beginnings of Luther's conflict with the pope over indulgences, the acceleration of the dispute as the question of papal infallibility enters the debate, and the great pressure the church put on Luther to conform. x
  • 18
    The Progress of the Reformation in Germany
    Excommunicated by the church for his writings, Luther was granted a hearing at the Diet of Worms, which turned into a dramatic confrontation. Afterwards he disappeared—spirited away by a sympathetic German prince. As his ideas caught on, religious war loomed. x
  • 19
    German Politics and Society
    We look at the establishment of the Lutheran Church in Germany and at the economic and social conditions that favored the spread of the Reformation. We also study the Knight's Revolt of 1523 and the Peasant Revolt of 1525. x
  • 20
    Imperial Politics and International War
    After reviewing the history of the Holy Roman Empire, we focus on its emperor at the start of the Reformation: Charles V. Warfare on many fronts distracted him from the religious crisis and allowed the Lutheran movement to grow. x
  • 21
    The Reformation Beyond Germany—Zwingli
    As Luther's Reformation began to spread in Germany, a parallel but largely separate Reformation flared up in Switzerland, led by Humanist priest Ulrich Zwingli. We study the cause for which Zwingli fought and died. x
  • 22
    The Radical Reformation
    This lecture examines Anabaptism, one of three radical branches of the Reformation that took Protestant ideas to extremes. The Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster was a disastrous attempt to found a religiously pure Protestant community. x
  • 23
    The Radical Reformation continued
    We survey the other main branches of the Radical Reformation, the Radical Spiritualists and Evangelical Rationalists. The radicals raised important questions, such as: How is one qualified to be a Christian? x
  • 24
    Calvin and Calvinism
    In this lecture we explore the continuation of the Swiss Reformation under John Calvin. Calvin created a dynamic new branch of Protestantism that spread to France, The Netherlands, Scotland, Germany, and elsewhere. x
  • 25
    The English Reformation
    Protestantism developed differently in England than on the continent. From the start, the movement was tied to crown politics and the efforts of Henry VIII to obtain a male heir to the throne. x
  • 26
    The Birth of Anglicanism
    We look at the pressure on the newly established Anglican Church in England to become more Protestant, and we see the final establishment of Anglicanism under Elizabeth I after a brief return to Catholicism under Queen Mary. x
  • 27
    The Catholic Counter-Reformation
    Challenged by the Protestant movement, the Catholic Church began a process of internal reform coupled with a militant counterattack. This Counter-Reformation infused the old church with new vigor and dynamism. x
  • 28
    Loyola and the Society of Jesus
    An important weapon of the Counter-Reformation was the Society of Jesus, established by Ignatius Loyola. It sought to reform the church from within, fight the Protestants, and restore the masses to the church. x
  • 29
    Religious Politics and Religious War
    A devastating series of religious wars struck Germany, France, and The Netherlands from 1546 to 1648. We look at the beginnings of this disastrous time, which started with the Schmalkaldic War of 1546–1555. x
  • 30
    Religious War in France 1562–98
    This lecture examines the French wars of religion at the end of the 16th century, which climaxed with the intervention of the Spanish Armada in 1588, sent by Phillip II of Spain to defeat Protestants in The Netherlands, England, and France. x
  • 31
    The Dutch Revolt
    In the late 16th century Phillip II of Spain was determined to wipe out Protestantism in The Netherlands, where he ruled. His brutal actions set off a nationwide revolt that eventually led to independence. x
  • 32
    The Course of the Revolt
    This lecture traces the Dutch Revolt from its beginnings with the Sea Beggars through the Spanish invasion of the north to the truce of 1609, which led to the establishment of the Dutch Republic. x
  • 33
    The Thirty Years War
