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The Enlightenment (New Approaches to European History) [Paperback]

Dorinda Outram
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

28 Sep 1995 New Approaches to European History (Book 7)
What was the Enlightenment? Was it a unified body of thought generated by an established canon of 'great thinkers', or were there many areas of contradiction and divergence? How far-reaching were its critiques intended to be? Was it a revolutionary body of thought, or was it merely a catalyst for the revolutionary age which followed it? Did it mean the same for men and for women, for rich and poor, or for European and non-European? In this important new textbook Dorinda Outram addresses these, and other, questions about the 'Enlightenment'. She sets the major debates of the period against the broader social changes such as the onset of industrialisation in Western Europe, the establishment of new colonial empires, and the exploration of hitherto unmapped portions of the world's surface. This unique and accessible synthesis of scholarship will be invaluable to any student of eighteenth-century history.

Product details

  • Paperback: 157 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (28 Sep 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521425344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521425346
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 15.3 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 899,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'… this is a wide-ranging and useful survey of the field.' Norman Hampson, Modern and Contemporary France --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

This important textbook examines the major intellectual debates of the eighteenth century against the background of broader social changes. It shows that the 'Enlightenment' was not simply a unified body of thought generated by an established canon of 'great thinkers'. Its various critiques were far-reaching, and their effects different in different parts of Europe.

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Debate over the meaning of 'Enlightenment' began in the eighteenth century itself and has continued unabated until our own times. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear, concise, comprehensive 10 Mar 2006
For anyone with an interest in Enlightenment, this provides a thorough and ambitious guide to one of the most important intellectual movements of the modern world. This work includes a useful introduction with the title "What is Enlightenment," outlining the complexities that accompany such words and their definitions. To the casual reader or the student of Enlightenment, the clarity with which Outram presents the issues, and, as far as possible, the facts, you would be hard pushed to find any where else. The content is understandably lacking a little, given the scope and period that this works attempts to cover. A more extensive study perhaps is Roy Porter on the Enlightenment. However, in addition to the introduction and genrerally sound reasoning of the main part of this work, it also includes a helpful if breif section on "Suggestions for Further Reading."
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good with Some Limitations: 3.5 1 Jan 2006
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Books in this series are supposed to be written as introductions to important topics in European history, accessible to undergraduates or even advanced high school students. This book doesn't really meet these requirements. The Enlightenment is structured as a series of linked essays on important topics related to the Enlightenment. These include the social context of the Enlightenment, government and the Enlightenment, gender and the Enlightenment, etc. There is a short introductory chapter which is primarily devoted to historiography of the Enlightenment. The essays are generally quite good but don't really provide the needed overview or basic narrative to accomplish the stated aims for books in this series. This book is most useful as a series of summaries of recent scholarship on the Enlightenment and can be used most usefully by someone who already has significant knowledge in this area. For teachers, I'd recommend using this book as an ancillary to a basic narrative text or even in conjunction with something like Peter Gay's magisterial overview of the Enlightenment. For general readers, this book is most useful as a review of recent scholarship.

To the extent that this book has a theme, it would be the increasing appreciation of the diversity and complexity of the Enlightenment. Outram takes pains to show Enlightenment positions are being more variable than often presented. Following the work of others, she is concerned with rebutting or undermining what has been regarded as a canonical view derived from scholars like Peter Gay that the Enlightenment can be summarized as a liberal reform program. For Outram, as for others, The Enlightenment as a unitary phenomenon does not exist. She, like others, also objects to the tendency to align the Enlightenment with a relatively small group of French intellectuals. Much of this is well taken, and Outram's individual essays are very informative. The discussions of government and the Enlightenment, religion and the Enlightenment, and science and the Enlightenment are particularly good.

On the other hand, there problems with some of her thematic analysis. While the Enlightenment cannot perhaps be easily summarized, at least not in the way suggested by scholars like Peter Gay, the concept retains considerable power and integrity. This is implicitly acknowledged in the title of this book, which is after all, The Enlightenment, not Enlightenments. Implicit in Outram's discussions are recurrent themes such as the importance of reason, skepticism towards received authority, the desire to use knowledge to improve the human condition, etc., which are stated by people like Gay to be basic unifying features of the Enlightenment. Outram's discussions add nuance to traditional views but don't contradict them, and in some ways implicitly endorse them. I think Outram overstates the extent to which recent scholarship has qualified views of the Enlightenment. The recent emphasis on greater geographic variation of the Enlightenment is an example. Peter Gay himself made a good deal out of American participation in the Enlightenment and he was hardly the first scholar to do so. Smith, several Americans, and Kant have long been considered important figures of the Enlightenment. Since when have Glasgow, tidewater Virginia, and Konigsberg been part of the heartland of Europe. Outram disparages the emphasis on French intellectuals yet her own text repeatedly cites the experience and writings of Voltaire, Diderot, etc., undercutting her explicit point.

While Outram is a careful scholar and writer, she also commits some missteps. Her discussion of Hume's epistemology as part of a critique of 18th century science is somewhat offbase. She presents Hume's views correctly but incompletely. Hume thought of himself as carrying out a Newtonian program of research in human psychology and far from undercutting the validity of scientifically generated knowledge, he placed it in a privileged position. Her discussion of 18th century voyages of exploration and the tendency of European intellectuals to project utopian visions onto Pacific island societies is astute but she overlooks the fact there was probably a significant kernal of truth in reports of the utopian nature of these cultures. Because of their biological isolation, these societies lacked many of the epidemic diseases that plagued the rest of the world. For example, a high percentage of Cook's crew probably had disfiguring smallpox scars, something that would have been unknown in Polynesia prior to contact with Europeans.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intelligent and Concise Overview 5 Aug 2005
By Reid W. Wyatt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Most history books tend to either be too long and in-depth on a topic of interest or too brief. This book is neither, which is especially impressive given that it clocks in under 200 pages and covers, essentially, a century.

Outram succeeds in her basic layout of the book and in her lack of "kiddie gloves" in respect to her audience. She opens the book with a discussion of differing interpretations of the Enlightenment, in particular an essay contest in a Berlin newspaper in 1785. Outram begins with a discussion of Kant's response to the question, "What is Enlightenment?" Throughout the book, the scholar responds to shortcomings of other historical analyses of the period and explores, in short, 15-page sections, specific questions regarding the Enlightenment. Outram wastes no time diving into the complex morass of the eighteenth century. Writing in clear, lucid prose with a quick style, Outram brings to light new ideas on the Enightenment while responding to more traditional interpretations in due course.

The history professor who is directing my seminar on Religious Toleration in Renaissance and Reformation Europe recommended this book. When I become a high school teacher, I'm pretty sure this is a text I will use.
5.0 out of 5 stars book review 18 Mar 2013
By Angelica Saldana - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was really good to read and easy to understand.the material is easy to grasp and is very helpful in class
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good supplementary text to Enlightenment studies 30 Jun 2009
By Eliezer ben Avrohom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I took a college course on the Enlightenment. The Outram book gave a slightly different perspective from the course texts. It was worth it.
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