Magic, Religion, and Science

The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies is organizing a conference on Magic, Religion, and Science in the Global Middle Ages and Renaissance, which will be held in Phoenix in February 2019.

“The ACMRS and MAP Joint Conference: Magic, Religion, and Science in the Global Middle Ages and Renaissance (2019) ​​​is ​​​an ​​​annual ​​​gathering ​​​of ​​​scholars, ​​​students, ​​​retirees ​​​and ​​​members ​​​of ​​​the ​​​general ​​​public ​​​interested ​​​in ​​​medieval and Renaissance ​​​studies. ACMRS is proud to announce that its 2019 conference will be held jointly with the Medieval Association of the Pacific. We welcome papers that explore any topic related to the study and teaching of the Middle Ages and Renaissance and especially those that focus on the general theme of ​​​“Magic, Religion, and Science ​​​in ​​​the ​​​Global ​​​Middle ​​​Ages ​​​and ​​​Renaissance.” The ​​​conference ​​​lasts ​​​four ​​​days, ​​​from ​​​Wednesday, ​​​February ​6​, ​​​with ​​​sessions ​​​beginning ​​​at ​​​1 ​​​p.m., ​​​until ​​​Saturday, ​​​February ​​​9 ​​​at ​​​9 ​​​p.m.” ​

The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies website has further information on this upcoming conference.

Posted in Conferences, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, Reformation History, Religious History, Renaissance Art and History | 1 Comment

The Eighty Years’ War and the Birth of the Netherlands

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is inaugurating a major new exhibition on the Dutch Revolt (or the Eighty Years’ War) next week.

The curators explain that “This year is the 450th anniversary of the outbreak of the Eighty Years’ War, and to mark the event the Rijksmuseum is holding an exhibition entitled ’80 Years’ War. The Birth of the Netherlands’. From 12 October 2018 to 20 January 2019, satirical cartoons, items of clothing, weapons and paintings by Bruegel, Rubens and Ter Borch will be our ‘eyewitnesses’, telling the story of how the Dutch nation was born.”

Just in time for Northern Illinois University students to discuss the Dutch Revolt in my course on the European Wars of Religion, the Rijksmuseum has launched a website associated with the exhibition.

The overview reads: “In a contemporary exhibition created by the Flemish stage designer Roel van Berckelaer, the Rijksmuseum will show how the 80 Years’ War changed and shaped the Netherlands, and how this conflict gave the southern Netherlands, now Belgium, a distinct character. 80 Years’ War is the first major exhibition to encompass the entire conflict and place it in its international context. It raises many issues – such as religious freedom, self-determination, terror and persecution – that remain highly topical today.”

The 80 Years’ War website at the Rijksmuseum provides information on the exhibition and links to supporting materials.

Posted in Art History, Civil Conflict, Civilians and Refugees in War, Cultural History, Digital Humanities, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, European History, European Wars of Religion, History in the Media, History of Violence, Museums and Historical Memory, Reformation History, Religious History, Religious Politics, Religious Violence, Renaissance Art and History, War and Society, War, Culture, and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World | 1 Comment

Suffocating Democracy

Historian Christopher R. Browning (who is professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) just published a provocative essay on the suffocation of democracy in the United States, drawing comparisons between current American politics and the politics of interwar Germany.

Browning explains that, “As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.”

The essay argues that President Trump administration’s policies of isolationism and the undermining of democratic institutions reflect patterns from interwar international relations, the waning of Weimar democracy, and the rise of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany.

Interestingly, instead of comparing Adolf Hitler and President Trump, Browning draws a direct comparison between President Hindenburg and Mitch McConnell. Browning points out that “Paul von Hindenburg, elected president of Germany in 1925, was endowed by the Weimar Constitution with various emergency powers to defend German democracy should it be in dire peril. Instead of defending it, Hindenburg became its gravedigger, using these powers first to destroy democratic norms and then to ally with the Nazis to replace parliamentary government with authoritarian rule. Hindenburg began using his emergency powers in 1930, appointing a sequence of chancellors who ruled by decree rather than through parliamentary majorities, which had become increasingly impossible to obtain as a result of the Great Depression and the hyperpolarization of German politics.”

German President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolf Hitler on their way to a youth rally at the Lustgarten, Berlin, May 1933

Culture Club/Getty Images

Browning claims that “If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments.”

However, Browning finds that the current Republican authoritarianism in the United States is very different from early twentieth-century fascism in Italy and Germany in several ways. “The domestic agenda of Trump’s illiberal democracy falls considerably short of totalitarian dictatorship as exemplified by Mussolini and Hitler,” according to Browning.

Browning’s essay entitled “The Suffocation of Democracy” is published online in  The New York Review of Books (and will appear in the 25 October 2018 print edition).


Posted in European History, History in the Media, Political Culture, State Development Theory, War, Culture, and Society | Leave a comment

Portuguese Shipwreck Found

Marine archaeologists are exploring the site of an early modern Portuguese shipwreck.

NPR reports that “A 400-year-old shipwreck that signified a time when the spice trade between Portugal and India was booming has been uncovered 40 feet below the water’s surface during a dredging project. The shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Cascais, Portugal, not far from the capital, Lisbon.”

