Becoming Modern Playlist

An in-depth exploration of the forgotten forces and underlying events that shaped the ‘western’ world of today, from the rapid rise of new political systems and social orders in Europe to their immediate counter-reactions and lasting legacies. From the advent of cannons that brought about the end of castles, to the first glimpses of an imperfect universe seen through early telescopes that helped precipitate an end to religious orthodoxy, to the earliest expansions of power leading to the conquests and tragedies of colonization – this playlist explores how the world we live in today has so many roots in the tumultuous crucible that was the early-modern period.

Becoming Modern Episodes

Becoming Modern: Dutch Batavia and the Ideology of Early Modern Empire - A Conversation with Deborah Hamer

Were the Dutch proto-capitalists? Were they Americans before America? What was the Dutch West India Company, and how did it work? I talk to Deborah Hamer -- historian, research associate at the Omohundro Institute, and associate editor of the New York history blog Gotham -- to discuss her work on marriage and gender in the early Dutch colony in Batavia (as they called the conquered city of Jakarta), how it illuminates the Netherlands' obsessive efforts to create a stratified, orderly, and moral Protestant society in Southeast Asia, and what it reveals about the wider European colonial mindset.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

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History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 2 -- A Stateless People in Modern Europe

We follow how the Roma or Gypsies rose to a period of toleration and even renown as the quintessential musical masters of the Romantic era, only to fall under renewed persecution and suppression the twentieth century, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust -- called the "Devouring" in Romani. We consider the lives of remarkable Roma of the modern age, such as the boxer Johann Trollmann and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, the birth of a pan-Roma identity movement in the 1970s, the anti-Roma backlash of the 2010s, and finally the possibility that the Roma may be drawn into the geopolitical maneuverings of modern India. Image: "El Jaleo," by John Singer Sargent, 1879-80 Suggested Further reading: Angus Fraser, "The Gypsies"; Isabel Fonseca, "Bury Me Standing."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see The Middle Ages: History of the Roma ("Gypsies"), part 1 -- From Ancient Origins to the Eighteenth Century

Age of Absolutism 3: Bourbon France, 1589-1789

When we speak of "absolutism," most of us think immediately of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his splendrous court at Versailles. But those glittering images cover over a centuries-long struggle by the Bourbon dynasty to consolidate power by forging quiet strategic alliances with the lower and middle classes against the nobility, building up a precarious potemkin village that would soon collapse under financial strain, throwing all of Europe into confusion. Image: Louis XIV as Jupiter, vanquisher of the Fronde, Charles Poerson, 1650s.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

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Also see:

Becoming Modern: Colonial Latin America - The Baroque Age, 1542-1764

How did a series of brutally conquered states and forced labor camps evolve over 200 years into a flourishing empire of trade, art, and culture? How did this new civilization manage land, money, and the status distinctions of ancestry and color? Why did Spanish America, one of the biggest imperial domains ever seen on earth, fail to benefit the mother country? And how did a cloistered nun in Mexico City come to be known as the first intellectual leading light of the Americas? Image: Depiction of John the Evangelist in feather art, Mexico, 1500s, held by National Museum of Art, Mexico City Suggested Further reading: D.A. Brading, "The First America"; John Elliott, "Empires of the Atlantic World"History of the United States in 100 Objects, 13 -- Dutch Iron Fireback with a Robed Figure

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 2 -- The New Powers, 1660-1800

How did the Restoration of the English monarchy and the dawn of empire set the stage for the peculiar set of practices and assumptions that we now call "science," and how did they begin to unlock powerful secrets of the earth, the heavens, fire, and steam? And why did John Locke kind of secretly hate Isaac Newton? Image: "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright, 1768How did the Restoration of the English monarchy and the dawn of empire set the stage for the peculiar set of practices and assumptions that we now call "science," and how did they begin to unlock powerful secrets of the earth, the heavens, fire, and steam? And why did John Locke kind of secretly hate Isaac Newton?Image: "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright, 1768

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 1 -- Alchemy and Apocalypse, 1500-1660

Becoming Modern: The Road to Civil War - Class Conflict and Constitutional Crisis in Stuart England, 1603-1650

Struggles between chief executives and legislatures are dominating the news on both sides of the Atlantic, as Americans debate impeachment and the UK is engulfed by a Brexistential crisis. Most of the terms and precedents for these struggles go back to the 1600s and King Charles I's efforts to govern without the support of Parliament, which led to political backlash, civil war, and social upheaval from the halls of Westminster to the smallest peasant farmsteads. Suggested further reading: Hill, "The Elizabethan Puritan Movement"; Tyacke, "The Anti-Calvinists"; Walzer, "The Revolution of the Saints"; Mendle, ed., "The Putney Debates".

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: Age of Absolutism 2 - Tudor England, 1485-1603

We follow the five Tudor monarchs' struggle to consolidate power in royal hands and forestall a collapse back into the civil wars that ravaged England in the 1400s. Beyond the soap operas of Henry VIII's marriages or Elizabeth's love affairs, we consider the real workings of power, money, and propaganda as England rises from a European backwater to a commercial powerhouse and leader of the Protestant world, especially as seen from the viewpoint of the Dudleys, the longest-surviving family of royal consiglieri operating behind the Tudor throne.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Also see:

Becoming Modern: Age of Absolutism 1 - Central Europe and the Rise of the Habsburgs

We follow how a relatively obscure family of Swiss counts took advantage of the chaos of the late Middle Ages to become the most powerful dynasty in the history of central Europe, towering over European affairs, ruling "an empire on which the sun never sets," and even setting their sights on the dream of global dominion. We then consider the obstacles that the French, the Ottoman Turks, and the Protestants threw in the way, leading to the disastrous 30 Years' War and the Hapsburgs' gradual fall from power. Suggested Further reading: Paula Sutter Fichtner, "Meaning Well: The Curious Life of a Habsburg Idealist."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Also see:

Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 1 -- Alchemy and Apocalypse, 1500-1660

We unearth the tangled roots of the earliest forms of modern science, beginning with the radical alchemical theories of the rabble-rousing healer called Paracelsus, and running through the heated debates over Galileo's astronomy, which broke down the distinction between the earth and the heavens. Due to these shocks, the old teleological, or purpose-driven, scheme of the world broke down, giving way to a free-for-all of speculation and apocalyptic excitement.We question the historical meaning of the concept of "science," and consider how modern-day pop scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson portray the past selectively in order to build the myth of reason and science as beacons of light amidst superstition. Suggested Further reading: Walter Pagel, "Paracelsus"; Charles Webster, "The Great Instauration"; Francis Bacon, "The New Atlantis"; Pamela Smith, "The Body of the Artisan"; Deborah Harkness, "The Jewel House"; Frances Yates, "Giordano Bruno" and "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment"; Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"; Steven Shapin, "The Scientific Revolution"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 2 -- The New Powers, 1660-1800

Becoming Modern: Age of Ice and Fire: The General Crisis Of The Seventeenth Century

We trace the waves of crop failure, famine, pestilence, and war that swept over Europe in the 1600s as the climate sunk into a "Little Ice Age" and armies literally marched across frozen seas. In the midst of unimaginable crisis, alchemists, astrologers, and apocalypticists scoured the Bible for prophecies to explain the disasters around them as part of the approaching End Times. Many of the defining institutions of the modern world we know today - such as overseas colonization, investor-owned corporations, public education, religious toleration, and scientific academies - have their origins as attempts to cope with the crisis of the seventeenth century and prepare the way for the Second Coming. Suggested Further Reading: Webster, "The Great Instauration"; Yates, "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment"; Hobsbawm, "The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: The Catholic Reformation

We examine the long movement for reform stretching from the Middle Ages through the 1600s, in which Catholic leaders strove to centralize and standardize church teachings. Mystics like Teresa of Avila and artists like Bernini inspired a physically and emotionally compelling form of worship centering on the sufferings of Christ and the Virgin Mary, while the elite special forces of the new piety were the Jesuits, whose schools and missions spread the new Catholicism within Europe and around the world, as far away as China. The Catholic Reformation, much more than just a negative response to the Protestant Reformation, served to further many of the same ideas and aspirations as its Protestant counterpart. Suggested Further Reading: Bireley, "The Refashioning of Catholicism"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: The Century of Splintering - The Reformation in its Swiss and Radical Phases, 1519-1619

We explore the new, contending forms of Protestant Christianity that sprang up in the wake of Luther, including the strict, austere Swiss Reform embodied in John Calvin's Geneva, and the radical anabaptism that burst onto the scene in the failed millennial kingdom at Munster. We consider how the new Reformed movement hammered out a shared orthodoxy emphasizing original sin and predestination, which we now (somewhat inaccurately) call "Calvinism," and we trace the roots of some of the more extreme ascetic pacifist sects that have persisted down to our own time. Suggested Further reading: Euan Cameron, "The European Reformation"; Diarmaid MacCulloch, "The Reformation: A History"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Witchcraft and the Great Witch-Hunt, 1484-1700

We trace the roots of the idea of witchcraft in the "cunning folk" of the Middle Ages. We consider how the church and state began to fuel fear of witchcraft and persecute witches in the tens of thousands during the age of the Renaissance and the Reformation. We consider theories of why witch-hunting arose so dramatically in this age, including economic strain and political agendas. Finally, we examine evidence for an enduring shamanic belief system centering on ecstatic night journeys that may have provided the inspiration for the mythical witches' sabbath. Suggested further reading: Margaret Murray, "The Witch-Cult in Western Europe"; Norman Cohn, "Europe's Inner Demons"; Carlo Ginzburg, "Ecstasies"; Mary Beth Nortion, "In the Devil's Snare"; John Demos, "Entertaining Satan."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: The Life of the Commoners - Adaptation and Rebellion, 1400-1600

We examine how Europe's peasant majority worked, played, and survived in the late Middle Ages and the early modern era, including the elaborate customs governing land tenure, marriage, and inheritance. We consider how, during the recovery following the Black Death, steadily growing population and rising prices put the squeeze on commoners as well as the nobility, forcing peasants to seek out more marginal lands and toil for more meager rewards, while encouraging landlords to raise rents and evict tenants. At the same time, growing armies and governments laid a heavy burden of taxes and conscription on the third estate. Finally, we examine the wave of peasant rebellions that roiled Europe in the late 1400s and early 1500s, as commoners fought back against impoverishment, rising rents, taxes, and the enclosure and sale of common lands. Suggested Further reading: Natalie Zemon Davis, "The Return of Martin Guerre"; Carlo Ginzburg, "The Cheese and the Worms"; Yves-Marie Berce, "Revolt and Revolution in Early Modern Europe"; Peter Linebaugh, "The Rainbow Sign"; Richard Wunderli, "Peasant Fires."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: Renaissance Humanism

We trace how a small group of scholars, obsessed with classical antiquity, mastered the more ancient form of Latin, thus unlocking the worlds of Roman and Greek politics. Seeing themselves as the peers and equals of the ancient statesmen, the "humanists" called for a new form of learning aimed towards action and ambition. Machiavelli sketched out the path to princely power, Erasmus excavated the original meanings of the Bible, and Michelangelo captured the subtle powers of the human body. The humanists invented the idea of a "modern" era distinct from the "Dark Ages," and furthered the transformation of Europeans' grasp of reality -- from a realm defined by social relationships to one defined by the senses. Suggested Further reading: Jacob Burckhardt, "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy"; JGA Pocock, "The Machiavellian Moment"; Pamela Smith, "The Body of the Artisan".

