The Making of the Modern Mind

Manchester University, January 2017 (IDIV 240)    Instructors: Greg Clark & Steve Naragon





Course Objectives

In this course we will investigate the wide-spread shift in Europe from a pre-modern (pre-16th century) to a modern world view (as it matured up through the 19th century), with a special focus on the rise of modern science as a way of understanding nature, and on the radical shift in how humans understand themselves and their relationship to this nature. 

Course readings (listed below) will consist of brief essays and book chapters drawn from the sciences, philosophy, history, and literature. We will begin with a lively book by Ian Mortimer: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. (Simon and Schuster, 2011); originally published in 2008.

Some of the Topics to be Explored

The Copernican Revolution: Where our view of the universe in which humans were located near the physical center (just a few floors up from the Pits of Hell) shifted to one in which humans (on their earth) moved around the sun, and where the sun was just one of countless stars, moving in a centerless universe. [Two Revolutions] [Science, Old and New] [Galileo’s Telescope] [Hobbes on the Mechanical World]

The Gutenberg Revolution: The invention of the printing press and moveable type led to an explosive growth in the availability of the printed word, and with that the emergence of a “Reading Public.” [The Golden Age] [Spreading the Word] [Gutenberg’s Printing Press] [Silent Reading] [The Manuscript Culture]

“Man tends to regard the order he lives in as natural.

The houses he passes on his way to work seem more like rocks rising out of the earth than like products of human hands.  He considers the work he does in his office or factory as essential to the harmonious functioning of the world.  The clothes he wears are exactly what they should be, and he laughs at the idea that he might equally well be wearing a Roman toga or medieval armor.

He respects and envies a minister of state or a bank director, and regards the possession of a considerable amount of money as the main guarantee of peace and security.  He cannot believe that one day a rider may appear on a street he knows well, where cats sleep and children play, and start catching passersby with his lasso.

He is accustomed to satisfying those of his physiological needs which are considered private as discreetly as possible, without realizing that such a pattern of behavior is not common to all human societies.

In a word, he behaves a little like Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush, bustling about in a shack poised precariously on the edge of a cliff.”

— Czeslaw Milosz,
from The Captive Mind (1951)

The Universities and Public Education: Beginning in early 13th century Paris, the idea of the university spread across Europe.  By the early 18th century, the idea of public schools took shape, and with it the move toward a near-universal literacy. [The Rise of the Universities][Students and Masters]

The Family and the Home: The arrangement of family-life, childhood, and the home as a space in which these flourish, has not always existed.  Not until the 17th century do we find them in a common and recognizable form. [The Study] [The Chimney] [The Industrial Revolution: From Home to Factory] [The Weekend]

Eating and Drinking: Both what we eat and how we eat it is perhaps one of the most visible differences that we notice as we travel between cultures and through time. [Knife, Fork, Spoon] [Coffee]

Humanism: A central feature of the Italian Renaissance was a re-orientation of how the human condition was understood, grounded in a new appreciation of the culture of ancient Greece. [Man’s Place in Nature] [The Individual in Art] [Petrarch finds Eternity in the Individual] [Milton on Satanic Freedom]

The Modern Individual: The centrality of the individual human being is well captured by Descartes’ famous slogan: I think, therefore I am.  The first half of the 17th century saw the individual move to the center of our thinking about ourselves and society, perhaps culminating in the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” canonized at the end of the 18th century. [The Rights of Man and of the Citizen] [Kant on Enlightenment] [Milton on Satanic Freedom] [Hobbes on the Atomistic Self] [Question Authority!]

The Public and the Private: The emergence of a newly affluent middle class led to the formation of a new public sphere in which, for the first time, private citizens took part in a conversation that had previously been confined to the aristocracy. [A New Meaning of Public] [The Bourgeois Public Sphere] [London Coffee-Houses] [Social Mixing at the Palais-Royale] [Pubs and Taverns] [From Church to Tavern]

Economic Relations and the Rise of the Middle Class: [The Industrial Revolution: From Home to Factory] [Shopping as a Way of Life]

Family, Social, and Gender Roles and Relations: [External link: Women's Voices in the Medieval Period] [External link: Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies]

Technology and Industry: What technological innovations shaped the course of human life throughout the European medieval and early modern period?  Clocks and ploughs and waterwheels, shifts in transportation — these innovations marked significant changes in the way we ordered our daily lives. [The Chimney] [The Industrial Revolution: From Home to Factory] [Blake’s Jerusalem] [White on the Plow] [External links: Technology Timeline / Spinning the Web]

Law and Government: [External link: The Magna Carta (video 3:32)]

Religious Reformations: Seismic shifts in the way we understood ourselves with respect to the divine — how religious texts should be read, how we understood God and God’s role in the world, how “the order of creation” was understood — all of this underwent profound changes during the course of these few centuries. [Mythos and Logos] [Theological Origins of Modernity] [Mysticism and the Reformation] [God the Clockmaker] [From Church to Tavern]

Life and Death: [External link: Death and the Afterlife] [External link: A Medieval Grave Drawing]


By the end of this course, we all should be able to:

(1) articulate the general shifts from the pre-modern to the modern world in European culture, in particular:

(2) explain the emergence of modern science, and its principal features, and

(3) explain the shifts in our understanding of self and society.

