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At the Dawn of Modernity

At the Dawn of Modernity: Biology, Culture, and Material Life in Europe after the Year 1000

Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 438
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  • Book Info
    At the Dawn of Modernity
    Book Description:

    Looking at a neglected period in the social history of modernization, David Levine investigates the centuries that followed the year 1000, when a new kind of society emerged in Europe. New commercial routines, new forms of agriculture, new methods of information technology, and increased population densities all played a role in the prolonged transition away from antiquity and toward modernity.At the Dawn of Modernityhighlights both "top-down" and "bottom-up" changes that characterized the social experience of early modernization. In the former category are the Gregorian Reformation, the imposition of feudalism, and the development of centralizing state formations. Of equal importance to Levine's portrait of the emerging social order are the bottom-up demographic relations that structured everyday life, because the making of the modern world, in his view, also began in the decisions made by countless men and women regarding their families and circumstances. Levine ends his story with the cataclysm unleashed by the Black Death in 1348, which brought three centuries of growth to a grim end.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92367-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Considering the Subject
    (pp. 1-16)

    The roots of the modern world can be located in the new kind of society that emerged after the year 1000—distinct from its ancient predecessors and its modern successors. This transition may have been provoked by changes in the network of social relations that were due to population growth and technical change, but once the transition was under way, both population growth and technical change became at least partly endogenous. Technical developments and, in particular, the division of labor were partly a response to the new climatic trends, spatial expansion, and deepening of market relations, but they were also...

  5. 1 Lineages of Early Modernization
    (pp. 17-106)

    After the passing of the Justinian pandemic and Charles Martel’s victory at the Battle of Poitiers, which halted the Moslems’ advance in 732, a new society began to take shape in the northwestern region of Europe. This was a confused and contradictory process; it may have begun in the eighth century, but it was only around the year 1000 that historians can speak of a definitive turning point.² In the interim, the Viking and Magyar invasions had acted as “the solvent of Carolingian society,” while Arab Moslems continued to nibble at Europe’s southern flank.³ The end of this external threat...

  6. 2 Shards of Modernity
    (pp. 107-188)

    Perhaps the most important result of the Papal Revolution was the entrenchment of a pluralistic system of government. It was in response to this explosion that a new form of royal law emerged to offset the secular rulers’ loss of their sacral character. It is probably not coincidental that the kings of England and France discovered their thaumaturgic powers at the same time that the Church was stripping the monarchy of its sacral character.¹ Deprived of their role as supreme rulers of the Church, secular rulers were reduced to the status of temporal monarchs, although their power was enhanced by...

  7. 3 Living in the Material World
    (pp. 189-243)

    If the success of the Gregorian Reformation represented one aspect of the early modernization of Europe, then the feudal social revolution was the other side of this coin. In the period around the year 1000 the various grades of dependent cultivators found themselves being assimilated into a single class, although originally they and their landholdings had been arrayed in a continuum of juridical conditions, stretching from freedom to slavery. The fact that “innumerable peasants, by ancestral status free—in the primitive sense; not slaves—had got entangled in the meshes of theseigneurie” is “really the crucial problem” in the...

  8. 4 Reproducing Feudalism
    (pp. 244-324)

    A new kind of society emerged in the centuries after the year 1000. Many novel processes—religious and spiritual, legal and constitutional social and economic, technological and demographic—recombined to create a social mutation. The historical emergence of the northwestern European marriage system was a helical construction in which Christian culture and barbarian demography wrapped themselves around one another. Manorialized feudal society at first formed another strand in what was to become a triple helix combining the biological, cultural, and material modes to form a finely adjusted system of social reproduction.

    Changes in population composition and vital rates identify pivotal...

  9. 5 Negative Feedbacks
    (pp. 325-400)

    The pre-plague period is often cited for the “Malthusian” dynamic of “relative overpopulation [which] was so great as to push the death-rates to a punishing height.” In the terse words of another authority, “What a ‘magnificent’ field of action for the Black Death of 1348, that holocaust of the undernourished.”¹ While both M. M. Postan and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie suggest that there was some connection between poverty, malnutrition, and mortality from plague, neither is able to explain what that linkage might have been. The richer members of the peasantry did not live in more hygienic surroundings, nor were their...

  10. 6 Recombinant Mutations
    (pp. 401-410)

    After the year 1000, during the first phase of early modernization, there had been a coincidental congealment of new state formations, new class relations, new modes of spatial and temporal organization, new technologies of power, new productive forces, new representations of the self, new demographic relations, and new family formations. What I have been describing is the operation of a positive feedback system in which the whole became rather more than the sum of its parts. It led to a “release of energy and creativity [that was] analogous to a process of nuclear fission.”¹ Much of this energy resulted in...

  11. After-words
    (pp. 411-428)

    Historians usually read the past by working through to its documented remains.At the Dawn of Modernityis not a work of primary research that took place in the archival flea markets. Yet, it is important to keep in mind the obvious fact that, as Greg Dening has noted, “These relics of experience—always interpretations of the experience, never the experience itself—are all that there is of the Past. Historians never confront the Past, only the inscriptions that the Past has left. History is always interpretation of interpretation, always a reading of a given text.”³ In my case, the...

  12. Index
    (pp. 429-431)