Chapter 2 - Chapter 2 - The Transformations of the...

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Chapter 2 - The Transformations of the Eighteenth Century Overview The eighteenth century witnessed a number of transformations in economic, intellectual, and political life, dramatically altering the way Europeans ate, drank, dressed, worked, socialized, and thought. As a consequence of revolutions in agriculture, commerce, and industry, significant portions of the populace ate more and more nutritious foods, their health improved, they lived longer, and, in aggregate, they suffered fewer deaths. Trends in intellectual life associated with the movement known as the Enlightenment introduced new concepts about society, politics, government, and economy that would prove revolutionary in their impact. All of these transformations interacted with one another to foster the creation of what we can now regard as a global world, a world linked together by the movements of people, most numerous of whom were slaves brought from Africa to the Americas; by the diffusion world-wide of commodities like sugar, tea, tobacco, furs, coffee, and cotton; by vast geographical exploration that produced new bodies of knowledge about distant lands and peoples and flora and fauna; and by the establishment of European empires across the globe, some of them controlled by multinational trading companies like the Hudson Bay Company or the British, Dutch, or French East India companies. As European economies expanded, goods circulated widely, and among those goods were vehicles by which new ideas and trends of thought could be disseminated—books, newspapers, pamphlets, drawings, and paintings. In Europe and North America, public meeting places sprang up where news of overseas adventures or commercial activities could be discussed or books and newspapers read, often over a cup of coffee or tea or cocoa sweetened by sugar and accompanied by a pipe of tobacco: it was in these newly-established coffee houses that we find the emergence of what came to be called “public opinion.” Informed by the writings of Enlightenment philosophes and scientists—known at the time as natural philosophers--the opinions of educated men and women began to matter politically, and rulers who had felt no need to worry about their subjects now came to understand, under the impact of Enlightenment thinking, that the strength of their kingdoms depended heavily on the well-being and prosperity of their populations. Urged by philosophes and encouraged by public opinion to behave according to absolutist principles, if
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need be, in order to impose reforms on their recalcitrant nobles or corporate bodies like guilds or churches, these so-called enlightened despots—Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia (ruled 1740- 1786), Maria Theresa (ruled 1740-1780) and Joseph II (ruled1780-1790) of Austria, and Catherine II (the Great) of Russia (ruled 1762-1796)—carried out wide-spread campaigns of reform that altered the political, economic, cultural, and physical landscape of Europe. Others, like Louis XV (ruled 1715-1774) and Louis XVI (ruled 1774-1792) of France, did or could not
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Chapter 2 - Chapter 2 - The Transformations of the...

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