In addition, we will be able to:

(4) articulate some of the cultural similarities and differences encountered during the course (Midwestern US vs British vs French — beyond the level of French fries vs chips vs pommes frites),

(5) recognize and discuss many of the landmarks of London and Paris, and

(6) easily navigate the streets and public transportation systems of these two world-class cities.


(1) Daily journals: This should be viewed as informal responses to prompts, as well as your initial responses to what you saw and experienced that day. This is where you should write down your thoughts on the various themes for the course, and from which you can draw when preparing your short essays at the end of the course. The professors will review these journals while traveling, as well as at the end of the term. [The travel journals will be supplied for you.]

(2) Daily Quizzes on activities and themes of the day, both while on campus and while exploring London and Paris.

(3) Short essays: You will need to write three essays (about 600-800 words each) on three of the themes or topics for the course listed above. You will want to take notes for these essays in your journal while in London and Paris and then write up the essays after you return home. These essays should incorporate information from the course readings as well as from what you experienced abroad.

(4) Cultural Markers: These involve a paragraph and photo of ten “Cultural Markers” — items of interest encountered in London and Paris and related to one of themes you are studying — reviewed while traveling (with a first draft entered into your journal), and completed after returning home.

(5) Participation: Absolutely crucial for this course to go well, and for you to benefit fully from it.  Be on time for meals and other group events and keep your eye on the rest of the group when we’re out in the city — crucial for group dynamics. Listen carefully, observe closely, and take lots of notes and photographs — crucial for learning all that you can from these two cities.


How We View the Physical Universe

[1] The Copernican Revolution

Short Readings [pdf]

Kuhn (1957), ch. 1: “The Ancient Two-Sphere Universe” [pdf]

Grant (1996), “What the Middle Ages Inherited from Aristotle” [pdf]

[2] Medicine and the Body

Mortimer (2008), ch. 9: “Health and Hygiene”

Technology and How We Live

[3] Time-Keeping and Diurnal/Annual Rhythms

[4] Eating and Drinking

Mortimer (2008), ch. 8: “What to Eat and Drink”

Braudel (1981), “Eating and Drinking” [pdf]

[5] Public Sanitation and Hygiene

Mortimer (2008), ch. 9: “Health and Hygiene”

Tuchman (1978), A Distant Mirror, ch. 5 [pdf]

[6] Family and Home

Mortimer (2008), ch. 7: “Where to Stay”

Short Readings [pdf]

Rybczynski (1986), Home, ch. 2: “Intimacy and Privacy” [pdf]

Rybczynski (1986), Home, ch. 3: “Domesticity” [pdf]

[7] Architecture and Urban Planning

Rollason (2002), “Shopping as a Way of Life” [pdf]

[8] Communication and Travel

Mortimer (2008), ch. 8: “Traveling”

[9] Farming and Agriculture

White (1967), “The Plow and the Expansion of Agriculture” [pdf]

[10] Clothing and Fashion

Mortimer (2008), ch. 5: “What to Wear”

Education and Scholarship

[11] The Gutenberg Revolution

Short Readings [pdf]

Kreis (2008), “The Printing Press” [pdf]

Braudel (1981), “Printing Books” [pdf]

Chartier (1986), “The Practical Impact of Writing” [pdf]

[12] The Rise of the University and Public Education

Randall (1940), “The Educated Classes and the Average Man” [pdf]

Nelson (2001), “The Rise of the Universities” [pdf]

Grant (1996), “Students and Masters” [pdf]

[13] Humanism

Short Readings [pdf]

Petrarch (1336), “The Ascent of Mount Ventoux” [pdf]

Randall (1940), “The New World of the Renaissance” [pdf]

How We View the Individual And Society

[14] Public and Private

Short Readings [pdf]

Rybczynski (1986), Home, ch. 2: “Intimacy and Privacy” [pdf]

Rybczynski (1986), Home, ch. 3: “Domesticity” [pdf]

Shapin (2006), “At the Amsterdam” [pdf]

[15] Economic Relations and the Rise of the Middle Class

Mortimer (2008), ch. 4: “Basic Essentials”

Short Readings [pdf]

