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CBSE Notes | Class 11 | Social Science | History | Chapter 7 - Changing And Cultural Traditions

The chapter introduces students to European history and specifically the Renaissance that talks about the cultural shift. We also highlight the Arab's contribution in the field of science and philosophy.

Cultural Evolution

What are the sources to understand European History?

European history can be deciphered using a variety of sources such as documents, printed books, sculptures, architecture, and textiles.

  • Much of this has been meticulously preserved in archives, art galleries, and museums throughout Europe and America. Numerous historians and scholars have also helped in preserving European history.

Who was Jacob Burckhardt?

Jacob Burckhardt was a Swiss scholar at the Switzerland's University of Basel. He emphasised the term 'Renaaisance' heavily and dubbed it as a cultural shift

  • He was an expert on German historian Leopold Ranke (1795–1886). He was taught that the primary responsibility of the historian was to write about states and politics using government documents and files.

  • Burckhardt was dissatisfied because he believed that history should be equally concerned with culture and politics.

  • He wrote a book titled "The Renaissance Civilisation in Italy," in which he used literature, architecture, and painting to tell the storey of how a new "humanist" culture blossomed in fourteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian towns.

The Revival Of Italian Cities

Numerous towns in Italy that were intended to be political centres perished in the aftermath of the Roman Empire's demise. Without a unified government, the political climate deteriorated.

Additionally, the Pope in Rome lost his powerful political position as the sole ruler of his own country.

Feudal ties were used to reshape Western Europe, which was also unified under the Latin Church, and Eastern Europe, which was unified under the Byzantine Empire, while Islam formed a common civilisation further west. These developments aided in the revival of Italian culture.

Trade & Cities

Additionally, transmutation and expansion occurred in the trade situation. In the 12th century, the Mongols established trade relations with China via the silk route and expanded trade with western European partners. The Italian coast was revitalised by the expansion of trade between the Byzantine Empire and Islamic countries.

Italy's towns ceased to regard themselves as subjects of a powerful empire and began to regard themselves as independent states. Numerous cities were ruled by princes; for example, Venice and Genoa were vibrant and distinct from the rest of Europe. 

Additionally, the republics of Florence and Venice existed.

The clergy, like feudal lords, lacked political clout. Wealthy merchants and bankers exerted significant influence over the city's governance. Even when these towns were ruled by military despots, the townspeople's pride in being citizens did not wane.

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Universities And Humanism

The Universities in Europe were to be set up in Italian towns. Padua and Bologna's universities had been the centre of legal studies and courteous education.

Increasing Demand of Lawyers

There was an increase in demand for lawyers and notaries to write and interpret rules and written agreements, which were necessary for large-scale commerce, which was the city's primary activity.

Although law studies were extremely popular among the populace, the emphasis shifted once it was studied in the context of Roman culture.

Francesco Petrarch embodied this transformation (1304-78). He believed that antiquity was a distinct civilisation best understood through the ancient Greeks and Romans' words.

The emphasis was placed on close readings of ancient authors because it was believed that there was much to be learned that religious teachings alone could not provide.

What was "Humanism"?

Humanism was a term coined by historians in the nineteenth century to describe a culture. Master teachers of grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history and moral philosophy were referred to as "humanists."

  • These subjects were not connected with religion and emphasised skills developed by individuals through discussion and debate.

  • These ideas attracted attention in many other universities, particularly in the newly established university in Florence. Till the end of the thirteenth century, this city had not made a mark as a centre of trade or of learning, but things changed dramatically in the fifteenth century.

A city's great citizens are as well-known as its wealth. "Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), a layman from Florence who wrote on religious themes, and Giotto (1267-1337), an artist who painted lifelike portraits, very different from the stiff figures painted by earlier artists, were both familiar with Florence."

Because many of the people who became well-known during this time were people of many parts, the term ‘Renaissance Man' is often used to describe a person with many interests and skills. They were a scholar diplomat, theologian, and an artist all rolled into one.

The Humanist View

Humanists believed they were restoring 'true civilisation' after centuries of darkness, believing that a 'dark age' had set in following the fall of the Roman Empire. Later scholars accepted without question that Europe had entered a "new age" in the fourteenth century following them.