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: Spanish and Portuguese Expansion and the Conquest of the Americas

We trace how Portugal and Spain, two previously marginal European kingdoms, rapidly and unexpectedly exploded onto the world scene, building a chain of fortified colonies stretching from North Africa to China, and conquering the larger and richer empires of Mexico and Peru. The early Iberian colonizers sought to continue the tradition of the Crusades and the Reconquista, and saw their foreign conquests as steps towards retaking Jerusalem; the benefited not only from superior weaponry and navigation, but from cataclysmic disease epidemics that brought the Pre-Columbian empires to their knees. Suggested further reading: Russell: "Prince Henry 'The Navigator': A Life"; Restall, "Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest"; Brading, "The First America."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Making The Modern State - Spain, Portugal, and the Inquisition

We explore European monarchs' early quest to consolidate royal power and establish their subjects' direct loyalty to the crown. In particular, we trace the early triumphs and slow declines of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs, driven by the pioneering ambitions of Isabella of Castile, Philip II of Spain, John II of Portugal, and the formidable Marques de Pombal. We also examine the workings of the Spanish Inquisition, which served as a crucial cornerstone of the modern bureaucratic state, with its systems of mass surveillance, ideological propaganda, and obsession with extracting confessions from the accused. Suggested Further reading: Henry Kamen, "Golden Age Spain" and "The Spanish Inquisition."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: The Print and Gunpowder Revolutions, 1300-1700

The early modern era - from the 1400s through the 1700s - is the monarchical age par excellence, with royal courts presiding over consolidated realms and monstrous armies capable of crushing smaller neighbors and internal rivals. The map of Europe transformed, and the reasons were, firstly, technological: the printing press broke through previous barriers to the creation of texts, allowing for the rapid spread of new ideas and propaganda, while new infantry tactics and gunpowder allowed royal governments to batter down the power of mounted knights and castles. Society became ever more centered on royal power and patronage, leaving behind a vestigial nobility to seek out a new role in the world or give way to nostalgia, as dramatized in the first great psychological novel, Don Quixote. We conclude by considering Cervantes' novel as a touchstone of the shift from the medieval world, where reality is defined by social relationships, to the modern, where reality is defined by the senses.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: Islam 2 - From the "Golden Age" to the Fundamentalist Reaction

We trace the tortured path of Islam over the past 1,000 years, from the "Golden Age" of art, philosophy, and interreligious tolerance under the Abbasid empire to the rise of oppositional movements like sufi mysticism and finally, the Mongols' sudden rain of destruction. We follow the return to power of new Muslim empires, the deepening of the Shiah-Sunni split, and finally, the emergence of an intolerant modern fundamentalism in reaction to the insidious and seductive influence of "the great Satan." We trace the tortured path of Islam over the past 1,000 years, from the "Golden Age" of art, philosophy, and interreligious tolerance under the Abbasid empire to the rise of oppositional movements like sufi mysticism and finally, the Mongols' sudden rain of destruction. We follow the return to power of new Muslim empires, the deepening of the Shiah-Sunni split, and finally, the emergence of an intolerant modern fundamentalism in reaction to the insidious and seductive influence of "the great Satan."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Roots of Religion: Islam 1 - Muhammad, the first Caliphate, and the core teachings

Becoming Modern: Martin Luther - Shout at the Devil

Exactly five centuries ago this month, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, thus sparking the Protestant Reformation. He was concerned not with freedom of thought nor with abuse of power by the Pope, as moderns might like to think, but with exposing the false doctrine that a person's good actions can earn them a place in Heaven. Wracked by guilt and fear of going to hell, Luther had found relief only in the idea of a free, unmerited salvation. We consider Luther's tactics in his war to reform the church, from his obsession with excrement to his attacks on Jews, all of which stemmed from his fundamental belief that he was engaged in a war for the soul of the Church against Satan and the Anti-Christ. [Contains adult language]

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode DetailsAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Columbus - The Tragedy and the Enigma

We examine the enigmatic and elusive figure of Columbus, from his likely Jewish background, to his bizarre and hairbrained scheme of sailing to Asia, his brutal and chaotic invasion of the West Indies, his struggle to defend his honors and titles, and finally his apocalyptic vision of his own role in the End Times. We consider how Columbus, a fairly obscure and rejected figure after his death, came to be held up as a symbol of both the best and the worst of the American psyche.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Becoming Modern: Dutch Batavia and the Ideology of Early Modern Empire - A Conversation with Deborah Hamer

Were the Dutch proto-capitalists? Were they Americans before America? What was the Dutch West India Company, and how did it work? I talk to Deborah Hamer -- historian, research associate at the Omohundro Institute, and associate editor of the New York history blog Gotham -- to discuss her work on marriage and gender in the early Dutch colony in Batavia (as they called the conquered city of Jakarta), how it illuminates the Netherlands' obsessive efforts to create a stratified, orderly, and moral Protestant society in Southeast Asia, and what it reveals about the wider European colonial mindset.

