Ap european history notes and outline

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Learning Objectives:

  1. Account for the dramatic population increase in Europe during the 18th century

  2. Explain how European nations developed world trade during the 18th century

  3. Discuss the consequences of European expansion for the common people

Chapter Summary:

How did our "modern" world begin? This chapter discusses the important economic and demographic changes of the 18th century, which led up to the Industrial Revolution. It also prepares us for understanding the life of ordinary people in the 18th century, which is the subject of the chapter.

The chapter covers four important and interrelated subjects. First, the centuries-old open-field system of agricultural production, a system that was both inefficient and unjust, is described. This system was gradually transformed into a more productive system of capitalist farming, first in the Low Countries and then in England. Some English peasants suffered in the process, but on the whole the changes added up to a highly beneficial agricultural revolution. The second topic is the explosive growth of European population in the 18th century. This growth, still imperfectly understood, was probably due largely to the disappearance of the plague and to new and better foods, such as the potato. Doctors and organized medicine played a very minor role in the improvements in health. Third, the chapter discusses the movement of manufacturing from urban shops to cottages in the countryside. Rural families worked there as units in the new domestic system, which provided employment for many in the growing population. The domestic system was particularly effective in the textile industry, which this chapter examines in detail.

Finally, the chapter shows how the mercantilist economic philosophy of the time resulted in world wars for trade and colonies. Mercantilism also led to the acquisition of huge markets for British manufactured goods, especially cloth. The demand from these new markets fostered the continued growth of the domestic system and put pressure on it. This eventually led to important inventions and the development of the more efficient factory system. Thus the modern world was born. It is important to look for the interrelatedness of these changes and to keep in mind that it was in only one country, Great Britain, that all of these forces were fully at work.
McKay Intro: The Expansion of Europe in the 18th Century

The world of absolutism and aristocracy, a combination of raw power and elegant refinement, was a world apart from that of the common people. For the overwhelming majority of the population in the 18th century, life remained a struggle with poverty and uncertainty, with the landlord and tax collector. In 1700 peasants on the land and artisans in their shops lived little better than had their ancestors in the Middle Ages. Only in science and thought, and there only among a few intellectual elites and their followers, had Western society succeeded in going beyond the great achievements of the High Middle Ages, achievements that in turn owed so much to Greece and Rome.

Everyday life was a struggle because European societies, despite their best efforts, still could not produce very much by modern standards. Ordinary men and women might work like their beasts in the fields, and they often did, but there was seldom enough good food, warm clothing, and decent housing. Life went on; history went on. The wars of religion ravaged Germany in the 17th century; Russia rose to become a Great Power; the state of Poland simply disappeared; monarchs and nobles continually jockeyed for power and wealth. In 1700 or even 1750, the idea of progress, of substantial improvement in the lives of great numbers of people, was still only a dream of a small elite in fashionable salons.

Yet the economic basis of European life was beginning to change. In the course of the 18th century, the European economy emerged from the long crisis of the 17th century, responded to challenges, and began to expand once again. Population resumed its growth, while colonial empires developed and colonial elites prospered. Some areas were more fortunate than others. The rising Atlantic powers - Holland, France, and above all, England - and their colonies led the way. The expansion of Agriculture and industry, trade and population, marked the beginning of a surge comparable to that of the 11th and 12th-century springtime of European civilization. But this time, broadly based expansion was not cut short. This time, the response to new challenges led toward one of the most influential developments in human history, the Industrial Revolution, considered in Chapter 22.


  • What were the causes of this renewed surge?

  • Why were the fundamental economic underpinnings of European society beginning to change at this time, and what were the dimensions of those changes?

  • How did these changes affect people and their work?

  1. Agriculture and the Land

    1. The Hazards of an Agrarian Economy

      1. The agricultural yields in 17th century Europe were not much higher than in ancient Greece.

      2. Frequent poor harvest and bad weather led to famine and disease

    2. The open-field system

      1. The open-field system, developed during the Middle Ages, divided the land into a few large fields, which were then cut up into long, narrow strips.

      2. The fields were farmed jointly by the community, but a large portion of the arable land was always left fallow.

      3. Common lands were set aside for community use.

      4. The labor and tax system throughout Europe was unjust, but eastern European peasants suffered the most.

        1. There were few limitations on the amount of forced labor the lord could require

        2. Serfs could be sold

      5. By the 18th century most peasants in western Europe were free from serfdom, and many owned some land

    3. The agricultural revolution of the late 17th and 18th centuries

      1. The use of idle fallow land by crop rotation increased cultivation, which meant more food.

        1. the secret was in alternating grain crops with nitrogen-storing crops, such as peas and beans, root crops, and grasses

        2. This meant more fodder for animals, which meant more meat for the people and more manure for fertilizer

        3. These improvements necessitated ending the open-field system by "enclosing" the fields

      2. Enclosure of the open fields to permit crop rotation also meant the disappearance of common land

        1. Many peasants and noble landowners opposed these changes

        2. The enclosure process was slow, and enclosed and open fields existed side by side for a long time

    4. The leadership of the Low Countries and England

      1. By the middle of the 17th century, the Low Countries led in intensive farming

        1. This Dutch lead was due largely to the need to feed a growing population

        2. The growth of the urban population provided good markets for the produce

      2. Dutch engineers such as Cornelius Vermuyden helped England drain its marshes to create more arable land

        1. "Turnip" Townsend was one of the pioneers of English agricultural improvement

        2. Tull advocated the use of horses for plowing and drilling equipment for sowing seeds

    5. The Cost of Enclosure

      1. Some historians argue that the English landowners were more efficient than continental owners, and that enclosures were fair.

