Origins of Commercial Society in 17th-Century Holland and 18th-Century Britain





From the 14th through the 19th century, Europe was remade. Renaissance and Enlightenment are particularly famous shorthand ways of describing this change, usually implying the liberation of the individual and the freedom of reason, respectively. If changes on this order can be discerned as early as the 15th century—medievalists would, of course, point to Abelard, if not the troubadours—it is only in the “long” 18th century, and only in Holland, England, and Scotland, that one finds a whole traditional society convulsed by these changes, and self-conscious contemporaries describing it. In this course, students examine what it means to live in a “commercial society,” one in which all values are determined by exchange. This is truly the end of the Old Regime and the beginning of our epoch. The institutions and physical spaces that characterize this period—coffeehouses, public gardens, magazines, theaters, the novel, and rituals of consumption—are themselves evidence for the vast reordering of public taste and authority that accompanied this shift from an aristocratic society to, ultimately and slowly, a more democratic one. Eighteenth-century readings include Defoe, Swift, The Spectator, Mandeville, Fielding, Hume, and Smith; 20th-century readings include Max Weber, Eric Auerbach, Norbert Elias, Reinhart Koselleck, Jürgen Habermas, Simon Schama, and Roy Porter. 3 credits.