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: Colonial Latin America - The Baroque Age, 1542-1764

How did a series of brutally conquered states and forced labor camps evolve over 200 years into a flourishing empire of trade, art, and culture? How did this new civilization manage land, money, and the status distinctions of ancestry and color? Why did Spanish America, one of the biggest imperial domains ever seen on earth, fail to benefit the mother country? And how did a cloistered nun in Mexico City come to be known as the first intellectual leading light of the Americas? Image: Depiction of John the Evangelist in feather art, Mexico, 1500s, held by National Museum of Art, Mexico City Suggested Further reading: D.A. Brading, "The First America"; John Elliott, "Empires of the Atlantic World"History of the United States in 100 Objects, 13 -- Dutch Iron Fireback with a Robed Figure

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 2 -- The New Powers, 1660-1800

How did the Restoration of the English monarchy and the dawn of empire set the stage for the peculiar set of practices and assumptions that we now call "science," and how did they begin to unlock powerful secrets of the earth, the heavens, fire, and steam? And why did John Locke kind of secretly hate Isaac Newton? Image: "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright, 1768How did the Restoration of the English monarchy and the dawn of empire set the stage for the peculiar set of practices and assumptions that we now call "science," and how did they begin to unlock powerful secrets of the earth, the heavens, fire, and steam? And why did John Locke kind of secretly hate Isaac Newton?Image: "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright, 1768

Listen on SoundCloudAlso see Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 1 -- Alchemy and Apocalypse, 1500-1660

Becoming Modern: The Road to Civil War - Class Conflict and Constitutional Crisis in Stuart England, 1603-1650

Struggles between chief executives and legislatures are dominating the news on both sides of the Atlantic, as Americans debate impeachment and the UK is engulfed by a Brexistential crisis. Most of the terms and precedents for these struggles go back to the 1600s and King Charles I's efforts to govern without the support of Parliament, which led to political backlash, civil war, and social upheaval from the halls of Westminster to the smallest peasant farmsteads. Suggested further reading: Hill, "The Elizabethan Puritan Movement"; Tyacke, "The Anti-Calvinists"; Walzer, "The Revolution of the Saints"; Mendle, ed., "The Putney Debates".

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: Age of Absolutism 2 - Tudor England, 1485-1603

We follow the five Tudor monarchs' struggle to consolidate power in royal hands and forestall a collapse back into the civil wars that ravaged England in the 1400s. Beyond the soap operas of Henry VIII's marriages or Elizabeth's love affairs, we consider the real workings of power, money, and propaganda as England rises from a European backwater to a commercial powerhouse and leader of the Protestant world, especially as seen from the viewpoint of the Dudleys, the longest-surviving family of royal consiglieri operating behind the Tudor throne.

Listen on SoundCloud

Also see:

Becoming Modern: Age of Absolutism 1 - Central Europe and the Rise of the Habsburgs

We follow how a relatively obscure family of Swiss counts took advantage of the chaos of the late Middle Ages to become the most powerful dynasty in the history of central Europe, towering over European affairs, ruling "an empire on which the sun never sets," and even setting their sights on the dream of global dominion. We then consider the obstacles that the French, the Ottoman Turks, and the Protestants threw in the way, leading to the disastrous 30 Years' War and the Hapsburgs' gradual fall from power. Suggested Further reading: Paula Sutter Fichtner, "Meaning Well: The Curious Life of a Habsburg Idealist."

Listen on SoundCloud

Also see:

Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 1 -- Alchemy and Apocalypse, 1500-1660

We unearth the tangled roots of the earliest forms of modern science, beginning with the radical alchemical theories of the rabble-rousing healer called Paracelsus, and running through the heated debates over Galileo's astronomy, which broke down the distinction between the earth and the heavens. Due to these shocks, the old teleological, or purpose-driven, scheme of the world broke down, giving way to a free-for-all of speculation and apocalyptic excitement.We question the historical meaning of the concept of "science," and consider how modern-day pop scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson portray the past selectively in order to build the myth of reason and science as beacons of light amidst superstition. Suggested Further reading: Walter Pagel, "Paracelsus"; Charles Webster, "The Great Instauration"; Francis Bacon, "The New Atlantis"; Pamela Smith, "The Body of the Artisan"; Deborah Harkness, "The Jewel House"; Frances Yates, "Giordano Bruno" and "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment"; Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"; Steven Shapin, "The Scientific Revolution"

Listen on SoundCloudAlso see Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 2 -- The New Powers, 1660-1800

Becoming Modern: Age of Ice and Fire: The General Crisis Of The Seventeenth Century

We trace the waves of crop failure, famine, pestilence, and war that swept over Europe in the 1600s as the climate sunk into a "Little Ice Age" and armies literally marched across frozen seas. In the midst of unimaginable crisis, alchemists, astrologers, and apocalypticists scoured the Bible for prophecies to explain the disasters around them as part of the approaching End Times. Many of the defining institutions of the modern world we know today - such as overseas colonization, investor-owned corporations, public education, religious toleration, and scientific academies - have their origins as attempts to cope with the crisis of the seventeenth century and prepare the way for the Second Coming. Suggested Further Reading: Webster, "The Great Instauration"; Yates, "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment"; Hobsbawm, "The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century"

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: The Catholic Reformation

We examine the long movement for reform stretching from the Middle Ages through the 1600s, in which Catholic leaders strove to centralize and standardize church teachings. Mystics like Teresa of Avila and artists like Bernini inspired a physically and emotionally compelling form of worship centering on the sufferings of Christ and the Virgin Mary, while the elite special forces of the new piety were the Jesuits, whose schools and missions spread the new Catholicism within Europe and around the world, as far away as China. The Catholic Reformation, much more than just a negative response to the Protestant Reformation, served to further many of the same ideas and aspirations as its Protestant counterpart. Suggested Further Reading: Bireley, "The Refashioning of Catholicism"

Listen on SoundCloudAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: The Century of Splintering - The Reformation in its Swiss and Radical Phases, 1519-1619

