104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Science and the Enlightenment (1600-1800)

A Philospher Lecturing on an Orrery by Joseph Wright of Derby 1766 © Derby Museums and Art Gallery

Science and Sentiment

Scientific Revolution
From Science to Enlightenment
The Salons
Crime That Paid

18th century Economy and Society

Marriage and Family
Food and Medicine
Concepts of Warfare


Science and Sentiment

Yes, it used to be the theme to Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. It's also Rondeau by Jean Joseph Mouret (1729).


Religious persecutors are not believers, they are rascals.

-- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1761)

Voltaire at
Voltaire at Ferney
Notice the neatly organized garden, indicative of the rationalist mindset.

Scientific Revolution

Lisa's definition of modern science: the combination of empirical and rational knowledge.

Ptolemaic-Aristotelian system

Before the scientific developments of the 17th century, Europeans knew that the pattern of the Ptolemaic systemuniverse was based on the systems developed by the ancient astronomer Ptolemy and the Greek philosopher Aristotle. This Ptolemaic-Aristotelian system put the earth at the center of the universe, unmoving and pulling heavy elements (earth, water) toward itself and pushing light elements (air, fire) away. Surrounding the earth were a series of concentric spheres made of a fifth element called quintessence (that is, the fifth essence). On these transparent spheres rested the planets and stars. These spheres rotated around the earth in predictable patterns, causing the rising and setting of moon and planets, the movement of stars, and the paths of comets and meteors.

Sound silly? Really? Tonight, if it's clear, go outside. Do the stars seem to move in groups? Do you feel the earth moving, or do you track the stars? Tomorrow, go to the beach. Does the sun set, or do you feel the earth rotate?

My point is, the system was based on empirical knowledge, that knowledge learned through your five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). The knowledge you have that makes you think the earth rotates and revolves around the sun is rational knowledge. It was told to you by your culture, taught to you over and over. It's unlikely that you have empirical knowledge of the system, unless you've been up on a spacecraft.

The Ptolemaic-Aristotelian system worked fine for Europeans for centuries.

Copernican Theory

Then came Copernicus, a priest and mathematician. Copernican systemBy his time (the 16th century) earlier astronomers had added many spheres to the original system to account for such observations as retrograde motions and meteor paths. As a mathematician, dedicated to reducing knowledge to quantifiable terms, Copernicus found the system inelegant. He tried, on paper, to reduce the number of spheres, to make the system more efficient. He succeeded. His solution put the sun at the center of the system, making a heliocentric universe.

The Catholic Church, however, had long interpreted the Bible to mean that the earth was at the center of the universe. Copernicus reserved publication of his theory until his death, but so long as it was just presented as a theory, a hypothesis, a "what if", the Church had no problem. Astronomers found the system handy because it made their calculations more accurate.

What Copernicus had done, because he had never looked at the sky, was added the rational element to an empirical system.

Brahe, Kepler and Galileo

Although he did not accept Copernican heliocentrism, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (d. 1601) created new instruments for studying the heavens and gathered a tremendous amount of data. He observed bodies and tracked the entirety of their orbits, bringing to light many inaccuracies and throwing wrenches into the works of 17th century astronomy. His observations of the birth of a star and a new comet challenged Aristotle's premise that the earth and the heavens were made of different substances, with the heavens being unchangeable. Tycho Brahe
Kepler Johannes Kepler began as an assistant to Brahe and later applied mathematics to Brahe's data. He was the first to develop the notion that planets moved in ellipses around Copernicus' heliocentric system. His three laws of planetary motion were later used by Newton.
Galileo developed the telescope using optical lenses available thanks to the technologies of Arab craftsmen. An Italian professor of mathematics, he studied motion and mechanics using experimentation, thus combining rationalism with empiricism. He created controlled reenactments of natural phenomena, such as rolling bronze balls down a smooth channel to measure acceleration. He developed the law of inertia, and thus destroyed the old concepts about heavy objects being in a natural state of rest. Through his telescope he saw other contradictions to prevailing theory, such as Jupiter's moons, which appeared to be rotating (against the rules) around a turning planet (also against the rules) and thus weren't on a known celestial sphere. telescope

So long as Galileo was willing to present his findings as theories rather than facts, the Catholic Church had no problem. Overwhelmed by his new discoveries, and filled with the knowledge he was right, Galileo began to publish his findings as facts. Members of the scientific community were intrigued by his work, but some were concerned about the ways in which it contradicted the Bible, which presented a still earth and the universe around it. The Grand Duchess Christina was one such person, and Galileo's letter to her has been taken as the ultimate break with the Church's view of the heavens.
bookWorkbook document: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615)

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Galileo's publications led to arrest by the Papal Inquisition. When threatened with torture, Galileo agreed to recant his views as facts.