    The Thirty Years War, 1618–1648, was the last and most destructive of the religious wars. It pitted German Catholics against Protestants, German princes against their emperor, and it drew the intervention of other nations seeking to seize German lands. x
  • 34
    Climax of the War
    We examine the final phases of the Thirty Years War: the Dutch phase, which resulted in a terrible new form of warfare; the Swedish phase, when the Protestants nearly won; and the French phase, which led to stalemate and eventual peace. x
  • 35
    The 17th Century—Crisis and Transition
    In the final segment of the course, we survey the 17th century, a period of crisis and transition when many of the traditional institutions and ideas of European life were in disarray. x
  • 36
    Economic Change in the 17th Century
    At the start of the 17th century medieval subsistence farming practices dominated the European agricultural economy. By the end of the century new discoveries had made agriculture more productive, freeing up resources for the growth of industry. x
  • 37
    The Rise of Absolutism in France
    The wars of religion led to a new movement to keep religion out of politics and pursue only the interests of the state. In France the result was the growth of royal absolutism, in which the king was the sole source of power and authority. x
  • 38
    Louis XIV
    Despite a noble rebellion known as the Fronde, French absolutism reached its zenith under Louis XIV. We focus on Louis' domestic policies, the construction of the palace of Versailles, and the many costly wars fought under his leadership. x
  • 39
    Absolutism in Germany
    The German states took a different path to royal absolutism. We look at two cases: the military absolutism created by the Hohenzollern dynasty in Brandenburg-Prussia and the absolute regime constructed by the Habsburgs in Austria. x
  • 40
    The Spanish Monarchy
    The kings of Spain tried to strengthen royal power during the 16th and 17th centuries, but with multiple factors working against them, absolutism could not be achieved. We explore these factors and Spain's decline to a second-rate power. x
  • 41
    The Dutch Republic
    In its revolt from Spain, The Netherlands rejected not only absolutism but monarchy as well, becoming the first major European state to be governed as a republic. The ensuing commercial growth of the Dutch Republic gave it the wealthiest economy in the world. x
  • 42
    Constitutional Monarchy in England
    Another alternative to absolutism is the constitutional monarchy that developed in England. We study the beginnings of this struggle, which saw Kings James I and Charles I in protracted conflict with Parliament. x
  • 43
    The English Civil War
    This lecture examines the final breakdown of relations between Charles I and Parliament, leading to the outbreak of the English Civil War. We conclude with the trial and execution of the king and the beginning of Cromwell's rule. x
  • 44
    Cromwell and the Glorious Revolution
    We cover Cromwell's dictatorship and the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II after Cromwell's death. The mature form of the English constitutional monarchy was established after the bloodless Glorious Revolution, which deposed Charles II's successor, James II. x
  • 45
    The Scientific Revolution—The Old Science
    Preparing the way for our study of the Scientific Revolution, we focus on the Aristotelian system inherited from antiquity and its role in defining the medieval world-view. x
  • 46
    Preparing for Change
    For Aristotle's science finally to be overturned, a number of important preparatory steps had to be taken in the 16th and 17th centuries. We look at these developments in the work of Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, and others. x
  • 47
    The Revolution Under Way
    This lecture traces the birth of an entirely new scientific system that met setbacks and resistance before the great breakthroughs of Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. We also examine the powerful influence of the new science on the culture at large. x
  • 48
    The Early Enlightenment 1680–1715
    In his final lecture, Professor Fix traces the beginnings of the European Enlightenment between the years 1680 and 1715. Sparked by the Scientific Revolution, this intellectual movement altered the world-views of educated people during the 18th century. x