[16] Family, Social, and Gender Roles/Relations

Mortimer (2008), ch. 2: “The People”

Rybczynski (1986), Home, ch. 3: “Domesticity” [pdf]

[17] Law and Government

Mortimer (2008), ch. 10: “The Law”

Short Readings [pdf]

How We View Religion and the Divine

[18] God and Scripture

Short Readings [pdf]

Gillespie (2008), “Theological Origins of Modernity” [pdf]

[19] Churches

Ball (2008), Universe of Stone, chs. 4-5 [pdf] [pdf (long version)]

[20] Life and Death

Tuchman (1978), A Distant Mirror, ch. 5 [pdf]


Armstrong, Karen (2009). The Case for God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Ball, Philip (2008). Universe of Stone. New York: Harper Collins. Ch. 4 (Seek Not to Know High Things: Faith and Reason in the Middle Ages). Ch. 5 (Building by Numbers: Science and Geometry at the School of Chartres).

Boccaccio (1350). The Decameron. […]

Braudel, Fernand (1981). The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, transl. by Sîan Reynolds, vol. 1 of Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century. New York: Harper and Row. Original publication: Les Structures du Quotidien: La Possible et L’Impossible. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1979.

Brennan, Thomas, ed. (2011). Public Drinking in the Early Modern World: Voices from the Tavern, 1500-1800. 4 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto.

Bronowski, Jacob, and Bruce Mazlish (1960). The Western Intellectual Tradition: From Leonardo to Hegel. New York: Harper Perennial.

Burckhardt, Jacob (1860). The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Translated from the German by S. G. C. Middlemore. New York: Macmillan, 1904.

Chartier, Roger (1986). “The Practical Impact of Writing,” from Historie de la vie Privée, vol. 3: De la Renaissance aux Lumières (1986), translated into English by Arthur Goldhammer as History of Private Life, vol. 3: Passions of the Renaissance, edited by Roger Chartier. Harvard University Press, 1989. Pp. 111-59.

—— (1993). “The Practical Impact of Writing.” Passions of the Renaissance, ed. Roger Chartier, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer, vol. 3 of History of Private Life, edited by Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby. 5 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Connell, William J. (2002). Society and Individual in Renaissance Florence. University of California Press.

Darnton, Robert (2008). “The Library in the New Age.” The New York Review of Books (12 June 2008), pp. ??

Farmer, Sharon (2002). Surviving Poverty in the Medieval Paris. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Ficino, Marsilio (1492). [Correspondence …]

Frugoni, Chiara (2005). A Day in a Medieval City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gies, Frances, and Joseph Gies (1969). Life in a Medieval City. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company.

Gillespie, Michael Allen (2008). The Theological Origins of Modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Grant, Edward (1996). The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Habermas, Jürgen (1974). “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964).” Transl. by Sara Lennox and Frank Lennox. New German Critique, 3: 49-50.

Hetherington, Kevin (1997). The Badlands of Modernity: Heterotopia and Social Ordering. New York: Routledge.

Hobbes, Thomas (1651). Leviathan.

Kant, Immanuel (1784). “What is Enlightenment?” Berlinische Monatsschrift (December, 1784), pp. 481-94.

Kreis, Steven (2008). The History Guide [].

Kuhn, Thomas (1957). The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Lindberg, David (1978). Science in the Middle Ages. University of Chicago Press. Ch. 1 (“Science, Technology, and Economic Progress”). Ch 4. (“Institutional Setting: The Universities”).

Melton, James Van Horn (2001). The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe. Cambridge University Press.

Mortimer, Ian (2008). The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. New York: Touchstone.

Nelson, Lynn Harry (2001). Lectures in Medieval History, posted in 2001 [].

Petrarch (1336), Epistolae de Rebus Familiaribus et Variae, vol. 4 […].

Pico della Mirandola (1486). “Oration on the Dignity of Man,” transl. by Richard Hooker.

Randall, John Hermann (1940). The Making of the Modern Mind: A Survey of the Intellectual Background of the Present Age. New York: Columbia University Press.

Rollason, Christopher (2002). “The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project,” pt. 2. [online]

Rybczynski, Witold (1986). Home: A Short History of an Idea. New York: Viking Penguin.

Shapin, Steven (2006). “At the Amsterdam.” London Review of Books (20 April 2006), pp. 12-13.

Tuchman, Barbara (1978). A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century. New York: Knopf.

White, Lynn, Jr. (1967). “Technology in the Middle Ages.” Melvin Kranzberg and Carroll W. Pursell, Jr., eds., Technology in Western Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Vol. 1, pp. 66-79.

——, “Technology Assessment from the Stance of a Medieval Historian.” The American Historical Review, 79 (1974): 1-13.

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