Newtonian synthesis

Englishman Isaac Newton is credited with putting together into one system the previous century's scientific achievements: Copernican mathematical simplicity + Brahe's massive collection of data + Kepler's elliptical orbits + Galileo's telescopic observations.. His combination of the experimental method with rational theory was seamless. His Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687) broke new ground with some basic principles, including the idea that natural forces act in predictable ways. Of equal importance was the idea that there was no difference between celestial (heavenly) and terrestrial (earthly) physics. Therefore, experiments about the heavens could be conducted on earth.

But don't mistake Newton for a modern scientist. He also believed in alchemy to turn metal into gold.

From Science to Enlightenment

The principles of combining rationalism with empiricism had their basis in philosophy. In fact, what we would call science was called "natural philosophy". Francis Bacon (1561-1626) popularized the new scientific experimental method, and can be used to represent the empirical side of the equation. He believed in inductive reasoning, gathering data and using the data to develop a conclusion (reasoning from the specifics to the generality).

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a mathematician and the developer of analytic geometry. He used deductive reasoning, deducing from large general truths the reality of the particulars. For example, he began by doubting everything except the basic truths that could not be discovered empirically. Geometry was unquestionable. A line is always the shortest distance between two points, for example.


These ideas mark the transition from Scientific Revolution to Enlightenment. The Enlightenment can be seen as the application of science to the rest of life. Enlightenment philosophers, the philosophes, believed that all aspects of life could be understood in the same way as natural phenomena. The application of reason to such areas as politics, society, economics, etc. is the Enlightenment.

Voltaire and Reason

Just like science itself, the Enlightenment had two sides that could be in opposition or work together.

The first concerns the issue of science itself, and its purpose. Philosophes like Voltaire believed in science as the ultimate expression of human control over nature. His faith was in reason to solve human problems, such as religious intolerance (as a lawyer, for example, he took a case defending a man accused of murdering his son for converting to Roman Catholicism).

Diderot encyclopedia
        imageAlong with him were scholars like Diderot, who published the Encyclopedia, which purported to be a multi-volume collection of all known facts. It contained marvelous drawings of machinery (see some here), reflecting the Enlightenment fascination with mechanical techniques of controlling nature. Interestingly enough, the Encyclopedia contained no reference to God, because God cannot be "known". The Catholic Church banned the Encyclopedia, but most clergymen (who tended to be quite scientific and intellectual) had subscriptions as the volumes were published!

Rousseau and Emotion

Rousseau The other side of the Enlightenment is best represented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. To Rousseau, the rational mind was not what made one human. Emotions, intuition, those parts of people which are natural, were considered more important.

In practice, this meant a focus on the natural state of human beings. Nature was the greatest teacher, and Rousseau's educational method, published in his work Emile, promoted a natural form of education based on the interests and needs of the child.

bookWorkbook : Rousseau's Emile (1762)

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Rousseau also promoted breastfeeding in a time when many wealthy families sent their babies to wet-nurses. Breastmilk was nature's food, and thus most suitable for a baby.

Freedom plays a large part in this aspect of the Enlightenment. "Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains." Rousseau's political treatise, the Social Contract, promoted this idea, that government was meant not to control human beings, but to do their collective will.
bookWorkbook document: Rousseau's Social Contract (1763)

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Late Baroque

The Late Baroque style was popular at the beginning of the Enlightenment, but was also a holdover from the 17th century. Handel is a great example:

Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks: Overture (1749)

The grandeur and formality of the style are characteristc. I don't like listening to Handel. I keep looking over my shoulder to see what great person is entering the room! Handel was a professional composer, who achieved international fame and earned a fortune with his music.

Bach musicJohann Sebastian Bach kept the drama, but focused on skillful renditions of variations on themes people would enjoy listening to. In contrast to Handel, Bach's influence was confined to Protestant Germany until after his death, when others revived his music.

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos -- Concerto No. 4 in G major (1721)

Bach's music is intellectual, and to my mind a far better representation of refined Enlightenment tastes.

Classic music

Many of us use the term "classical music" to mean anything that's old, doesn't have lyrics, and is played on violin or piano. But in fact it's a specific era and style marking an effort toward true lyricism, using clear melodies which could be enjoyed by the elites in society who patronized composers. The music tends to be light, with little of the dissonance that occurred in Baroque music.

