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Western History

06 Mar 2017History Essays

1. What is the significance of developments in science and mercantilism in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries?

During the 16th century, there was a great commercial revolution that took place. Although initially begun during the High Middle Ages, this revolution revived again when the major European powers began exploring the world outside their own. The result of these explorations led to increased “commercial activity and the inception of a world market” (Spielvogel, 401). By the 17th century, mercantilism was the dominant form of economic practice in Europe. According to this concept, the prosperity of a European state depended on it having a huge supply of gold and silver, also known as bullion. Therefore, it was necessary to achieve a good balance between of trade in which the goods that were exported had greater value than those imported. This would promote an influx of payments in silver and gold, thus increasing the amount of bullion a European state had.

Furthermore, European states should encourage exports by doing a variety of things such as stimulating and protecting export industries and trade through granting monopolies, encouraging investment in new industries through subsidizing, importing foreign artisans, and improving transportation systems. In short, mercantilism focused on the role of the European state, which was to intervene and control certain aspects of the economy for the sake of the state. This would soon become the norm through the Old and New Worlds.

With regard to science, there was a great revolution in that field during the 17th century. New advances in science allowed Europeans to alter how they viewed the universe and their place within it. People went from believing that the earth was the center of the universe to believing that the sun was the center of the universe.Major achievements were made in the fields of astronomy, mechanics and medicine. It would be Copernicus that would devise the heliocentric view of the universe, which stated that the planets revolved around the sun, and also that the daily rotation of the earth on its axis was the reason why it seemed as if the sun and stars were moving.

Galileo and Newton would contribute theories with regard to mechanics that still remain valid today. The former discovered through various experiments that if a uniform force was applied to an object, it would move at an accelerated speed rather than a constant one. He also stated that a body that is in motion would remain in motion unless interrupted by an outside force. The latter would devise three laws of motion: “every object continues in a state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless deflected by a force, the rate of change of motion of an object is proportional to the force acting on it, and to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction” (Spielvogel, 457-8).

With regard to medicine, three figures stood out: Paracelsus, Vesalius, and William Harvey. Initially, medical treatment was viewed as somewhat barbaric during the Middle Ages. These three gentlemen changed that. The first was responsible for implementing a more close examination of the patient, which in turn led to better diagnosis and treatment of the patient. The second did intense study to present a more detailed and accurate understanding of human anatomy. The last was responsible for developing the theory of how blood circulates throughout the body, thus laying the groundwork for modern physiology.

All these and other achievements within science allowed the European world to continue on the path of modernization. The gruesome medical treatments of the past were beginning to become more human, while the change in how the universe was viewed allowed people to realize that there more to the world than they realized.

2. Discuss the rise of Russia and Prussia. Who were the most significant leaders?

During the 18th century, Russia finally became a European power that was to be reckoned with. Following the rule of Peter the Great, it would not be until the reign of Catherine the Great that Russia would step back into the limelight. As queen, Catherine developed policies that strengthened the power of the landholding class at the expense of the other classes, particularly the serfs. With regard to the local government, Catherine divided the country into 50 provinces, each of which was subdivided into districts that were ruled by officials chosen by the nobility. She was also able to increase the amount of territory that Russia held, expanding westward into Poland and southward to the Black Sea.

Prussia developed in much the same way. Although a small state, it would be under the rule of Frederick William I and Frederick II that its two major institutions – the army and the bureaucracy – would become the backbone of the state. Under the reign of Frederick William I, the bureaucracy was improved through the creation of the General Directory, which served as the main administrative agent of the government. It supervised the military, the police, and both economic and financial affairs. This is what allowed the “disjointed territories” of Prussia to remain unified politically and economically, if not physically. Frederick William I was also responsible for solidifying the rigid class structure that had emerged in Prussia during the 17th century. He also expanded the army, which went from numbering 45,000 to 83,000. The army would be the most important institution within the state.