Following the fall of Rome, the millennium (thousand years) was referred to as the 'Middle Ages' or'mediaeval period.'

They asserted that the Church exercised such complete control over men's minds during the "Middle Ages" that all Greek and Roman knowledge was obliterated.

Humanists coined the term "modern" to refer to the period beginning in the fifteenth century.

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The Arab's Contribution

Science and Philosophy

Throughout the 'Middle Ages,' monks and clergy were familiar with Greek and Roman literature. In the fourteenth century, many scholars began reading translated works by Greek authors such as Plato and Aristotle. (Platon was Aflatun in Arabic, and Aristotle was Aristu.)

The Greeks translated the works of Arabic and Persian scholars for dissemination to the rest of Europe, and the Greeks read Greek in its Arabic translation.

Among the subjects covered were natural science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and chemistry.

Ptolemy’s Almagest (a work on astronomy, written in Greek before 140 CE and later translated into Arabic) carries the Arabic definite article ‘al’, which brings out the Arabic connection.

  • Ibn Sina (‘Avicenna' in Latin, 980-1037) was a Bukhara-based Arab physician and philosopher. He was the editor of a medical dictionary.

  • Ibn Rushd (‘Averroes' in Latin, 1126-1198) was a Spanish Arab philosopher who attempted to reconcile the conflict between philosophical knowledge (faylasuf) and religious beliefs. Christian thinkers embraced his approach. Humanists communicated with the public in a variety of ways. 

  • Humanist subjects were gradually introduced into schools, not only in Italy but also in other European countries, as law, medicine, and theology continued to dominate university curricula.

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Artists & Realism

How did several humanists shape the minds future generations?

Humanists shaped their generation's minds in a variety of ways, including formal education, art, architecture, and literature, all of which were extremely effective at disseminating humanist ideas. The works of the past provided significant inspiration for a wide variety of artists.

The material remains of Roman culture have been sought with the same zeal as ancient texts: art fragments have been discovered in the ruins of ancient Rome and other deserted cities a thousand years after Rome's fall.

  • Italian sculptors were inspired by the 'perfectly' proportioned men and women sculpted centuries ago and desired to continue the tradition.

  • Donatello's (1386-1466) lifelike statues made history in 1416. The Artists were assisted in their endeavours by scientists. Artists conducted research on bone structures in medical school laboratories.

  • Andreas Vesalius (1514–64), a Belgian physician and professor of medicine at the University of Padua, dissected the human body for the first time. This marked the start of modern physiology.

By noting the changing quality of light, geometry knowledge aided painters and sculptors in achieving their goal of painting as realistically as possible, comprehending perspectives, and designing sculptures with a three-dimensional quality.

Additionally, the use of oil as a painting medium resulted in a more vibrant colour palette than was previously possible.

Chinese Art

The influence of Chinese and Persian art, which the Mongols made available to them, can be seen in the colours and designs of many paintings. Anatomy, geometry, and physics, combined with an acute sense of what was beautiful, imbued Italian art with a new quality known as "realism" that lasted until the nineteenth century.


Roman Architecture

Roman architects were the first to recognise the potential of domes for creating large, well-defined interior spaces. Rome was spectacularly resurrected in the 15th century. From 1417, the popes wielded political authority and actively promoted Rome's historical study.

Archaeology was a new phenomenon at the time, with archaeologists painstakingly excavating Rome's ruins. This sparked a 'new' architectural style known as 'classical,' which was actually a revival of imperial Roman-style architecture. 

Wealthy merchants and aristocrats employed a large number of architects familiar with classical architecture.

Paintings, sculptures, and reliefs were also to be used to decorate buildings by sculptors and artists. Some people were equally skilled as painters, sculptors, and architects.

For example;

  • Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) – immortalised by the ceiling he painted for the Pope in the Sistine Chapel, the sculpture called ‘The Pieta’ and his design of the dome of St Peter’s Church, all in Rome.

  • Filippo Brunelleschi (1337-1446), the architect who designed the spectacular Duomo of Florence, had started his career as a sculptor.

The artists were known individually, by name, not as members of a group or a guild, as earlier

The First Printed Books

Italy became a popular tourist destination for those interested in viewing the sculptures, paintings, and architecture of great artists. The sixteenth-century printing revolution was the greatest of all time.