Classicists were trying to revive an ideal of balance and moderation inherent in the ancient societies of Greece and Rome, while at the same time creating graceful melodies and harmonies.

MozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart took what could have been a very austere and restrained form, and created some of the most beautiful music in history. Although he wanted to be a court composer, he worked in many genres, including opera and dance music. He died unappreciated and unfulfilled in his ambitions; in some ways I think his music was simply beyond the comprehension of the wealthier set of patrons. (In the play and film Amadeus, the Emperor tells him his music has "too many notes".) In his case, it was the middle class that knew a good thing when they heard it. Here's one with lots of notes:

Mozart: First Movement, Sonata No. 15 in C Major (1788)

Baroque music reflected the drama and emotion of religious conflict between Catholic and Protestant, while Classical music reflected an orderly, controlled, graceful society. The transition marks the Enlightenment.

Now see how the art and music went together in the transfer from Baroque to Classical


Baroque to Classical from Lisa M Lane on Vimeo.

Link to audio only with narration

The Salons

While the figures we study in the Enlightenment tend to be male, without women-run salons the ideas of the Enlightenment would have remained only among elite intellectuals.

Salons were informal gatherings of intellectuals. Originating in France in the 17th century, they tended to be run by women who opened their homes and parlors for discussions lasting several hours. As a forum for both aristocrats (many of the salon originators were upper-class) and middle-class scholars, it was one of the few places where the classes mixed.


It was at the salons that the ideas of the culture and civilization were transmitted. One reason was the lack of formal education provided to women at the time, which left most of them unable to read or write Latin, the language of science and ideas. Such women demanded simplification and translations of the major scientific and philosophical works of the day. Because of them and their salons, most major works were translated into vernacular languages (most commonly French, English, or German). After a while, even doctors began writing in French! Please peruse some document exerpts about the salons.

From France, the salon idea spread to other nations, though the role of women differed in each. In Spain, for example, male and female salons were separate. But the idea of female participation was encouraged by Enlightenment thinkers, most of whom believed in mothers as the first teachers of civilization.Wollstonecraft

The frustration of women with their poor education also was part of the work of Mary Wollstonecraft. (This document isn't actually assigned reading until we get to the French Revolution.)

book Workbook document :Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

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Wollstonecraft claimed that society degraded women. Better education would focus on making women into true adults, and thus entitled to full rights. The popular training of women as "ladies" hurt family and society; females needed to be "women". The basis of her argument was that there was no difference of nature or virtue between male and female. She was a radical.


The most important thing to understand about fashion during this era is the influence of the French Revolution.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the extravagance of the late 17th century had calmed down a lot (remember those ribbons and lace and powder?). By 1725 you have a style of dress for men that should remind you of later 18th century American revolutionaries like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (America was about a generation behind European fashion). The origin of the suit is more obvious here, though the vest is still long (they called it a waistcoat, pronounced wes-cott). The heels and lace are more reasonable, and elites wore wigs (Jefferson wore his own full red hair). Male hair was tied back with a ribbon. The tri-cornered hat on his knee was made of beaver fur from the New World. 1725
              fashion plate

1775 fashion

The hair was dressed over a huge pad made of horsehair, and was often kept in place for days over the course of the usual house parties. Women slept with their head perched carefully on a roll pillow to preserve the hairstyle. Such hair was subject to vermin, lice and creatures that made the scalp itchy. (What we call a "back scratcher" was originally used to scratch itchy heads!)

As the extravagance of royal families increased again, dress became more showy, especially for women. For elites, it was a political statement -- rich fabrics showed wealth. Layers and layers of material were required to make the wide skirts that were fashionable. To the left is a classic dress worn by someone who looks like Marie Antoinette, queen of France at the beginning of the French Revolution. Doorways became wider in elite homes as a result of these dresses.

The picture above is from a modern children's book, and illustrates the novelty hats used to denote wealth and status at court. This one is a bird cage with a real bird; others had miniature fountains, ships or music boxes!

With the Revolution came, shall we say, a distaste for the aristocracy. The extravagance of the Ancién Regime was swept away. Men in France wore more English-style clothing. Collars rose precipitously. Napoleon's tax on hair powder caused it to go out of fashion, and men tended toward their own hair and other styles that did not require a servant's help. The vest was now short. The guy here looks exactly like Thomas Paine.

