The Enlightenment

Mark Knights

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
The Enlightenment

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  • History of the Americas
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The Enlightenment is a contested and often loosely defined term. It is sometimes taken to mean an intellectual movement underpinning many aspects of modernity; but the precise content of that movement, and its priorities, are fiercely disputed. Equally, the term is sometimes used to denote a period, beginning roughly in the mid-17th century and ending with the French Revolution. That “era” is often subdivided into an “early” Enlightenment, roughly ending in the 1740s, and a “high” or “late” Enlightenment, that followed it. In the last twenty years a further fracturing of the Enlightenment has occurred with two historiographical developments. The first is the claim that the Enlightenment has to be seen in national rather than inter- or supranational context. The second is the emergence of a cultural or social history of the Enlightenment, which has tended to expand the traditional remit of studies into realms such as print culture, the public sphere, and gender (and indeed makes a study of the Enlightenment part of 18th-century studies as a whole). The growth of the history of science has also influenced this turn. In short, the Enlightenment can mean a multitude of different things, depending on one’s approach and outlook; indeed, scholars often talk of “Enlightenments” rather than “the Enlightenment,” a fragmentation that also affects other historical terms such as the “Reformation” or “Renaissance.” The resulting literature is vast. This poses a difficulty for any bibliography and perhaps makes the General Overviews section particularly important for those who need to orientate themselves in the historiographical debates about scope, unity, and timing. The focus throughout will be on Europe, since other Oxford Bibliographies entriesdeal specifically with the Atlantic world. Nevertheless, many of the works listed also include a colonial and imperial dimension; and a section on the Atlantic Enlightenment points to works that are particularly important for their treatment of the Enlightenment in an Atlantic context.

Article.  8222 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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