Lecture Titles

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Andrew C. Fix
Andrew C. Fix, Ph.D.
Lafayette College

Dr. Andrew C. Fix is the Charles A. Dana Professor of History at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching for more than 15 years. He earned his B.A. in History and Philosophy from Wake Forest University and went on to earn his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Indiana University at Bloomington. Prior to teaching at Lafayette College, Professor Fix held a Fulbright Fellowship and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Professor Fix is the recipient of the Jones Award for Superior Teaching and Excellence of Scholarship and the Van Artsdalen Award for Scholarship. Dr. Fix has written or edited three books, including Prophecy and Reason: The Dutch Collegiants in the Early Enlightenment, and Fallen Angels: Balthasar Bekker, Spirit Belief, and Confessionalism in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic.

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Reviews

Rated 3.7 out of 5 by 83 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Unpacking the Early Modern Age Having come to an enjoyment of history later in life, I have been focusing on either my country, the US, or ancient history. So my knowledge of Europe has been woefully neglected. After enjoying Western Civ 2 and Development of European Civilization which were survey courses, I wanted to plunge deeper into Modern Europe. This course did a good job of explaining the major components of the Early Modern European history. I gained a much better feel for how the Italians rediscovered their Roman and Greek heritage during the Renaissance. Then how this rebirth led to Humanism which influenced the Reformation and the breaking of the power of the Catholic Church. This in its turn helped to explain the rise of nation-states to fill the power void as the traditional church and its dynastic supporters began to totter. Finally the rise of the scientific method and the enlightenment as the freedom to question religion was turned on even the ancient Roman and Greek thought that the Renaissance had revitalized. As others have pointed out this course is not without its flaws. The professor and his style take a bit of getting used to. There are minor points to be quibbled about. Yes Columbus did cherry pick his data, though most ancients and medievals who knew anything about the size of the earth did tend to underestimate the distance as well. The Portuguese knew but they weren't sharing this information. The Catholic and Lutheran faiths are a bit generalized and some of their beliefs are slightly distorted. If, like me, you tend to jumble the fifteen and sixteen hundreds into a tangle ball, this is a fine course to untangle all those threads. The professor is not as dynamic as the best history teachers in the Great Courses, but is worth the effort. I would definitely recommend some knowledge of Modern Europe and a love of history as prerequisites for this course. This is not a course for home school students or casual adult learners seeking a touch of history to round out their knowledge base. March 28, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Invest your time, learn a lot I completed this course a few weeks ago and am going through some of the lectures again. Fix's knowledge of this era is encyclopedic and his organizational skills are amazing. This is a broad ranging course as the Hundred Years War, the Florentine Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, Dutch Independence to the Scientific Revolution. In doing so, Fix explains how the modern European nations of Spain, England, Netherlands, France, and Germany came about. Moreover, the course contained a lot of tidbits such as the importance of the wool industry to Florence or the knight's revolt in Germany that added to my enjoyment of this course. I certainly learnt t a lot. Moreover, after listening to this course, I was spurred to read more about various topics that Prof Fix touches upon such as the Peace of Augsburg (1555), the Henry's of the French Religious Wars, Counts Hoorn and Egmont of the Netherlands, or about the various figures who were instrumental in formulating the gas laws of Chemistry to gain a better understanding of these topics.. I would highly recommend this course. If there are one or two mistakes, I am willing to forgive them because of the overall quality of the course. Specifically, Fix says that Clement VII Medici succeeded Leo X Medici forgetting Adrian VI and there was one other minor error that I don't remember now, I would remind you that this course spans 48 lectures. Fix also has a very informal style in his speech and for the first couple of lectures, it was a bit jarring. He uses phrases such as "people ate it up" but given the quality of the course such criticisms amount to pettifogging. I wouldn't want to speak like Fix (anymore than he would want to speak like me), but I would love to know one-twentieth as much as he does on this subject. If you would like to learn about Europe from about 1300 to 1715, there is no better source. After two lectures, you will get used to Fix's speaking style and from then on the lectures become addicting. April 23, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by top course for me Prof. Fox is supremely organized, logical, clear, and fair-minded. I've watched this course twice so far... February 26, 2015
Rated 4 out of 5 by A course that I have returned to repeatedly I am surprised by the critics of this course. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Having only learned about the Renaissance and the Reformation at High School, I obtained a great deal from the course. Sure Professor Fix's appearance is a bit different to other GC lecturers but it is the content I am interested in. If you don't have strongly held beliefs about Catholicism or Lutheranism, but have an open mind, I am sure you will enjoy this course and learn a great deal. I always views the Great Courses as a foundation for new knowledge and use them in conjunction with other study. January 21, 2015
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