Women wore the "Empire" gown, which went straight down from waist to stocking-clad feet in flat slippers. Far more comfortable than the boning and petticoats required for the previous style. Also more revealing, as light showed through the skirts. The hair was simple, but the ostrich feathers and turban were part of the "Orientalism" fashionable after Napoleon's expansion in North Africa.

              fashion plate


Hogarth woman

Sexuality says as much about cultural norms as art, music, fashion or any other aspect of the humanities. Plus I find the topic fascinating!


Condoms were invented back in the 17th century in response to an epidemic of syphilis (a sexually-transmitted disease that causes insanity, sterility, and death). By the 18th century they were popularized for birth control. Condoms were made of sheep gut or fish skin, and were sold in brothels and by specialists who supplied apothecaries (druggists), ship captains, and gentlemen. Condoms were expensive and thus not disposable; they were highly durable and were washed with soap in between uses. They were usually soaked in water before use. Men of means sometimes "kept" mistresses, housed in homes purchased for them (I'm sure some of these women ran salons too). Condoms were a good way to protect that relationship as well.

Non-mainstream sexuality

Gay history is its own field now, but the history of how mainstream society treats gays says a lot about its level of openness and tolerance.

During the 1730s, the Netherlands experienced a mass persecution of people we would today call gays. There were numerous trials for sodomy. Since sodomy was the formal charge, those persecuted were all men (lesbians didn't fit the charge, so to speak). If one confessed to sodomy (as did about 10% of those put on trial), the punishment was death. Those who didn't confess were subject to 30-50 years in prison or were banished. Death or banishment meant all your property was confiscated. The Dutch blamed the "effeminate French influence". Since sodomites were not considered to be sexually different from others (in other words, they weren't homosexuals, but rather men who had engaged in the act of sodomy), historians suspect other causes of the persecution. Certain judges made their careers this way, playing on local fears encouraged by Calvinist churches. I'd like to see some research on the 600 or so men who were convicted, because I suspect political motivations as well.

Another element of 18th century sexuality was the advent of an image related to fashion: the "Queen". Before 1700, as you've seen, fancy dress for men was the norm, at least for elites. Effeminacy, nice manners, makeup were not considered related to ones sexual orientation. In fact, it is generally considered that before 1700, many men were probably what we would call "bisexual", but not in the sense of being sexually attracted to both men and women at the same time of life. Rather, since ancient Greek times, and again since the Renaissance, it was common for a mentoring relationship to exist between older men and boys, which were also sexual in their educational content. In addition, there were "rakes", super-virile men who lived libertine lifestyles which included fine food, fine wine, loose women, and boys.

a fop
Leslie Howard as The Scarlet Pimpernel, the ultimate fop, with female friend

At the beginning of the 18th century, there were also men known as "fops", who dressed a bit over-the-top and acted slinky. Marginalized from the mainstream society, where men wore sword canes and were ready for violence on a moment's notice, fops spent much of their time with women. They were seen as having better insight into women's emotional lives than men, and husbands considered them non-threatening companions. But their sexuality was seen as being mainstream.

By 1750, society began to see such fops as being gay. True homosexuality, the orientation exclusively toward others of the same sex, was not considered normal. As the revolution came closer, men in fancy dress were seen as suspect, politically and sexually. Gay men might have kept to the fashion to identify partners, even in this dangerous time. Such men in Britain were called "mollies", slang for prostitute.

Why such a shift in perceptions? One theory is that the Enlightenment led to "too much" individuality and gender equality. This made things insecure for men, so society found a way to separate men into distinct types, in ways connected to sex. Whatever the cause, our current definitions of gay, straight, and bi date from this era.


Genre Novels

A favorite theme of 18th century literature is "The Love Game". It was based on libertinism; libertines are men who indulge in pleasure without restraint. In this pattern, a libertine conducted four stages of a love affair with a young woman:

1. Selection -- wherein he selects the woman for his game
2. Seduction -- where he seduces her, physically and morally
3. Subjection -- where he bends her to his will until she breaks (famous libertine Casanova said this was the best part)
4. Separation -- a moment of high drama, when he abandons her

Valmont still
Meg Tilly as the innocent virginal victim in Valmont

The most popular novels of the day used this pattern; one example is Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, a psychological portrait of the players in this game. Typical to most of these "genre novels", the story is about the corruption of an innocent girl, and includes mental torture of the victim (in some novels, it was physical torture). The movies Valmont (1989) and Dangerous Liasons (1988) were both based on this book.