A team of marine archaeologists is now conducting excavations to recover artifacts from the shipwreck.  Jorge Freire, director of the project, claims that “from a heritage perspective, this is the discovery of the decade. … In Portugal, this is the most important find of all time.” (Reuters)

The NPR report on the shipwreck is available on their website.  BBC and Reuters provide additional reporting on the shipwreck.

Posted in Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, European History, Food and Cuisine History, Maritime History, Material Culture, War and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World | Leave a comment

Femmes à la Cour de France

Femmes à la cour de France. Charges et fonctions (XVe – XIXe siècle), ed. Caroline zum Kolk, Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier (Villeneuve d’Ascq, Septentrion, 2018), ISBN-102757423614, will soon be published.


This collective volume on women at the royal court of France in the early modern period includes interdisciplinary studies in English and French languages on noblewomen and their households, their official and family roles, women and court politics, motherhood and parenting, mistresses and sexuality, and gender and court culture.

I contributed an essay on “« Je ne vis jamais cette cour plus pleine de tourment » : Montmorency Women and Confessional Politics at Court during the French Wars of Religion,” to the volume.

This collective volume is an outgrowth of an engaging conference on Femmes à la cour de France – charges et fonctions (Moyen Âge – XIXe siècle) that was organized by Caroline zum Kolk and Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier and held at the Institut d’Études Avancées de Paris in October 2015.

Scholars working on early modern women, gender, and sexuality will be interested in this volume, as will historians of the French court and early modern France.



Posted in Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, European Wars of Religion, French History, French Wars of Religion, Noble Culture and History of Elites, Paris History, Political Culture, Women and Gender History | 1 Comment

Remembering the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

I will be offering my course, HIST 414 European Wars of Religion, 1520s-1660s, at Northern Illinois University beginning next Monday.

Just in time for the beginning of the semester, today is the anniversary of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris on 24 August 1572, one of the most shocking atrocities of the French Wars of Religion (1559-1629).

As I prepare my classes this week, I am reminded of the other major historical commemorations that intersect with my course on the European Wars of Religion. 

Last year was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s challenge to papal authority and his publication of the Ninety-Five Theses (1517). Reformation historians in Germany and around the world held numerous conferences, workshops, lectures, and services throughout 2017 in celebration or commemoration of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Scholars, clergy, and journalists published many articles and books reflecting on Martin Luther’s life and the historical significance of the Lutheran movement. I previously posted on the 2017 commemorations on this website.

This year is the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in May 1618. While there have already been some commemorations and publications, responses to this major historical event seem more muted.

In remembrance of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, here (below) is a lecture by Professor Barbara B. Diefendorf (Boston University), a leading specialist on the massacre and the French Wars of Religion, that was videotaped in 2006:

For those readers wanting to find out more about the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, see the following works:

Crouzet, Denis. La nuit de la Saint-Barthélemy: un rêve perdu de la Renaissance. Paris]: Fayard, 1994.

——. Les guerriers de Dieu. 2 vols. Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1990.

Diefendorf, Barbara B. Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

——. Blood Wedding: The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in History and Memory. Boston, MA: Boston University, 2006.

——. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: A Brief History with Documents. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.

Jouanna, Arlette. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: The Mysteries of a Crime of State. Trans. Joseph Bergin. Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2016.


Posted in European History, European Wars of Religion, French History, French Wars of Religion, History in the Media, History of Violence, Paris History, Reformation History, Religious History, Religious Politics, Religious Violence, Warfare in the Early Modern World | Leave a comment

Aristocratic Souls in Democratic Times

Aristocratic Souls in Democratic Times, edited by Richard Avramenko and Ethan Alexander-Davey (Lexington Books, 2018) is currently being published.

This collective volume examines elites, political culture, and political theory from a variety of perspectives. The book includes an essay I wrote on “Furnishing War on Noble Credit: French Nobles, Commerce, and the Political Economy of Crédit.

The book description reads: “Great statesmen and gentlemen, men of honor and rank, seem to be phenomena of a bygone Aristocratic era. Aristocracies, which emphasize rank, and value difference, quality, beauty, rootedness, continuity, stand in direct contrast to democracies, which value equality, autonomy, novelty, standardization, quantity, utility and mobility. Is there any place for aristocratic values and virtues in the modern democratic social and political order? This volume consists of essays by political theorists, historians, and literary theorists that explore this question in the works of aristocratic thinkers, both ancient and modern. The volume includes analyses of aristocratic virtues, interpretations of aristocratic assemblies and constitutions, both historic and contemporary, as well as critiques of liberal virtues and institutions. Essays on Tacitus, Hobbes, Burke, Tocqueville, Nietzsche, as well as some lesser known figures, such as Henri de Boulainvilliers, John Randolph of Roanoke, Louis de Bonald, Konstantin Leontiev, Jose Ortega y Gasset, Richard Weaver, and the Eighth Duke of Northumberland, explore ways of preserving and adapting the salutary aspects of the aristocratic ethos to the needs of modern liberal societies.”

Aristocratic Souls in Democratic Times is listed on the website for Rowman and Littlefield.


Posted in Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, French History, Noble Culture and History of Elites, Political Culture, State Development Theory | Leave a comment