We explore the new, contending forms of Protestant Christianity that sprang up in the wake of Luther, including the strict, austere Swiss Reform embodied in John Calvin's Geneva, and the radical anabaptism that burst onto the scene in the failed millennial kingdom at Munster. We consider how the new Reformed movement hammered out a shared orthodoxy emphasizing original sin and predestination, which we now (somewhat inaccurately) call "Calvinism," and we trace the roots of some of the more extreme ascetic pacifist sects that have persisted down to our own time. Suggested Further reading: Euan Cameron, "The European Reformation"; Diarmaid MacCulloch, "The Reformation: A History"

Listen on SoundCloudAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Witchcraft and the Great Witch-Hunt, 1484-1700

We trace the roots of the idea of witchcraft in the "cunning folk" of the Middle Ages. We consider how the church and state began to fuel fear of witchcraft and persecute witches in the tens of thousands during the age of the Renaissance and the Reformation. We consider theories of why witch-hunting arose so dramatically in this age, including economic strain and political agendas. Finally, we examine evidence for an enduring shamanic belief system centering on ecstatic night journeys that may have provided the inspiration for the mythical witches' sabbath. Suggested further reading: Margaret Murray, "The Witch-Cult in Western Europe"; Norman Cohn, "Europe's Inner Demons"; Carlo Ginzburg, "Ecstasies"; Mary Beth Nortion, "In the Devil's Snare"; John Demos, "Entertaining Satan."

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: The Life of the Commoners - Adaptation and Rebellion, 1400-1600

We examine how Europe's peasant majority worked, played, and survived in the late Middle Ages and the early modern era, including the elaborate customs governing land tenure, marriage, and inheritance. We consider how, during the recovery following the Black Death, steadily growing population and rising prices put the squeeze on commoners as well as the nobility, forcing peasants to seek out more marginal lands and toil for more meager rewards, while encouraging landlords to raise rents and evict tenants. At the same time, growing armies and governments laid a heavy burden of taxes and conscription on the third estate. Finally, we examine the wave of peasant rebellions that roiled Europe in the late 1400s and early 1500s, as commoners fought back against impoverishment, rising rents, taxes, and the enclosure and sale of common lands. Suggested Further reading: Natalie Zemon Davis, "The Return of Martin Guerre"; Carlo Ginzburg, "The Cheese and the Worms"; Yves-Marie Berce, "Revolt and Revolution in Early Modern Europe"; Peter Linebaugh, "The Rainbow Sign"; Richard Wunderli, "Peasant Fires."

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: Renaissance Humanism

We trace how a small group of scholars, obsessed with classical antiquity, mastered the more ancient form of Latin, thus unlocking the worlds of Roman and Greek politics. Seeing themselves as the peers and equals of the ancient statesmen, the "humanists" called for a new form of learning aimed towards action and ambition. Machiavelli sketched out the path to princely power, Erasmus excavated the original meanings of the Bible, and Michelangelo captured the subtle powers of the human body. The humanists invented the idea of a "modern" era distinct from the "Dark Ages," and furthered the transformation of Europeans' grasp of reality -- from a realm defined by social relationships to one defined by the senses. Suggested Further reading: Jacob Burckhardt, "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy"; JGA Pocock, "The Machiavellian Moment"; Pamela Smith, "The Body of the Artisan".

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: Spanish and Portuguese Expansion and the Conquest of the Americas

We trace how Portugal and Spain, two previously marginal European kingdoms, rapidly and unexpectedly exploded onto the world scene, building a chain of fortified colonies stretching from North Africa to China, and conquering the larger and richer empires of Mexico and Peru. The early Iberian colonizers sought to continue the tradition of the Crusades and the Reconquista, and saw their foreign conquests as steps towards retaking Jerusalem; the benefited not only from superior weaponry and navigation, but from cataclysmic disease epidemics that brought the Pre-Columbian empires to their knees. Suggested further reading: Russell: "Prince Henry 'The Navigator': A Life"; Restall, "Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest"; Brading, "The First America."

Listen on SoundCloudRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Making The Modern State - Spain, Portugal, and the Inquisition

We explore European monarchs' early quest to consolidate royal power and establish their subjects' direct loyalty to the crown. In particular, we trace the early triumphs and slow declines of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs, driven by the pioneering ambitions of Isabella of Castile, Philip II of Spain, John II of Portugal, and the formidable Marques de Pombal. We also examine the workings of the Spanish Inquisition, which served as a crucial cornerstone of the modern bureaucratic state, with its systems of mass surveillance, ideological propaganda, and obsession with extracting confessions from the accused. Suggested Further reading: Henry Kamen, "Golden Age Spain" and "The Spanish Inquisition."

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: The Print and Gunpowder Revolutions, 1300-1700

The early modern era - from the 1400s through the 1700s - is the monarchical age par excellence, with royal courts presiding over consolidated realms and monstrous armies capable of crushing smaller neighbors and internal rivals. The map of Europe transformed, and the reasons were, firstly, technological: the printing press broke through previous barriers to the creation of texts, allowing for the rapid spread of new ideas and propaganda, while new infantry tactics and gunpowder allowed royal governments to batter down the power of mounted knights and castles. Society became ever more centered on royal power and patronage, leaving behind a vestigial nobility to seek out a new role in the world or give way to nostalgia, as dramatized in the first great psychological novel, Don Quixote. We conclude by considering Cervantes' novel as a touchstone of the shift from the medieval world, where reality is defined by social relationships, to the modern, where reality is defined by the senses.