The Chinese, for their printing technology, and the Mongol rulers, for introducing it to European traders and diplomats during visits to their courts, were both responsible for this.

(This was also the case with three other important innovations – firearms, the compass and the abacus.)

Only a few handwritten copies of earlier texts remained. In the workshop of Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1458), the German who invented the printing press, 150 copies of the Bible were printed in 1455.

Previously, a monk would spend the same amount of time writing out one copy of the Bible. Students were no longer reliant on lecture notes because books were now available in printed form.

Ideas, opinions, and information spread faster thanks to print technology. A printed book could quickly reach hundreds of people with new ideas. Individuals were also able to read books because they could purchase their own copies. People began to develop a reading habit as a result of this.

The availability of printed books was the primary reason for the spread of Italian humanist culture across the Alps from the end of the fifteenth century.

This also explains why earlier intellectual movements were restricted to specific geographical areas.

A New Concept of Human Beings

One of the characteristics of the Humanist culture was a relaxation of religion's control over human life. Italians were avaricious and possessed a strong desire for material wealth, power, and glory, but they were not inherently irreligious.

Francesco Barbaro (1390-1454), a Venetian humanist, wrote a pamphlet arguing for the virtue of wealth acquisition.

Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457), who believed that studying history inspires man to strive for perfection, criticised the Christian prohibition against pleasure in On Pleasure.

Additionally, humanism implied that individuals could shape their own lives through means other than the pursuit of power and wealth. This ideal was inextricably linked to the belief that human nature was multifaceted, which contradicted feudal society's belief in three distinct orders.

Women's Aspirations

Men from aristocratic families dominated public life and were the decision-makers in their families. Hence, the new ideals of individuality & citizenship lacked the consideration of women.

  • The male child was given the priority of education as it was thought they need them to support family businesses, also younger sons were sent to join the church.

  • The Dowry system gains its roots of existence since forever, the dowry that was given to the male family was used as an investment in the family businesses.

  • Women were not allowed to intervene in business matters. Often, marriages were intended to strengthen business alliances.

  • If an adequate dowry could not be arranged, daughters were sent to convents to live the life of a nun.

  • Obviously, the public role of women was limited and they were looked upon as keepers of the households.

The position of women in the families of merchants

  • Shopkeepers were very often assisted by their wives in running the shop.

  • In families of merchants and bankers, wives looked after the businesses when the male members were away at work. The early death of a merchant compelled his widow to perform a larger public role than was the case in aristocratic families.

  • A few women were intellectually very creative and sensitive about the importance of humanist education.

Venetian Cassandra Fedele

She was known for her proficiency in Greek and Latin and was invited to give orations at the University of Padua.

  • Fedele’s writings bring into focus the general regard for education in that age.

  • She was one of many Venetian women writers who criticised the republic ‘for creating a highly limited definition of freedom that favoured the desires of men over those of women.

Isabella d'Este

Another remarkable woman was the Marchesa of Mantua, Isabella d’Este (1474-1539). She ruled the state while her husband was absent, and the court of Mantua, a small state, was famed for its intellectual brilliance.

Women’s writings revealed their conviction that they should have economic power, property and education to achieve an identity in a world dominated by men.

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Debates within Christianity

The well-educated and wealthy families mimicked modern cultures. Military conquest or diplomatic contacts linked Italian towns and courts to the rest of the world through trade and travel. The new cultures were admired, but only by the upper crust, as only a small percentage of them made it to the lower crust.

In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, humanist views and ideas remained popular, and many scholars in northern European universities were drawn to them. They concentrated on classical Greek and Roman texts as well as Christian holy books.

The Humanist Movement in Italy

In Italy, professional scholars dominated the humanist movement; in North Europe, many church members were drawn to humanism. They changed their ways, and many Christians were summoned to follow the ancient texts in their religious practises. Human beings were seen as free and rational agents in a completely new light.

Some Christian humanists, such as Thomas More (1478-1535) in England and Erasmus (1466-1536) in Holland, believed that the Church had devolved into a greedy institution that extorted money from ordinary people at will.

  • One of the favourite methods of the clergy was to sell ‘indulgences’, documents that apparently freed the buyer from the burden of the sins he had committed.

  • Christians came to realise from printed translations of the Bible in local languages that their religion did not permit such practices.