Frederick II, also called Frederick the Great, maintained the standards of Frederick William I. Although he did not make any substantial changes to the administration of the state, he was so diligent in overseeing it that the Prussian bureaucracy became known for its efficiency. He did, however, establish a single code of laws for Prussia and its territories eliminating the use of torture except in cases of murder or treason. He also granted limited freedom of speech and press, as well as complete religious toleration. Like his father before him, Frederick II enlarged the Prussian army to 200,000, and was quite willing to use it. Through his use of the military, Prussia acquired land that enabled it to become a unified state, as well as a great European power by the end of Frederick II’s reign.

3. Analyze the role of Louis XVI, the Third Estate, Catholic Church, Declaration of The Rights of Man, and Napoleon.
Louis XVI was the king of France during the 18th century. However, he was somewhat inefficient, as it was a host of advisors who actually did the running of the country. During his reign as king, the country was rife with financial problems. A series of financial advisors were unable to rectify the situation, and this was a direct cause of the outbreak of revolution.
The Third Estate was part of three social categories into which all of France was divided. It consisted of most of the French population, but they were divided by differences in occupation education and wealth. It would be the resentments of the Third Estate that would serve as one of the major causes of the French Revolution. They would also be responsible for changing their name to National Assembly and drawing up a constitution as well as the Tennis Court Oath.

The Catholic Church was viewed as an important aspect of the old order that had ruled France for so long. However, when the people began their revolt, the Church was one of many institutions to feel the sting. Because the revolutionaries needed money, many church lands were seized, and collateral was gained based on the now nationalized church property. The church also became secularized. Beginning in 1790, all bishops and priests were to be elected by the people and paid by the state. They were also required to pledge allegiance to the Civil Constitution that secularized the church.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man was adopted August 26, 1789, by the National Assembly. Based on ideas of French Enlightenment philosophies, as well as the Declaration of Independence, it laid out the basic liberties that French citizens felt should be implemented. It sought to affirm the right of man to liberty, prosperity, and security. It also sought to destroy aristocratic privileges by ending tax exemptions, equality for all men, and access to political offices based solely on talent. Other aspects included were restriction of monarchy, participation in the legislative process for all citizens, and freedom of speech and press.

Napoleon would be responsible for bringing the French Revolution, and all its violent excesses, to an end. He took control of the French government in 1799, and would remain in power until 1815. The monarchy would be restored under his rule in 1804, and he would utilize his great military prowess to conquer vast amounts of land. However, his dictatorial methods would lead to his ultimate defeat.

4. Outline the events and important individuals leading up to the unification of Germany and Italy in the 19th century.
The aftermath of the Crimean War served as the stage on which Germany and Italy would unify themselves. Their success in doing so would completely transform the balance of power on the European continent.

In 1850, Italy was still controlled by Austria. After a failed revolution in 1848-49, an increasing number of supporters for Italian unification focused all their attentions on the northern Italian state of Piedmont as the best hope for achieving this goal. Prime Minister Count Camillo di Cavour would be the person who set in motion what needed to be done for unification in the Piedmont. His policy of economic expansion, as well as the building up of transportation and the encouragement of new businesses, led to increased government revenues. This in turn led to more money being poured into the building up of a large army. However, his attempt to go to war against Austria was something of a failure, due to French duplicity.
In the southern part of Italy, it would be Giuseppe Garibaldi that would lead a force of troops to Sicily, where a revolt had erupted. The fighting began in May 1860, and by July of that year, Garibaldi had most of Sicily under his control. He was also able to conquer a good portion of mainland Italy. However, his success frightened Cavour, who feared French invasion should Garibaldi attempt to march on Rome. In the end, Garibaldi yielded to Cavour. In March of 1861, the new kingdom of Italy was proclaimed under the rule of King Victor Emmanuel II.
German unification would be accomplished through Prussian leadership. Under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, Germany would become a unified country. Using domestic policies, as well as warfare with Denmark, Austria, and France, Bismarck was able to create a unified German state. He was also able to get the southern German states to become part of the North German Confederation. By January of 1871, William I was proclaimed Kaiser of the second German Empire. As a result of its military power, as well as its industrial strength, Germany was now one of the strongest powers on the European continent.


Spielvogel, Jackson J. (2006). Western Civilization, 6th ed. United States: Thomson-Wadsworth.

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