Listen on SoundCloud

Becoming Modern: Islam 2 - From the "Golden Age" to the Fundamentalist Reaction

We trace the tortured path of Islam over the past 1,000 years, from the "Golden Age" of art, philosophy, and interreligious tolerance under the Abbasid empire to the rise of oppositional movements like sufi mysticism and finally, the Mongols' sudden rain of destruction. We follow the return to power of new Muslim empires, the deepening of the Shiah-Sunni split, and finally, the emergence of an intolerant modern fundamentalism in reaction to the insidious and seductive influence of "the great Satan." We trace the tortured path of Islam over the past 1,000 years, from the "Golden Age" of art, philosophy, and interreligious tolerance under the Abbasid empire to the rise of oppositional movements like sufi mysticism and finally, the Mongols' sudden rain of destruction. We follow the return to power of new Muslim empires, the deepening of the Shiah-Sunni split, and finally, the emergence of an intolerant modern fundamentalism in reaction to the insidious and seductive influence of "the great Satan."

Listen on SoundCloudAlso see Roots of Religion: Islam 1 - Muhammad, the first Caliphate, and the core teachings

Becoming Modern: Martin Luther - Shout at the Devil

Exactly five centuries ago this month, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, thus sparking the Protestant Reformation. He was concerned not with freedom of thought nor with abuse of power by the Pope, as moderns might like to think, but with exposing the false doctrine that a person's good actions can earn them a place in Heaven. Wracked by guilt and fear of going to hell, Luther had found relief only in the idea of a free, unmerited salvation. We consider Luther's tactics in his war to reform the church, from his obsession with excrement to his attacks on Jews, all of which stemmed from his fundamental belief that he was engaged in a war for the soul of the Church against Satan and the Anti-Christ. [Contains adult language]

Listen on SoundCloudAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Columbus - The Tragedy and the Enigma

We examine the enigmatic and elusive figure of Columbus, from his likely Jewish background, to his bizarre and hairbrained scheme of sailing to Asia, his brutal and chaotic invasion of the West Indies, his struggle to defend his honors and titles, and finally his apocalyptic vision of his own role in the End Times. We consider how Columbus, a fairly obscure and rejected figure after his death, came to be held up as a symbol of both the best and the worst of the American psyche.

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Becoming Modern: Dutch Batavia and the Ideology of Early Modern Empire - A Conversation with Deborah Hamer

Were the Dutch proto-capitalists? Were they Americans before America? What was the Dutch West India Company, and how did it work? I talk to Deborah Hamer -- historian, research associate at the Omohundro Institute, and associate editor of the New York history blog Gotham -- to discuss her work on marriage and gender in the early Dutch colony in Batavia (as they called the conquered city of Jakarta), how it illuminates the Netherlands' obsessive efforts to create a stratified, orderly, and moral Protestant society in Southeast Asia, and what it reveals about the wider European colonial mindset.

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Becoming Modern: Colonial Latin America - The Baroque Age, 1542-1764

How did a series of brutally conquered states and forced labor camps evolve over 200 years into a flourishing empire of trade, art, and culture? How did this new civilization manage land, money, and the status distinctions of ancestry and color? Why did Spanish America, one of the biggest imperial domains ever seen on earth, fail to benefit the mother country? And how did a cloistered nun in Mexico City come to be known as the first intellectual leading light of the Americas? Image: Depiction of John the Evangelist in feather art, Mexico, 1500s, held by National Museum of Art, Mexico City Suggested Further reading: D.A. Brading, "The First America"; John Elliott, "Empires of the Atlantic World"History of the United States in 100 Objects, 13 -- Dutch Iron Fireback with a Robed Figure

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Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 2 -- The New Powers, 1660-1800

How did the Restoration of the English monarchy and the dawn of empire set the stage for the peculiar set of practices and assumptions that we now call "science," and how did they begin to unlock powerful secrets of the earth, the heavens, fire, and steam? And why did John Locke kind of secretly hate Isaac Newton? Image: "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright, 1768How did the Restoration of the English monarchy and the dawn of empire set the stage for the peculiar set of practices and assumptions that we now call "science," and how did they begin to unlock powerful secrets of the earth, the heavens, fire, and steam? And why did John Locke kind of secretly hate Isaac Newton?Image: "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright, 1768

Listen on YouTubeAlso see Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 1 -- Alchemy and Apocalypse, 1500-1660

Becoming Modern: The Road to Civil War - Class Conflict and Constitutional Crisis in Stuart England, 1603-1650

Struggles between chief executives and legislatures are dominating the news on both sides of the Atlantic, as Americans debate impeachment and the UK is engulfed by a Brexistential crisis. Most of the terms and precedents for these struggles go back to the 1600s and King Charles I's efforts to govern without the support of Parliament, which led to political backlash, civil war, and social upheaval from the halls of Westminster to the smallest peasant farmsteads. Suggested further reading: Hill, "The Elizabethan Puritan Movement"; Tyacke, "The Anti-Calvinists"; Walzer, "The Revolution of the Saints"; Mendle, ed., "The Putney Debates".

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Becoming Modern: Age of Absolutism 2 - Tudor England, 1485-1603

We follow the five Tudor monarchs' struggle to consolidate power in royal hands and forestall a collapse back into the civil wars that ravaged England in the 1400s. Beyond the soap operas of Henry VIII's marriages or Elizabeth's love affairs, we consider the real workings of power, money, and propaganda as England rises from a European backwater to a commercial powerhouse and leader of the Protestant world, especially as seen from the viewpoint of the Dudleys, the longest-surviving family of royal consiglieri operating behind the Tudor throne.

