Becoming Modern: The Print and Gunpowder Revolutions, 1300-1700 (Episode #31)

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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