HIST 117 / WRIT 117:  From Miracles to Mesmerism: The Cultural History of the Scientific Revolution

Is there “progress” in science and medicine?  If so, where and when has it happened — and why?  To answer these questions, this course examines the causes of Europe’s “scientific revolution” in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries: the moment when modern Western science and medicine were born.  We will investigate the new theories and practices of observation and experimentation; scientific academies and the politics of state-sponsored research; culturally specific codes of trustworthiness; popular dissemination of new knowledge; heated controversies about the relationship between science and theology; ever-shifting concepts of health and nature; “humoral” medicine and its demise; the biologization of race and gender; and the persistence of alchemy, magic, and the occult.  Readings include Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and Mesmer.

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies
Last offered: n/a
Next offered: Fall 2015

HIST 221 / ENG 221:  The Renaissance

Co-taught with Prof. Sarah Wall-Randell

This interdisciplinary survey of Europe between 1300 and 1600 focuses on aspects of politics, literature, philosophy, religion, economics, and the arts that have prompted scholars for the past seven hundred years to regard it as an age of cultural rebirth.  These include the revival of classical learning; new fashions in painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, and prose; the politics of the Italian city-states and Europe’s “new monarchies”; religious reform; literacy and printing; the emerging public theater; new modes of representing selfhood; and the contentious history of Renaissance as a concept.  Authors include Petrarch, Vasari, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Castiglione, Rabelais, Montaigne, Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare.  Lectures and discussions will be enriched by guest speakers and visits to Wellesley’s art and rare book collections.

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies; Language and Literature
Last offered: n/a
Next offered: Spring 2016

HIST 232:  The Transformation of the Western World: Europe from 1350 to 1815

This course surveys the tumultuous transformation of medieval Europe into a powerful civilization whose norms, institutions, and technology reached across the globe. Along the way, we will use original sources, including Wellesley's museum collections, to investigate major landmarks in Europe's political, cultural, social, intellectual, and environmental history. These include the Black Death, the Renaissance, the creation of seaborne empires and the discovery of new worlds, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the coming of capitalism, a multitude of devastating wars, and changes in urban and rural landscapes  all set against the backdrop of European people's ongoing efforts to define their relationships to their own medieval and ancient forerunners and to the world's other peoples.

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies
Last offered: Fall 2014
Next offered: TBA

HIST 233:  In Search of the Enlightenment

What was the Enlightenment?  Of all eras, it has probably the greatest parental claim to the values, politics, and sciences of the modern West.  It witnessed the triumph of Newtonian physics and the demise of miracles; devalued the authority of the Bible; legitimized democratic, nationalist, and feminist politics; dealt devastating blows to the political prerogatives of monarchs, aristocrats and the clergy; attacked torture and the death penalty; and powerfully defended religious toleration, freedom of the press, and human rights.  To understand these and other alleged accomplishments of the Enlightenment, we will study the works of the greatest luminaries to frequent the coffeehouses, salons, and secret societies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including Kant, Rousseau, Locke, Diderot, Herder, Beccaria, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Spinoza.

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies; Religion, Ethics, and Moral Philosophy
Last offered: Spring 2015
Next offered: TBA

HIST 234:  The Holy Roman Empire: Religion, Politics, and Culture from Luther to Napoleon

This course traces the tumultuous history of Europe's German lands in the three centuries between the Middle Ages and the modern era, long identified with the origins of twentieth-century German militarism and anti-Semitism. We will focus on what makes this fascinating period distinctive: Germany's uniquely persistent political diversity and the religious schism that gave Germany multiple national religions. Topics include the Protestant Reformation, the Great Witch Panic, the devastating Thirty Years War that destroyed 150 years of economic growth, Prussia and Frederick the Great, the Enlightenment, the Napoleonic Wars, and the demise of the extraordinarily complex political system known as the Holy Roman Empire. Sources include treaties, treatises, literature, autobiographical texts, visual art, and music, by, among others, Luther, Bach, Lessing, Mozart, and Goethe.

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies
Last offered: Fall 2013
Next offered: Fall 2015

HIST 235:  The Birth of Economics: Adam Smith in Enlightenment Context

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the foundational text of modern economics, caused a sensation after its first publication in 1776 and continues to resonate powerfully today.  Readers across the political spectrum have used its authority to defend everything from free-trade liberalism, deregulation, and minimal taxation, to monopoly-busting and the welfare state.  This course investigates the meanings and historical significance of this extraordinary text by studying its intellectual context.  We will focus on the debates that preoccupied Smith and his fellow eighteenth-century Scottish countrymen and that gave birth to the modern social sciences: debates about modernizing Christian theology, about the origins of human society, about economic development, about the meaning of justice, and about the benefits and dangers of greed, luxury, and inequality. 

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies; Religion, Ethics, and Moral Philosophy
Last offered: Fall 2014
Next offered: TBA

HIST 353:  Sentimental Education in Early Modern Europe

Humans have been called rational animals since antiquity, but the notion that we should also develop our non-rational capacities—senses, imaginations, memories, and emotions—is equally central to Western intellectual and cultural history. We will trace this notion through the visual and material culture of early modern Europe in some of its most fascinating manifestations: memory palaces, Jesuit meditation techniques, emblem books, cabinets of curiosities, history paintings, pictorial encyclopedias, games, and more. Each week will involve hands-on study of jewels from Wellesley's own library and museum collections, and each student will finish the semester by writing a history of an object of her choice.

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies
Last offered: Spring 2015
Next offered: TBA

HIST 354:  King-Killers in Early Modern Britain and France

Popular fascination with kings and queens is alive and well, but European monarchs once enjoyed a mystical, superhuman prestige far beyond mere celebrity.  Why did they lose it?  To find an answer, this seminar investigates their enigmatic killers: perpetrators of cosmic cataclysm in the name of liberation from tyranny.  After examining the medieval legal foundations and ceremonial glamor of sacred kingship, we will analyze the most sensational modern cases of king-killing: Charles I in the English Civil War and Louis XVI in the French Revolution.  Our analyses will encompass political maneuverings by individuals; bitter conflicts of class, religion, and party; the subversive power of satirical literature; utopian yearnings for a more egalitarian society; and the philosophical battles that produced modern concepts of the state.

Prerequisite: None
Distribution: Historical Studies; Religion, Ethics, and Moral Philosophy
Last offered: n/a
Next offered: Spring 2016