Theme description HIS113 - autumn 2021
Specialization in early history
Tema 2: The Rise of the Modern State
Ansvarlig: Stephan Sander-Faes
Pre-modern Europe was not a peaceful place, and the better part of its history is marred by seemingly endless conflict. Driven by confessional as well as political motives, the ambitions of kings and ministers were accompanied by the establishment of increasingly large standing (military) and sitting (bureaucracy) armies. These changes were usually administered in a hap-hazard way and mostly improvised, but their intended—and unintended—consequences shaped the emergence of the European state. By the late 18th century, centuries of violent strife and power-political struggles have divided Europe into a number of distinctly circumscribed states, very much unlike other areas of the globe such as China, the Middle East, or (albeit to lesser degrees) northern America.
With the benefit of hindsight, scholarship identified a gradual, but non-linear tendency that took shape from the middle of 17th century onwards and informs most periodisation efforts of European history across the Humanities and Social Sciences. This so-called ‘Westphalian model’ emphasises state sovereignty and international law, and it is widely held as a, if not the, analytical yardstick to assess organisational development. Scholars of state formation traditionally emphasise geopolitical competition, which fed into the establishment and growth over the course emphasise the state’s coercive institutions (military and bureaucracy) and mobilisation capabilities. In this hyper-competitive environment, war, not peace, was the norm, with most scholars agreeing with Charles Tilly that indeed ‘war made the state, and the state made war’. On these general trends, economists, historians, International Relation (IR) scholars, political scientists, and sociologists are overwhelmingly in agreement.
In this course, we will look at the emergence and historical development of the (modern) European state. While the chronological emphasis rests on the late medieval (c. 1350-1500) and early modern periods, we will also discuss the interrelated aspects of bureaucracy, economic development, social relations, and warfare. Conceptually, we will also look at the scholarly debates that accompanied the development of the major theories of state formation since the 19th century.
- Who and what drove modern state formation?
- How did the ‘modern state’ accomplish its formation and how did the nascent ‘administrative state’ (Max Weber) extend its reach further and further?
- May we be able to discern distinct ‘directions’ in which, e.g., communication, media, people, etc. flowed during the period under consideration?
- What about roads not taken? What kind, or type, of ‘state’ eventually emerged in Europe and the US after 1648?
- And, lastly, how did asymmetries of power relations between actors affect, (re-) order, and influence state formation?
Overview of the Course
General framework: in the introductory bloc (weeks 33-35) we will discuss the contours of the course and the pertinent historiography; in the second bloc, ‘Pre-state history’ (weeks 36-37), we will cover the main avenues of development up until the 14th century; in the third bloc, ‘Leviathan rising’ (weeks 38-41), we will focus on the rise of the European state (system) from the 14th century to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48); in the final bloc (weeks 42-44), the period from the Westphalian Peace to the French Revolution (1648-1789) takes centre stage, and we will discuss the state as an instrument of power-politics; the course concludes with remarks on the main trends, key concepts, and essential readings.