Also popular were the novels of the Marquis de Sade, who spent 1777-1790 in prison for half-poisoning a prostitute with the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly (cantharis). He wrote novels illustrating not only extraordinary sexually diverse acts, but the intense pleasure that some people get by causing others pain. The word "sadism" is named after him.

These books all contained a moral lesson, in that the virtuous girl always ends up in heaven, and the rake usually meets a violent end. Yes, and people read Playboy for the articles.

Who read this stuff? Historians believe the best customers were men tired of deferring to "ladies" in elegant, sophisticated culture.

The Marriage Game

There are, of course, tamer novels focusing on other social themes, in particular the habits of finding someone to marry. The sentimentalism of the 18th century led to more marriages based on love. Both selections in the workbook take a perspective on this topic.

book Workbook document: Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749)

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Workbook document: Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1773)

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Crime That Paid

The 18th century saw enormous wealth change hands, particularly in international trade. This wealth led to an increase in crimes of theft.

Rare picture of actual 18th century highwayman in action. Just kidding. A movie still from 1951. Even the horse is wrong, but you get the idea, right?

Highwaymen (and women)

House parties were common among elites. Guests would come from miles away in their fancy coaches, bringing all the jewelry necessary to establish their status at the party, plus gold for tips and betting. Coachmen were sometimes armed against robbery. Masked highwaymen would lie in wait for coaches, most often as they returned exhausted from the multi-day party. At gunpoint, they'd take jewelry and money.

Some highwaymen were poor farmers dispossessed by enclosure and other economic changes, but those captured indicate that highway robbery was also a recreational activity for bored elites. It was dangerous and exciting; the punishment if caught was hanging. Unmaskings sometimes revealed women, doing it for the same reasons as men: money or excitement.


The Golden AgeAnne Bonny
        and Mary Read of international trade meant the golden age of piracy. They became a source of romantic culture and legend. You may have heard of Blackbeard and such. But two of the most interesting pirates were women: Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Anne Bonny was born in Charleston, South Carolina. She stabbed a servant, beat an attempted rapist, and ran off with the pirate Calico Jack Rackham. On board his ship, she fell in love with the cabin boy, who turned out to be Mary Read in disguise. They became close friends and fought together with Jack. In 1720 their ship was surprised by a British navy vessel while the men of the crew, including Jack, were drunk. Anne and Mary tried to fight them off alone, Mary at one point stabbing a drunken crewmate and yelling, "come up and fight like men!" They were captured and put on trial in Jamaica. Both women "pled their bellies", meaning they were both pregant and thus by law could not be hanged. Upon hearing that Calico Jack had been hanged, Anne said he should have fought like a man. No record shows her death, so she may have bought her way out of prison, but Mary died of fever in prison.

These kind of stories led to centuries of pirate legends, theme park rides, and movies.
Pirates of the Caribbean
        ride Pirates movie poster



18th Century Economy and Society

Marie Antoinette and Children

Marie Antoinette and Her Children (1787)
Mary Louise Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun
Vigee-Lebrun, court painter at Versailles, painted this in an effort to revive Marie Antoinette's reputation by showing her as a gentle mother. It didn't work, and garnered complaints that the painting was paid for by the unearned taxes of the people. Hence the French Revolution, 1789.

Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786)
Just couldn't resist a little more Mozart.


No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the earth; they may increase for ever and be greater than any assignable quantity, yet still the power of population being a power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law of necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.

-- Thomas Malthus (1798)



During the 18th century, the climate in Europe improved enormously as part of a global climate shift. Summers became warmer and drier, winters were warmer too. This led to a shift in agriculture.

medieval open-field system -> three-field rotation

The old system was based on a big open field, where the whole community farmed the same strips of land. The land was divided into strips (rather than squares) so that horses or oxen could pull the plow over a longer distance before having to turn, and every third or fourth strip was farmed for the landlord to pay for using the land. Since the same strips were planted with the same crops each year, this led to soil exhaustion as the same crops pulled the same nutrients out of the soil over and over. To help prevent soil exhaustion, peasants left strips or fields "fallow" (empty) each season, rotating their crops while the fallow fields "recovered" and became more fertile. This worked well but left one-half or one-third of good land unplanted at any one time of year. 
Three-field rotation
  Field 1 Field 2 Field 3
1st year Fall:
wheat & rye
oats, peas, barley, beans, lentils
2nd year Fallow Fall:
wheat & rye
oats, peas, barley, beans, lentils
3rd year Spring:
oats, peas, barley, beans, lentils
Fallow Fall:
wheat & rye

nitrogen-producing crops

In the 18th century, thanks to farming innovators like Jethro Tull, crops like turnip and clover were added to the rotation. It was noticed that these crops seemed to help the soil replenish itself, and provide food for animals at the same time. Thus less land was left fallow. We now know that this is because crops like this are "nitrogen-fixing"; they take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil through nodules on their roots. Nitrogen is the most important element for the growth of plant leaves. This thinking actually led to a four-field rotation that included nitrogen crops intentionally.

