Throughout the seventeenth century the laborer, whether rural or urban, faced repeated crises of subsistence, with a general downturn beginning in 1619 and a widespread decline after 1680. Almost no region escaped plague, famine, war, depression, or even all four. Northern Europe and England suffered from a general economic depression in the 1620s; Mediterranean France and northern Italy were struck by plague in the 1630s; and a recurrent plague killed 100,000 in London in 1665.
By the time of Abelard’s death, the Greek scientific writings of antiquity were starting to be recovered, often through translations from Arabic into Latin. In the second half of the century came the recovery of Aristotle’s lost treatises on logic, which dealt with such subjects as how to build a syllogism (an expression of deductive reasoning),how to prove a point, and how to refute false conclusions.
Trade began slowly to revive during the eleventh century. A bad harvest year left medieval farmers helpless, and it seemed natural to bring surpluses into areas of famine and sell them at high prices to the hungry. The first new commercial centers arose in places such as Venice and the Low Countries. Even in the earlier Middle Ages such trade had never disappeared altogether, but now the incentives to increase its scale were pressing.
A final development of these two centuries was to prove of the utmost importance for the future Russia. This was the slow and gradual penetration of foreigners and foreign ideas, a process welcomed with mixed feelings by those who prized the technical and mechanical learning they could derive from the West while fearing Western influence on society and manners. This ambivalent attitude toward Westerners and Western ideas became characteristic of later Russians.
American revulsion against war also took the form of isolationism, the wish to withdraw from international politics outside the Western Hemisphere. The country was swept by a wave of desire to get back to “normalcy,” as President Warren Harding phrased it.
The new “navalism,” which already had assertive advocates in Britain and Germany, derived many of its doctrines from the writings of an American officer, Captain Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914). Mahan’s book The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890), and his later works assigned navies a place of preeminent importance in determining power status and found an influential audience at home and abroad, especially in Germany, Britain, and Japan.
Perhaps the major Byzantine cultural achievement was the transmission of their civilization to the Slays. Much as Rome Christianized large groups of “barbarians” in western Europe, so Constantinople, the new Rome, Christianized in eastern Europe.
It was in Italy that the fight against the loss of the classical heritage was waged most vigorously and most successfully. Under Theodoric (r. 493-526), two distinguished intellectuals combated the general decline: Boethius and Cassiodorus.
The union of Belgium and the Netherlands, decreed by the peacemakers of 1815, worked well only in economics. The commerce and colonies of Holland supplied raw materials and markets for the textile, glass, and other manufactures of Belgium.
The first major question facing the leaders of central Europe after the revolutions of 1848 was whether Prussia or Austria would dominate the German Confederation. The “Big German” solution called for federation with Austria; the “Little German” solution called for separation from Austria or even from south Germany. The “Little German” program also meant Prussian domination of the non-Austrian states, and therefore became Bismarck’s goal.