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The 18th-Century Enlightenment & Our Modern Age

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The Western Tradition

The Western Tradition Video Series:  Programs 31-40 on the Enlightenment

This program features 52 half-hour video programs on Western civilization and coordinated books.  You can view the videos free online on the Annenberg/CPB site; they are also available on DVD.

Covering the ancient world through the age of technology, this illustrated lecture by Eugen Weber presents a tapestry of political and social events woven with many strands religion, industry, agriculture, demography, government, economics, and art. A visual feast of over 2,700 images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art portrays key events that shaped the development of Western thought, culture, and tradition. This series is also valuable for teachers seeking to review the subject matter. Produced by WGBH Boston.

Programs of special interest to World Observer include the following for an introduction to the 18th-century Enlightenment:

31. The Age of Absolutism
Exhausted by war and civil strife, many Europeans exchanged earlier liberties and anarchies for greater peace.

32. Absolutism and the Social Contract
Arguments about the legitimate source of political power centered on divine right versus natural law.

33. The Enlightened Despots
Monarchs considered reforms in order to create more efficient societies, but not at the expense of their own power.

34. The Enlightenment
Intellectual theories about the nature of man and his potential came to the fore.

35. The Enlightenment and Society
Scientists and social reformers battled for universal human rights during a peaceful and prosperous period.

36. The Modern Philosophers
Freedom of thought and expression opened new vistas explored by French, English, and American thinkers.

37. The American Revolution
The British colonists created a society that tested Enlightenment ideas and resisted restrictions imposed by England.

38. The American Republic
A new republic, the compromise of radicals and conservatives, was founded on universal freedoms.

39. The Death of the Old Regime
In France the old order collapsed under revolutionaries' attacks and the monarchy's own weakness.

40. The French Revolution
Liberty, equality, and fraternity skidded into a reign of Terror.

Expanded outline of above:

Program 31. The Age of Absolutism
Program 32. Absolutism and the Social Contract

Some rulers, particularly in France, claim they are answerable to no earthly authority, while in England some political theorists argue that authority depends on the consent of the governed.

  • The major characteristics of political absolutism in the seventeenth century.
  • Causes of political weakness in France during the first sixty years of the seventeenth century.
  • Attempts by French statesmen to end political disorder.
  • The changing status of French nobility during the seventeenth century.
  • Ways in which art and architecture reflected political authority.
  • Moral and political aspects of seventeenth-century French tragedy.
  • The outcome of the conflicts between Parliament and the English crown.
  • Ways in which Hobbes and Locke reflect the political events of their times.

Program 33. The Enlightened Despots
Program 34. The Enlightenment

In Western Europe philosophers argue that the dignity of man can best be raised through practical knowledge and reforms.

  • The relationship between warfare and economic growth.
  • The rise and decline of major European powers.
  • The relationship between the enlightened despots and the French philosophers.
  • The relationship between the enlightened despots and their subjects.
  • The ways in which the rococo style was a reaction against the more ponderous style of Louis XIV.

Program 35. The Enlightenment and Society
Program 36. The Modern Philosophers

Many writers think of themselves as social reformers and work to change society.

  • The relationship between economic growth on one hand, political and social ideas on the other.
  • Causes of economic growth in the eighteenth century.
  • The influence of science on religious ideas.
  • The development of utilitarianism and the growth of laissez-faire economics.
  • The growth of intellectual relativism.

Program 37. The American Revolution
Program 38. The American Republic

The American Revolution is examined as a test case of Enlightenment ideals.

  • European myths about America and what they revel about European society.
  • Patterns of European settlement throughout North and South America.
  • Ways in which the American colonies became important factors in eighteenth century international politics.
  • Ways in which England's imperialism created tensions with its North American colonies.
  • Social and political divisions in the new republic.
  • Tensions between political ideals and practice.
  • The social and economic conditions that gave rise to the political ideals in the United States.

Program 39. The Death of the Old Regime
Program 40. The French Revolution

As the kingdom of France collapses, the new revolutionary state becomes an ideal for some Europeans, a terror for others.

  • Stabilizing factors in the United States following the revolution.
  • The fiscal weakness of the French crown.
  • The factors working for and against French reform.
  • The reforms of 1789.
  • The transition from reform to revolution.
  • New styles of warfare.
  • Creation of the French Empire.
  • The enduring legacy of the revolution.

Bridging World History:  Program 17 on the Enlightenment

Bridging World History web site

This series includes 26 half-hour video programs, course guide, and Web site.  A portion of program 17 described below is of interest to this section of World Observer.  You can view this program free online on the Annenberg/CPB web site.

Unit 17. Ideas Shape the World
How do ideas change the world? This unit traces the impact of European Enlightenment ideals in the American and Haitian revolutions and in South America.








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