drawing showing potato
      plant, leaves above, potatoes below ground

the great potato

The other great change that caused an agricultural revolution during the 18th century was the common adoption of the potato. Potatoes, brought in from the New World, were easy to plant, even in soils that were sandy or rocky and had few nutrients. They produced tons of food for animals, and eventually humans were persuaded to eat them too. They provided healthful carbohydrates and even Vitamin C. You can see an illustration of the potato here: one piece of a single potato could produce 12-15 potatoes, a highly productive use of farmland, especially in places like Ireland where the sandy soil could grow little else.



During the 18th century, Europe experienced an extraordinary population boom. The availability of much more food and the adoption of potatoes into the diet were one factor, but there were others.

bubonic plague gone

This guy on the left is the hero of the 18th century: the Brown Rat. (Go ahead, use your mouse to turn him around!) Bubonic plague was a disease that had first hit Europe in the 14th century, and had returned periodically and killed lots of people, keeping the population low. This was because immunity to plague could not be passed on; only those who had contracted the disease and survived were immune. The warmer climate had helped people's immune systems improve, so that widespread epidemics of plague were already unusual. But a change in the rat population ended the plague. As the weather warmed, the Eurasian Black Rat was run out of its European feeding area by the Brown Rat. Black rats were far more likely to carry the kind of flea that carries plague, and they loved hanging out with humans. Brown rats didn't tend to carry the plague-ridden flea, and tended to stay away from people.

increased food supply

Improved transportation networks (primarily ordered by absolute monarchs to improve their control over their countries) meant that fewer areas were isolated in times of famine.

gentlemanly war

Since war tended to be fought on battlefields away from the crop land, there was less loss of food as a result of war (see later in this lecture).


Marriage and family

Hogarth's Shortly
              After the Marriage: clergyman retreating, wife lounging,
              husband exhausted
William Hogarth, Shortly After the Marriage (1743)
As population grew, patterns of marriage and family life also changed.

marriage patterns

Whereas in the 17th century couples had married later in life, because they had to wait to inherit or earn their living, by 1750 they were marrying earlier. One reason was that cottage (or domestic) industry had many poorer people earning money by working at home, for example making woolen yarn or cloth. People needed only a house and a loom to support a family, so they could be independent earlier in life.

illegitimacy explosion

Sexual trends also changed. Before 1750, pre-marital sex was frequent but usually occurred between people who were already engaged. Thus there were few illegitimate children, although many were conceived before their parents were actually married. But beginning around 1750, the number of illegitimate children born in Europe began to increase, from 3% of births in 1750 to 20% by 1850. This was for three reasons:
1) Greater social mobility meant that more young people moved away from home, from the village or town where everyone knew them. Thus they moved away from the social constraints of family, church, and peers. With fewer restrictions, couples engaged in sex without responsibility for the outcome, including children.
2) Unwed mothers were rejected by society. So if an unmarried woman were pregnant, the father would be under no compunction to marry her, and no one was there to force him to acknowledge the child. There was no village or peer network to care for the baby as the mother worked, and many unwed mothers became prostitutes, often leaving their babies to foundling hospitals or orphanages as they tried to survive. 50% of children left in foundling hospitals or like places died.
3) New sentimental ideas about love encouraged the idea that young people should "follow their heart" rather than the wishes of their elders when selecting a mate. People who chose poorly ended up with illegitimate children.


The mortality rates for children did not change that much during this period. I think that more children could have lived longer, given the changes in diet (next section),

picture of baby
Detail from William Hogarth, Gerard Anne Edwards in His Cradle (1733)
but that the poor care of illegitimate children prevented this from happening. Only about half of all children born lived to adulthood. This has caused historians to believe that people tried not to love their children too much, because the grief of losing half of them would be too great.

Documents indicate, however, that this was not the case, and that most people loved their children deeply.

