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World History Western Europe CCOT 600-1450

Alaine Coffey p2

Alaine Coffey

on 12 February 2013

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Transcript of World History Western Europe CCOT 600-1450

Alaine Coffey p.2 Western Europe 600-1450 CCOT The Medieval period of Western European history, ranging from approximately 600 to 1450 C.E., witnessed drastic changes in the intellectual, economic and technological life of the region. New universities blossomed into existence, and the maritime revolution precipitated a revival of urban commerce which would lead to the renaissance. However, despite these changes, several factors of European life remain unchanged throughout the period. Most people still lived in rural communities practicing subsistence agriculture, and the Catholic Church continued to dominate European intellectual life. Technological Contrary to popular belief, the Middle Ages saw monumental technological advances which enabled the transformation of economic and intellectual life. Improvements in agriculture, such as crop rotation and the watermill, caused an increase in crop production which allowed European states to support larger populations. Europe’s population began to recover from the crash experienced at the end of the Roman Empire. The improvements in crop production permitted the growth of urban settlements, a key factor in Europe’s intellectual growth during the period. However, the most substantial technological improvements in the era resulted from increased contact with the far more advanced civilizations in the East. The crusades, and later the Silk Road, allowed Europeans to imitate Chinese and Islamic technological advances. From the Arabs, the Europeans learned algebra as well as the ability to construct sophisticated telescopes. Europeans learned the secrets of gunpowder from the Chinese, and utilized it very effectively in warfare. The discovery and refinement of gunpowder by Europeans would allow them to dominate the world in the ensuing centuries. Certainly the most important technological advance of the age was the printing press. The printing press forever altered Europe, as it ended the Catholic Church and the nobilities monopoly on learning. Undoubtedly, the revival of European intellectual life in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance owed its existence to the invention of the printing press. Although technology made great advances during the period, the true benefits remained hidden from Europeans for several centuries. Gunpowder, despite its significance in later centuries, was not very effective during the middle ages. Likewise, the increase in population caused by improved crop production yielded as much misery as it did progress. Europeans made no significant advancements in medicine during the period which, when coupled with the lack of proper sewage technology in European cities, led to devastating outbreaks of the bubonic plague in the 14th century. Economic The technological advances previously mentioned were a prerequisite for the complete transformation of economic life which occurred in the period. Following the collapse of the centralized economy of Western Roman Empire in 476 C.E., Western Europe was thrown into a long economic depression. Urban centers were largely abandoned, and money fell into complete disuse. At the beginning of the period, the primary measure of wealth was land instead of money. The manor system, in which serfs labored for lords in return for land and protection instead of money, dominated economic life. However, the population recovery created new urban centers, especially in northern Italy and Flanders. The cities of northern Italy, such as Venice and Genoa, prospered through increased maritime trade. Reviving urban commerce eventually led to the reintroduction of currency to Western Europe, and money replaced land as the primary measure of wealth. Accompanying the revival of currency and commerce were new financial institutions such as banks, and later the invention of the joint stock company by Dutch merchants in the late 15th century. The center of economic life thus shifted from subsistence agriculture in rural communities to maritime cities. Although this shift would later lead to the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, for most Europeans economic life was relatively unchanged during the period. Despite the growth of urban centers, the overwhelming majority of Europeans continued to live under the feudal system practicing subsistence agriculture. Indeed, the Catholic Church even attempted to preserve this existing economic order by declaring the lending of money, ursury, to be illegal. Yet the nobility gradually began to ignore the decree since the merchants and bankers provided them the means to finance their constant wars. Intellectual Finally, intellectual life changed during the period, largely in response to the changing technological and economic conditions. The beginning of the period saw the collapse of the Roman and Greek universities which had dominated intellectual life in the classical era. Universities were rendered unsustainable as the urban centers which supported them collapsed. Fortunately intellectual life did not die, but instead, like the economy, shifted to the countryside. The monastic orders preserved the works of Plato and Virgil for future generations. Even though they are primarily remembered for the preservation of ancient manuscripts, the monastic orders were not without their own intellectual accomplishments. The vast majority of in the intellectual achievements during the Early Middle Ages, such as St. Augustine’s City of God, were religious in nature. With the revival of urban centers, the focus of intellectual life shifted from the monastic orders to the universities. The greater concentration of scholars at the universities enabled them to go beyond simple preservation to the creation of a new doctrine: scholasticism. The brilliant minds of the Late Middle Ages, such as Peter Abelard, attempted to reconcile Aristotelian logic with Christian doctrine. The field of scholasticism had numerous practical successes, enabling the church to simplify and streamline church dogma as well as the canon law which dominated so much of Europe throughout the period. Ironically though, the church’s support of the universities would be its downfall, as the universities would eventually give birth to the Reformation and the Enlightenment. However, throughout the entire middle ages a clear continuity exists in intellectual life. Regardless of whether learning occurred in the monastery or the university, the Catholic Church exerted a virtual monopoly over all learning. The Church’s monopoly only began to erode at the end of the period with the spread of the printing press. Conclusion From 600 C.E. to 1450 C.E., Western Europe experienced many technological, economic, and intellectual developments. Western Europe developed new technologies and adapted others form the Islamic World and China. Increased trade and a number of other factors allowed for a great economic renewal and the development of the bourgeoisie, a merchant middle class. Intellectual knowledge and information flourished and spread through Europe by 1450. Although many great changes occurred, the Catholic Church remained a crucial part of all aspects of life in Western Europe.
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