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Becoming Modern: Age of Absolutism 1 - Central Europe and the Rise of the Habsburgs

We follow how a relatively obscure family of Swiss counts took advantage of the chaos of the late Middle Ages to become the most powerful dynasty in the history of central Europe, towering over European affairs, ruling "an empire on which the sun never sets," and even setting their sights on the dream of global dominion. We then consider the obstacles that the French, the Ottoman Turks, and the Protestants threw in the way, leading to the disastrous 30 Years' War and the Hapsburgs' gradual fall from power. Suggested Further reading: Paula Sutter Fichtner, "Meaning Well: The Curious Life of a Habsburg Idealist."

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Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 1 -- Alchemy and Apocalypse, 1500-1660

We unearth the tangled roots of the earliest forms of modern science, beginning with the radical alchemical theories of the rabble-rousing healer called Paracelsus, and running through the heated debates over Galileo's astronomy, which broke down the distinction between the earth and the heavens. Due to these shocks, the old teleological, or purpose-driven, scheme of the world broke down, giving way to a free-for-all of speculation and apocalyptic excitement.We question the historical meaning of the concept of "science," and consider how modern-day pop scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson portray the past selectively in order to build the myth of reason and science as beacons of light amidst superstition. Suggested Further reading: Walter Pagel, "Paracelsus"; Charles Webster, "The Great Instauration"; Francis Bacon, "The New Atlantis"; Pamela Smith, "The Body of the Artisan"; Deborah Harkness, "The Jewel House"; Frances Yates, "Giordano Bruno" and "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment"; Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"; Steven Shapin, "The Scientific Revolution"

Listen on YouTubeAlso see Becoming Modern: Scientific Revolution, Part 2 -- The New Powers, 1660-1800

Becoming Modern: Age of Ice and Fire: The General Crisis Of The Seventeenth Century

We trace the waves of crop failure, famine, pestilence, and war that swept over Europe in the 1600s as the climate sunk into a "Little Ice Age" and armies literally marched across frozen seas. In the midst of unimaginable crisis, alchemists, astrologers, and apocalypticists scoured the Bible for prophecies to explain the disasters around them as part of the approaching End Times. Many of the defining institutions of the modern world we know today - such as overseas colonization, investor-owned corporations, public education, religious toleration, and scientific academies - have their origins as attempts to cope with the crisis of the seventeenth century and prepare the way for the Second Coming. Suggested Further Reading: Webster, "The Great Instauration"; Yates, "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment"; Hobsbawm, "The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century"

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Becoming Modern: The Catholic Reformation

We examine the long movement for reform stretching from the Middle Ages through the 1600s, in which Catholic leaders strove to centralize and standardize church teachings. Mystics like Teresa of Avila and artists like Bernini inspired a physically and emotionally compelling form of worship centering on the sufferings of Christ and the Virgin Mary, while the elite special forces of the new piety were the Jesuits, whose schools and missions spread the new Catholicism within Europe and around the world, as far away as China. The Catholic Reformation, much more than just a negative response to the Protestant Reformation, served to further many of the same ideas and aspirations as its Protestant counterpart. Suggested Further Reading: Bireley, "The Refashioning of Catholicism"

Listen on YouTubeAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: The Century of Splintering - The Reformation in its Swiss and Radical Phases, 1519-1619

We explore the new, contending forms of Protestant Christianity that sprang up in the wake of Luther, including the strict, austere Swiss Reform embodied in John Calvin's Geneva, and the radical anabaptism that burst onto the scene in the failed millennial kingdom at Munster. We consider how the new Reformed movement hammered out a shared orthodoxy emphasizing original sin and predestination, which we now (somewhat inaccurately) call "Calvinism," and we trace the roots of some of the more extreme ascetic pacifist sects that have persisted down to our own time. Suggested Further reading: Euan Cameron, "The European Reformation"; Diarmaid MacCulloch, "The Reformation: A History"

Listen on YouTubeAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Witchcraft and the Great Witch-Hunt, 1484-1700

We trace the roots of the idea of witchcraft in the "cunning folk" of the Middle Ages. We consider how the church and state began to fuel fear of witchcraft and persecute witches in the tens of thousands during the age of the Renaissance and the Reformation. We consider theories of why witch-hunting arose so dramatically in this age, including economic strain and political agendas. Finally, we examine evidence for an enduring shamanic belief system centering on ecstatic night journeys that may have provided the inspiration for the mythical witches' sabbath. Suggested further reading: Margaret Murray, "The Witch-Cult in Western Europe"; Norman Cohn, "Europe's Inner Demons"; Carlo Ginzburg, "Ecstasies"; Mary Beth Nortion, "In the Devil's Snare"; John Demos, "Entertaining Satan."

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Becoming Modern: The Life of the Commoners - Adaptation and Rebellion, 1400-1600

We examine how Europe's peasant majority worked, played, and survived in the late Middle Ages and the early modern era, including the elaborate customs governing land tenure, marriage, and inheritance. We consider how, during the recovery following the Black Death, steadily growing population and rising prices put the squeeze on commoners as well as the nobility, forcing peasants to seek out more marginal lands and toil for more meager rewards, while encouraging landlords to raise rents and evict tenants. At the same time, growing armies and governments laid a heavy burden of taxes and conscription on the third estate. Finally, we examine the wave of peasant rebellions that roiled Europe in the late 1400s and early 1500s, as commoners fought back against impoverishment, rising rents, taxes, and the enclosure and sale of common lands. Suggested Further reading: Natalie Zemon Davis, "The Return of Martin Guerre"; Carlo Ginzburg, "The Cheese and the Worms"; Yves-Marie Berce, "Revolt and Revolution in Early Modern Europe"; Peter Linebaugh, "The Rainbow Sign"; Richard Wunderli, "Peasant Fires."