Poor people tended to breastfeed their children, which helped space the kids about 2-3 years apart. The rich used wet-nurses (often with the best intentions -- country air, etc.) but many found their children undernourished. Infanticide was common. Wet nurses would kill a weak child, especially an older child, in order to have room to take on more small babies who would consume less breastmilk. Sometimes parents who couldn't afford another mouth to feed would "overlay" their baby, smothering it in bed (a crime that was hard to prove). Even children who were well cared-for were subject to diseases and such.


Fat man

Food and medicine

diet for poor and rich

Changes in diet helped increase general life expectancy, from 25 years old in 1700 to 35 years old in 1800. Before the 18th century, the poor ate mostly grain and vegetables, peas and beans for protein, and rarely had milk or meat. The rich, however, disdained vegetables as "animal food", and ate tons of meat. Wealthy folks often had meals with 3 fish and 3 meat courses, and gluttony and overeating was a sign of wealth.

Of the new foods introduced to Europe from the Americas (corn, tomatoes, chocolate), the potato was the most significant. It improved the diet of the poor, adding needed vitamins and starch. Believing that potatoes were for peasants only, the rich turned instead to the other new stuff: refined flour, refined sugar, chocolate. Thus the poor got healthier as the rich got sicker.

smallpox innoculation and vaccination

Lady MontaguIn 1715, a lovely woman named Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottomon Empire, contracted smallpox.It ruined her good looks, pockmarked her skin, and left her without eyelashes. She also lost her only brother to the disease. She learned about innoculation from the Turks, and innoculated her own son in 1717, thus introducing the smallpox vaccine to Europe (though it required facing opposition from the medical community and needed Queen Caroline's support to get her argument heard).Smallpox was a major killer, and the innoculation consisted of putting a small amount of pus from a pox under the skin of a healthy person. This was a dangerous procedure because it made possible contracting the disease itself from the innoculation. Doctor Edward Jenner was the one who made the connection between smallpox and cowpox. In the 18th century everyone knew that milk-maids (who did their job with their cheek leaning against the cow) got something icky called cowpox, but never got smallpox. Jenner's vaccines were made with cowpox (which wasn't fatal), so vaccines instead of innoculations could be used to prevent smallpox.



The 18th century also saw a big shift in economic thinking. Mercantilism had been the paradigm of the 17th century. It was based on three ideas:
1) There's a finite amount of wealth in the world. Thus one nation becoming richer meant others became poorer.
2) Wealth is gold and silver. Called "bullionism", this meant that nations tried to keep gold and silver within their countries, and export goods.
3) The government should control the economy. This idea is expressed in these documents:

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But in the 18th century, new ideas were emerging. Perhaps there was plenty of wealth to go around. Perhaps dominating trade was as important as hoarding bullion. Perhaps free enterprise could create a better global (and national) economy than government control could do.

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This new approach will eventually be called Classical Liberalism, and is based on Smith's ideas. I'd like you to think of it as the economic verson of John Locke's political liberalism. In both concepts, freedom is the foundation. For Smith and economic liberals, it's the freedom of trade -- free trade will create the best world for all. For Locke and political liberals, it's freedom within the body politic.

We're using the word liberal, then, in its 18th (and later 19th) century context: do not confuse this with the twisted way we use the word today! Liberals valued freedom over either stability (valued by conservatives) or equality (valued by radicals). In the U.S. today, both the Republican and Democratic parties are conservative liberals.


Concepts of Warfare

The New International Relations

"balance of power"

This was the new concept that any nation that got too much power needed to be restricted by the other nations. Thus, a country's alliances might shift depending on which other power was gaining ground. The new concept was based on Enlightenment rationality: a sense of order, or balance, in human affairs. It was especially good for Britain, which could stay apart from the continent, and only intervene if one power (like France) was becoming too dominant.

old economic and political goals18th c map of Europe

However, although the concept of "balance of power" was new, the old economic and political goals remained. Economically, each region of Europe wanted to dominate trade, and increase their own wealth. France wanted to expand on the continent, and was restricted by the German Empire and Spain (both controlled by the Hapsburg family). England wanted to expand internationally: her competitors were France and Spain. Austria wanted to expand Hapsburg power, especially against the Turks, and prevent Russia and Prussia from expanding. Prussia wanted to unite its territory in northern Europe, and prevent Austrian dominance to the south and Russian dominance to the east. Russia wanted to expand to the Baltic and Black seas, and prevent Austria and Prussia from dominating Europe.

significance: effect on warfare

toy soldierThese goals left no form of diplomacy except war, in order to maintain the balance of power. It's ironic that the system was based on rationality, but left war as the only way to maneuver. The result was a pattern of "polite" or "gentlemanly" wars. "Cabinet wars", as they were often called, were limited in scope and had little effect on the ordinary populations. Battlefields were the stage, away from population centers and crops. There was a code of conduct; opposing generals sometimes dined together the night before a battle, and there was no fighting on Christmas. Soldiers died, but the goals of each war were known and limited. No states were wiped off the map.

