• Essays on Eighteenth-Century European History Overviews by Penelope J. Corfield

4.2 Eighteenth-Century European History Overviews

4.2.1 Eighteenth-Century Britain and Spain: Do their Imperial Histories Fit into a Common Grand Narrative? (2012; updated 2019), Pdf28
This essay, first presented as a 2009 conference paper on comparative British/Spanish history in the eighteenth century, was written I 2012 and has been revised/updated in 2019. Imperial histories have often been interpreted as cycles of rise and fall; or, alternatively, as linear tales of progress. Neither the British nor the Spanish experiences fitted into such neat models of historical change. The discussion explores their case histories, and considers also many other empires – some dramatically short-lived, others showing great longevity. Instead, the British and Spanish empires exemplified trends of growth/collapse, which were cross-cut with the ballasting forces of continuity. They sprang from specific circumstances and global power-imbalances; and they then became operational factors in their own right, proving both long-lasting and historically influential. It is not satisfactory therefore to interpret their histories as purely framed by accident and contingency. The balance of power and resistance to power with and outside these global empires was crucial – as well as the framing context of changing social attitudes to empire and nationhood. History is not a tale of randomised chaos but one of organised complexity.

4.2.2 Naming the Eighteenth Century: Modernity? Civilisation? Enlightenment? and Other Frameworks – Deep Continuities, Trends and Turning Points (2017), Pdf42
How do historians name the long eighteenth century in Europe, which runs from circa 1700 to the 1830s? ‘Transition to modernity’? Too vague, given that there are many rival definitions of ‘Modernity’ and rival claims for its birthdate. ‘Age of Enlightenment’? Too one-sided, given that far from all countries, let alone all social classes, shared the spread of literacy, rights and religious toleration (which are often taken as defining criteria for Enlightenment). ‘The Civilising Process’? Far too flattering for the era that saw the mass commercialisation of the ancient trade in enslaved peoples. But there are other alternatives which blend change/continuities. For French translation, see also 4.2.3.

4.2.3 Nommer l’époque: Modernité? Civilisation? Lumières? et les cadres conceptuals – continuités profondes, tendances, et points tournants (2017), Pdf 43

4.2.4 From Hat Honour to the Handshake: Changing Styles of Communication in the Eighteenth Century (2017), Pdf40
How did styles of meeting and greeting change in eighteenth-century Europe? There was a long-term trend away from traditional elaborate ceremonial, and towards a more casual, but still polite, interpersonal style. The broad context was the shift from a rural to an urban and commercialising world. But styles of meeting and greeting demonstrated changes within changes, with not only the weakening of the old hat honour but also the advent of the new egalitarian handshake. For French translation, see also 4.2.5. Note that this essay overlaps with material in 4.2.2 in British History/Social & Cultural History.

4.2.5 De l’honneur du chapeau à la poignèe de main: l’évolution des pratiques de communication au dix-huitième siècle (2017), Pfd41