Like bees to honey, historians are attracted to historical periodization. As an academic pursuit, the task of defining historical periods is a sticky...moreLike bees to honey, historians are attracted to historical periodization. As an academic pursuit, the task of defining historical periods is a sticky subject - the value of which is rather questionable. In particular, defining the start and end of any period can prove a difficlt one. Though the rise of Italian urban life in the fourteenth century offers a common point by which to date the start of the Renaissance for may scholars, the precise end remains an unsolved question.
Theodore Rabb's "The Last Days of the Renaissance: And the March to Modernity," offers one solution to the problem. His writing takes the reader through an overview of the Medieval and Renaissance periods in order to lay out the unifying characteristics of these two historical eras and the traditional grounds for considering them as separate altogether. With regards to the arrival of the Renaissance, Rabb cites the special significance of the invention of gunpowder on the size of European armies and the nature of war, the new energy for state-building and the "domestication" of the aristocracy, the impact of overseas conquest and emigration, the rise of capitalism, a growing population (in the wake of the Bubonic plague of the 1340s), the new approach to Classical culture and the Catholic Church, and the growth of European universities. Interestingly, Rabb views both the Reformation and Scientific Revolution (important periods for other historians) as part of the same era.
By contrast, the following period was percieved to mark a grave crisis. The rise in population brought urban congestion and an economic downturn in the seventeeth century. The discovery of the New World, a deep religious schism brough about by the Reformation, the impact of the Scientific Revolution, and years of war brought about a great sense of pessimism and anxiety. Rabb argues this new era may be visialized by paying special note to antiwar sentiments expressed in artistic form and the declining severity of the superstitious mindset common to most Europeans of the age. In the end, Rabb contends the turbulence of this period shares a special bond with the present, a quality that unites our world with that of the late seventeenth century.
As an addition to the historiographical literature on the subject of the Renaissance, Rabb's book is rather lacking. In "The Last Days of the Renaisance," Rabb fails to shed new light on the transition from the Renaissance to modernity (as he would care to describe what followed). His account relies on much that has been stated already in far more lengthy studies. However, Rabb does manage to take a strong stance on the usefulness of historical periodization. Rabb's writing also offers a neat synthesis of material concerning this important historical transition in a manner that is both readable and enjoyable.(less)
James D. Tracy structured his survey of the Reformation around two simple premises. First, the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was one...moreJames D. Tracy structured his survey of the Reformation around two simple premises. First, the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was one of several reform movements in the history of Western Christendom. Second, though religion serves as an important motive force behind history, it is one among many. Both views are in line with much recent scholarship concerning the period and offer an approach in keeping with the times.
Regarding the format of the book, Tracy focuses on doctrinal, political, and social devlopements seperately in three separate, but overlapping sections designed to stress the impact of the religious reform movement on a range of factors related to life in early modern Europe. Tracy's presentation of material, though well-intentioned, does lack seem of the excitement of other interpretations. By breaking the book apart into three parts, he also sacrifices the opportunity to show much of the historical contingency that seems to be at the heart of his argument.(less)
John O'Malley's introduction asks: "What's in a name?" For O'Malley, it seems, quite a great deal. His study concerns efforts to categorize the period...moreJohn O'Malley's introduction asks: "What's in a name?" For O'Malley, it seems, quite a great deal. His study concerns efforts to categorize the period of Catholic resurgency in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century as much as the more obvious attempt to attribute an accurate and effective name to the historical period in question.
Use of the term Reformation dates to its appearance in the writings of Veit Ludwig Von Seckendorff in 1692. In 1776, Johann Stephan Putter made use of Counter Reformation (Gegenreformation) for the first time in order to decribe what became over time alternately a historical period (in Germany) or the militant Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation (outside Germany). Not until the late nineteenth century did use of the term Catholic Reformation - favored by Ludwig von Pastor - gain ground. A number of other possibilities emerged as the twentieth century wore on; battles raging along religious, national, and historiographical lines.
O'Malley's study takes Hubert Jedin's "Catholic Reformation or Counter Reformation?" (1946) as a starting point to discuss the problem of naming Catholicism in the early modern era. O'Malley portrays Counter Reformation - the oldest term in use - as too militant, Catholic Reform or Catholic Reformation as ignorant of previous efforts toward reform, Tridentine Reform or Tridentine Age as too reliant on the Council of Trent, and Confessional Age or Confessional Catholicism - to follow the work of Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling - as too bound by historical models. Lastly, he offers a fifth: Early Modern Catholicism. O'Malley believes this name encompasses all the others while making room for other periods as varied as the Renaissance, Baroque, Siglo de Oro, and others.
Most importantly, O'Malley revels in the diversity implied by the number and significance of the names listed above. Each name has merit, and all add something to interpreting the age they reference. In this wealth of diversity, argues O'Malley, rests the value of such an exhaustive semantic excercise.(less)