Class Writeup L'Etat C'Est Moi!

January 28, 2004


We missed class on Monday because of the weather and I merged the highlights of Monday into the first 20 minutes or so of today. I left my Monday notes at home because I was afraid of getting bogged down; it turns out I needed them - I did remember correctly that the Ottoman Turks took Byzantium in 1453 but I almost said 1543.

I arrived early for first section and spent time working on names. I ran late talking after first section and dove right into second section without reviewing names. I will get them later.

I did a basics of religious history:
Roman empire splits into two, west falls east survives, Christian church divides with it, West claims power, East under emporer, Orthodox and Catholic. Add Islam, just did Mohammed and the first generation around 672 then jumped to Ottoman Turks in 1300s - left out Arab expansion, Crusades, Mongols, Seljuk Turks, Reconquista of Spain and all the good stuff.

In early section I explained Christendom during the Roman empire, in late section I did not introduce concept until 30 year's war. Worked better in the first section.

From there I laid out the reformation quickly - Catholic church - Confraternities, christendom, Pope validating secular rulers, church, state and kingdom intertwined. Indulgences, abuses, Martin Luther 1517, 95 Theses. I quickly laid out the argument that Luther split the church where other conflicts did not because of printing press and disgruntled German (and French) nobles and minor princes.

In afternoon section one student responded to rhetorical question by suggesting that Luther was unwilling to be bribed into silence. Good point - Luther was stubborn and did refuse to be bribed or intimidated. But, so too were the Albignesians, the Lollars, Jan Hus and his followers. And, while the German princes jumped on the Reformation bandwagon, earlier splits had seen the King of France championing an alternate Pope in Avignon and maintaining split papal courts for decades. I basically repeated Eisenstien's argument about the printing press, although I softened her determinism.

I skipped over most of the wars of religion, with some brief references to France, and got into the 30-year's war. This too was sketchy - high points were Protestant revolt leads to religious war leads to great power intervention leads to mercenary armies all over the place leads to desolation. Winners were Brandenburg-Prussia and Sweden. Austria lost any meaningful Holy Roman Empire but strengthened crown control over Bohemia and laid the groundwork for its expansion into Ottoman territory the second half of the century.

Finally we were able to discuss absolute monarchs. We did a brief board exercise talking about monarchs, their attributes, and the extent of their power. In both sections I was able to make the big point that they had no checks on their power in theory but very limited administrative capacities. They all added to their administrative capacities and started building bureaucracies independent of the nobility, but this simply raised administrative capacity from minimal to not much.

We did case studies: France, Austria, Prussia. Second section had introduced Louis XIV early during the wars on religion, and I forgot to give a close study of Louis and Colbert. Note, remember to do mercantilism in second section as part of Monday's class on colonization.

I closed with a review of sovereignty - the notion that the sovereign power acts without check or limitations. Pointed out that there are different forms of sovereignty - the Tsar of all the Russias is sovereign in his word - can sign an order and it becomes the law of the land. The British King in Parliament has the same authority - once a law is passed by parliament and signed by the king it becomes the law of the land regardless of all prior law or all notions of constitution - the constitution is what the King in Parliament says it is just as the Russian constitution is what the Tsar says it is.

I used this, and the earlier discussion of Christendom and the Treaty of Westphalia to suggest the roots of modern nationalism - a sovereign state, with a state church and a state bureaucracy, will inspire loyalty and identity among the people who live in it.

Unanswered questions - why did Sweden fade from great power status after 17th century? I said that they were unable to hold onto the shores of the Baltic, and not populous enough or mercantile enough to survive with just Sweden's land. I could just as easily have said that their 17th century strength was an aberration created by early adoption of new military tactics and a run of good generals and inspiring leaders. Neither answer fully satisfies me - I need to dig into it.

Overall, I was cramming two classes into one. I was poorly organized and a little scatterbrained from being sick over the weekend. I need to do better next week.

Posted by Red Ted at January 28, 2004 08:35 AM | TrackBack