Changing Alliances

Maria Theresa, 1750

Wars of succession

Many of the European famillies were related to each other, and the death of a monarch provided a good excuse for war.

Austrian War of Succession (1740-1748)

In 1711, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI found himself the last remaining male member of the Hapsburg family in Europe. An old European law prevented women from inheriting the throne, so Charles issued the Pragmatic Sanction before his death to ensure the succession of his daughter, Maria Theresa. The other rulers of Europe agreed at the time, but as soon as Charles died, they reneged and made claims to her land. War was, of course, the result.

Diplomatic Revolution

The significance of the War of Austrian Succession was that it left Austria and France too weak to threaten each other, so the two countries formed a new diplomatic alliance against the victors (Prussia and England). Historians call this the Diplomatic Revolution. It lines everyone up for wars like the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, and the wars with revolutionary France.



Seven Years War (1756-1763)

This was the first real world war, with France, Russia and Austria fighting Prussia and England, and Spain versus England for colonies. It was fought on three continents.


Prussia fought most of the war on three fronts, against Russia, France and Austria. Britain tired of supporting her, and in 1761 cut aid to Prussia. Luckily, Peter III of Russia (husband of Catherine the Great) was a big fan of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and made peace. This infuriated Catherine and most Russians, by the way, which led to Peter's demise and Catherine's accession to the throne of Russia.


In India the French and British fought for economic dominance. The native Mughal Dynasty was crumbling, and both the French and British East India Companies vied for control of the disparate principalities, forming alliances with local princes to fight each other. In 1756, an incident of legend (and cultural literacy) occurred when 146 captured British soldiers were kept in a poorly-ventilated prison overnight, and 123 died. This was the legendary "Black Hole of Calcutta", and although there may not have been that many men involved (it's unlikely that many were stationed there), the incident was used to justify the "civilizing" of India by British rule.
map showing
                  France holding much of North America
France owned much of North America until the Seven Years War.

North America

In North America the war was called the French and Indian war, since the French had Native American allies against the British. The French were trying to connect their territory around the Great Lakes with their holding at New Orleans. The British were trying to expand westward from their colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. This was the scene of George Washington's first command, of British troops against the French (he surrendered at Fort Duquesne). The British were victorious here, as they were in India.

War of American Independence (1775-83)

end of benign neglect

After the Seven Years War, Britain had a huge debt. Although she had won in North America and India, the cost had been great. Many of her trade laws had gone unenforced in America for about 80 years. Britain had to end this "benign neglect" and begin collecting the duties due to her from British subjects in North America in order to pay for the war.
engraving of
                tarred and feathered man, with hot tea poured down his
Patriots pouring boiling tea down the throat of a tarred-and-feathered servant of the Crown. Such acts of terrorism are

constitutional arguments

American merchants did not want to pay. The Stamp Act of 1765 was particularly galling to them, and they avoided it and other taxes and acts, engaging in smuggling and considering it a patriotic act. The claim began that Americans were no longer British subjects, but a different people. Few went along with it, and most believed in the authority of the British Parliament and King. You can read any American History book for details on how merchant upstarts and lawyers in Boston found commonality with constitutional lawyers in Virginia to create the American Revolution. Their primary source of a constititutional argument against Britain was John Locke.
Remember from the first unit?
bookWorkbook document: Locke

patterns of warfare broken

The American War for Independence (as it came to be called in Europe) broke the pattern of gentlemanly warfare that had become common. Americans, learning from Amerindians, were as likely to shoot at British soldiers from their homes or from behind trees as meet them on the battlefield. Americans used their knowledge of the terrain and the sentiments of local populations to outmaneuver the British. They even attacked at Christmas.


The Treaty of Paris that ended the war did not eliminate the British presence in North America; that would have to wait till the War of 1812. But it did set an extraordinary precendent for colonies to break from their mother countries, using Enlightenment constitutional justifications. It began a trend of political liberalism that would be an example for revolutionary leaders, especially in France.



All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.