Between Baroque and Romanticism: The European Enlightenment


The 18th-century Enlightenment was, arguably, the most important single episode in the last thousand years of European intellectual history—the true watershed between the “pre-modern” and the “modern” world. Yet historians have found the Enlightenment a singularly elusive phenomenon. Enlightenment thought was woven of several very different strands; the champions of “enlightenment” shared a surprisingly large number of assumptions with their supposed opponents; and some of the beliefs we regard as most characteristic of the Enlightenment were already being attacked by Rousseau and other adventurous pre-Romantic thinkers before the century was half over. This course will examine the development of the Enlightenment from its origins in the age of the Baroque to its demise in the era of the French Revolution and Romanticism. While the course’s central focus will be ideas, values, and sensibilities, we will also consider the economic, social, and political context of the Enlightenment and examine the revolutionary upheavals in European politics and culture that brought it to an end. We will conclude by discussing several key texts of the 1790s, including works by Schiller, Goethe, and Novalis, that typify the revolt against the Enlightenment outlook with which the 18th century ended.