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Becoming Modern: Renaissance Humanism

We trace how a small group of scholars, obsessed with classical antiquity, mastered the more ancient form of Latin, thus unlocking the worlds of Roman and Greek politics. Seeing themselves as the peers and equals of the ancient statesmen, the "humanists" called for a new form of learning aimed towards action and ambition. Machiavelli sketched out the path to princely power, Erasmus excavated the original meanings of the Bible, and Michelangelo captured the subtle powers of the human body. The humanists invented the idea of a "modern" era distinct from the "Dark Ages," and furthered the transformation of Europeans' grasp of reality -- from a realm defined by social relationships to one defined by the senses. Suggested Further reading: Jacob Burckhardt, "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy"; JGA Pocock, "The Machiavellian Moment"; Pamela Smith, "The Body of the Artisan".

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Becoming Modern: Spanish and Portuguese Expansion and the Conquest of the Americas

We trace how Portugal and Spain, two previously marginal European kingdoms, rapidly and unexpectedly exploded onto the world scene, building a chain of fortified colonies stretching from North Africa to China, and conquering the larger and richer empires of Mexico and Peru. The early Iberian colonizers sought to continue the tradition of the Crusades and the Reconquista, and saw their foreign conquests as steps towards retaking Jerusalem; the benefited not only from superior weaponry and navigation, but from cataclysmic disease epidemics that brought the Pre-Columbian empires to their knees. Suggested further reading: Russell: "Prince Henry 'The Navigator': A Life"; Restall, "Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest"; Brading, "The First America."

Listen on YouTubeRelated content: 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Making The Modern State - Spain, Portugal, and the Inquisition

We explore European monarchs' early quest to consolidate royal power and establish their subjects' direct loyalty to the crown. In particular, we trace the early triumphs and slow declines of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs, driven by the pioneering ambitions of Isabella of Castile, Philip II of Spain, John II of Portugal, and the formidable Marques de Pombal. We also examine the workings of the Spanish Inquisition, which served as a crucial cornerstone of the modern bureaucratic state, with its systems of mass surveillance, ideological propaganda, and obsession with extracting confessions from the accused. Suggested Further reading: Henry Kamen, "Golden Age Spain" and "The Spanish Inquisition."

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Becoming Modern: The Print and Gunpowder Revolutions, 1300-1700

The early modern era - from the 1400s through the 1700s - is the monarchical age par excellence, with royal courts presiding over consolidated realms and monstrous armies capable of crushing smaller neighbors and internal rivals. The map of Europe transformed, and the reasons were, firstly, technological: the printing press broke through previous barriers to the creation of texts, allowing for the rapid spread of new ideas and propaganda, while new infantry tactics and gunpowder allowed royal governments to batter down the power of mounted knights and castles. Society became ever more centered on royal power and patronage, leaving behind a vestigial nobility to seek out a new role in the world or give way to nostalgia, as dramatized in the first great psychological novel, Don Quixote. We conclude by considering Cervantes' novel as a touchstone of the shift from the medieval world, where reality is defined by social relationships, to the modern, where reality is defined by the senses.

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Becoming Modern: Islam 2 - From the "Golden Age" to the Fundamentalist Reaction

We trace the tortured path of Islam over the past 1,000 years, from the "Golden Age" of art, philosophy, and interreligious tolerance under the Abbasid empire to the rise of oppositional movements like sufi mysticism and finally, the Mongols' sudden rain of destruction. We follow the return to power of new Muslim empires, the deepening of the Shiah-Sunni split, and finally, the emergence of an intolerant modern fundamentalism in reaction to the insidious and seductive influence of "the great Satan." We trace the tortured path of Islam over the past 1,000 years, from the "Golden Age" of art, philosophy, and interreligious tolerance under the Abbasid empire to the rise of oppositional movements like sufi mysticism and finally, the Mongols' sudden rain of destruction. We follow the return to power of new Muslim empires, the deepening of the Shiah-Sunni split, and finally, the emergence of an intolerant modern fundamentalism in reaction to the insidious and seductive influence of "the great Satan."

Listen on YouTubeAlso see Roots of Religion: Islam 1 - Muhammad, the first Caliphate, and the core teachings

Becoming Modern: Martin Luther - Shout at the Devil

Exactly five centuries ago this month, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, thus sparking the Protestant Reformation. He was concerned not with freedom of thought nor with abuse of power by the Pope, as moderns might like to think, but with exposing the false doctrine that a person's good actions can earn them a place in Heaven. Wracked by guilt and fear of going to hell, Luther had found relief only in the idea of a free, unmerited salvation. We consider Luther's tactics in his war to reform the church, from his obsession with excrement to his attacks on Jews, all of which stemmed from his fundamental belief that he was engaged in a war for the soul of the Church against Satan and the Anti-Christ. [Contains adult language]

Listen on YouTubeAlso see all 8 episodes On the History of Christianity

Becoming Modern: Columbus - The Tragedy and the Enigma

We examine the enigmatic and elusive figure of Columbus, from his likely Jewish background, to his bizarre and hairbrained scheme of sailing to Asia, his brutal and chaotic invasion of the West Indies, his struggle to defend his honors and titles, and finally his apocalyptic vision of his own role in the End Times. We consider how Columbus, a fairly obscure and rejected figure after his death, came to be held up as a symbol of both the best and the worst of the American psyche.

Listen on YouTube

Things You Don’t Know

Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and Hinduism?
Are people really becoming less religious than they used to be?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had ever arrived?
What did Netflix’s “The Dig” miss about the most dramatic part of the whole Sutton Hoo discovery?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the present?
What can we know about enslaved Africans who were held in a specific New England house, even without written records?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one day in 1066?
What did followers of the ancient and secretive branch of Christianity, Gnosticism, actually believe?
Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to think they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that still shape the world today?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time?
Why did every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe have a court astrologer?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?

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