  • Peasants began to rebel against the taxes imposed by the Church in every part of Europe.

While the common folk resented the extortions of churchmen, princes found their interference in the work of the state irritating. They were pleased when the humanists pointed out that the clergy’s claim to judicial and fiscal powers originated from a document called the ‘Donation of Constantine’ supposed to have been issued by Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor.

Campaign Against Catholic Church

Who was Martin Luther? How is he responsible for campaigning against the church?

In 1517, a young German monk called Martin Luther (1483-1546) launched a campaign against the Catholic Church and argued that a person did not need priests to establish contact with God.

  • He asked his followers to have complete faith in God, for faith alone could guide them to the right life and entry into heaven.

  • This movement was called the Protestant Reformation. It was led to the churches in Germany and Switzerland breaking their connection with the Pope and the Catholic Church.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and later Jean Calvin popularised Luther's ideas in Switzerland (1509-64). The reformers were more popular because they were backed by merchants. There are disagreements within Christianity. Italian towns and courts were linked to the rest of the world through trade and travel, military conquest, and diplomatic contacts.

Luther was a staunch opponent of radicalism. In 1525, he urged German rulers to put down the peasant revolt, which they did. The radicalism survived and merged with the resistance of Protestants in France, who, persecuted by Catholic rulers, began claiming a people's right to remove an oppressive ruler and replace him with someone of their choosing.

The Catholic Church eventually allowed Protestants to worship as they pleased in France, as it did in many other parts of Europe. The rulers of England severed their ties with the Pope.

From then on, the king/queen was the head of the Church. The Catholic Church was not immune to the effects of these ideas, and it began to reform from within.

Churchmen in Spain and Italy emphasised the importance of living a simple life and serving the poor. In an attempt to combat Protestantism in Spain, Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. His followers were known as Jesuits, and their mission was to serve the poor and learn about other cultures.

The Copernican Revolution

What was the Copernicus's contribution?

Copernicus was a brilliant mathematician who proposed a model of the universe centred on the sun. His contributions aided in the establishment of a watershed moment in European science. Copernicus was Martin Luther's contemporary.

The earth, Christians believed, was a sinful place that had become immobile due to the weight of sin.

Celestial planets revolved around the earth, which was the universe's centre. He asserted that the earth, like the other planets, revolves around the sun.

Copernicus was fearful of the reaction of traditional clergymen to his theory and thus withheld publication of his manuscript "De revolutionibus (The Rotation)."

On Copernicus' deathbed, Joachim Rheticus, a Copernican disciple, received the manuscript provided by his idol.

People took a long time to accept this concept. Astronomers such as Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and Galileo Galilei used their writings to bridge the divide between "heaven" and "earth" in the subsequent centuries (1564-1642).

Kelper's Cosmographical Mystery

Kelper proposed the earth as a component of a sun-centred system. The theory demonstrated that the planets orbit the sun in ellipses rather than circles. "Galileo" confirmed the concept of a dynamic world in his work "The Motion." Isaac Newton's theory of gravitation was the pinnacle of this scientific revolution.

Reading the Universe

Science's evolution and revolution demonstrated that knowledge, as opposed to belief, is based on observation and experimentation. These scientists paved the way for experiments and research into what would later be known as physics, chemistry, and biology. Historians coined the term "Scientific Revolution" to describe this new approach.

Galileo once remarked that the Bible that lights the road to heaven does not say much on how the heavens work.

Consequently, in the minds of sceptics and non-believers, God began to be replaced by Nature as the source of creation. Even those who retained their faith in God started talking about a distant God who does not directly regulate the act of living in the material world. Such ideas were popularised through scientific societies that established a new scientific culture in the public domain.

The Paris Academy, established in 1670 and the Royal Society in London for the promotion of natural knowledge, was formed in 1662, held lectures and conducted experiments for public viewing.

A European 'Renaissance ' in the Fourteen Century

Many elements associated with the Renaissance in Italy can be traced back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Some historians believe that similar literary and artistic flourishing occurred in France during the ninth century. Europe, which had previously been united in part by the Roman Empire, was now dissolving into states, each of which was bound together by a common language. A significant change that occurred during this time was the gradual separation of the 'private' and 'public' spheres of life.

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