      2. Others argue that the enclosure acts forced small peasants and landless cottagers off the land

      3. In reality, the enclosure and the exclusion of cottagers and laborers had begun as early as the 16th century

        1. It was the independent peasant farmers who could not compete, and thus began to disappear

        2. The tenant farmers, who rented land from the big landlords, benefited from enclosure

        3. By 1815 a tiny minority of English and Scottish landlords held most of the land - which they rented to tenants, who hired laborers

      4. The 18th century Enclosure Movement marked the completion of the rise of market-oriented estate agriculture and the emergence of a landless rural proletariat.

  1. The Beginning of the Population Explosion

    1. The Limitations of Population Growth

      1. The traditional checks on growth were famine, disease, and war

      2. These checks kept Europe's population growth rate fairly low

    2. The New Pattern of Population Growth in the 18th Century

      1. The basic cause of population growth was fewer deaths, partly owing to the disappearance of the plague

        1. Stricter quarantine measures helped eliminate the plague

        2. The elimination of the black rat by the brown rat was a key reason for the disappearance of the disease

      2. Advances in medicine, such as inoculation against smallpox, did little to reduce the death rate in Europe

      3. Improvements in sanitation promoted better public health

      4. An increase in the food supply meant fewer famines and epidemics, especially as transportation improved

      5. The Growing population often led to overpopulation and increased rural poverty

  1. The Growth of the Cottage Industry

    1. Rural Industry

      1. The rural poor took in manufacturing work to supplement their income

      2. By the 18th century this cottage industry challenged the monopoly of the urban craft industry

    2. The Putting-Out System

      1. The putting-out system was based on rural workers producing cloth in the homes for merchant-capitalist, who supplied the raw materials and paid for the finished goods

      2. This Capitalist system reduced the problem of rural unemployment and provided cheap goods

      3. England led the war in the conversion from urban to rural textile production

    3. The Textile industry in England as an Example of the Putting-Out System

      1. The English textile industry was a family industry; the women would spin and men would weave

      2. A major problem was that there was not enough spinners to make yarn for the weaver

      3. Strained relations often existed between workers and capitalist employers

      4. The capitalists found it difficult to control the worker and the quality of the product

  1. Building the Atlantic Economy in the 18th Century

    1. Mercantilism and Colonial Wars

      1. Mercantilism is a system of economic regulations aimed at increasing the power of the state, particularly by creating a favorable balance of trade

      2. English mercantilism was further characterized by the use of government regulations to serve the interests of private individuals.

      3. The Navigation Acts were a form of Economic Warfare

        1. They required that most goods exported to England by carried on British ships

        2. These acts gave England a virtual trade monopoly with its colonies

      4. The French quest for power in Europe and North America led to international wars

        1. The loss of the War of Spanish Succession forced France to cede parts of Canada to Britain

        2. The Seven Years' War (1756-63): was the decisive struggle in the French-British competition for colonial empire, and France ended up losing all its North American possessions

    2. Land and Wealth in North America

      1. Colonies helped relieve European poverty and surplus population as settlers eagerly took up farming on the virtually free land

        1. The availability of land made labor expensive in the colonies

        2. Cheap land and scarce labor were critical factors in the growth of slavery

      2. The English mercantilist system benefited American Colonists

        1. They exported food to the West Indies to feed the slaves and sugar and Tobacco to Britain

        2. The American shipping industry grew

      3. The population of the North American Colonies grew very quickly during the 18th century, and the standards of living were fairly high

    3. The Growth of Foreign Trade

      1. Trade with the English colonists compensated for a decline in English trade on the Continent (Why?)

      2. The colonies also encouraged industrial growth in England

    4. Revival in Colonial Latin America

      1. Spain's political revitalization was matched by economic improvement in its colonies

        1. Silver mining recovered in Mexico and Peru

        2. Trade grew, though industry remained weak

      2. In much of Latin America, Creole landowners dominated the economy and the Indian population by means of debt peonage

      3. Compared to North America, racial mixing was more frequent in Spanish America

    5. Adam Smith and Economic Liberalism

      1. Despite mercantilism's contribution to imperial growth, a reaction set in.

      2. The Scottish professor Adam Smith founded modern economics through his general idea of freedom and enterprise in foreign trade.

        1. He claimed that mercantilism stifled economic growth

        2. He advocated free competition; he believed that pursuit of self-interest would lead to harmony and progress, for workers as well as employers


While some European intellectual elites and parts of the educated public were developing a new view of the world in the 18th century, Europe as a whole was experiencing a gradual but far-reaching expansion. As agriculture began showing signs of modest improvement across the Continent, first the Low Countries and then in England launched changes that gradually revolutionized agriculture. Plague disappeared, and the populations of all countries grew significantly, thereby encouraging the growth of wage labor, cottage industry, and merchant capitalism.

Europeans also continued their overseas expansion, fighting for empire and profit and, in particular, consolidating their hold on the Americas. A revived Spain and its Latin American colonies participated fully in this expansion. As in Agriculture and cottage industry, however, England and its empire proved most successful. The English concentrated much of the growing Atlantic trade in their hands, a development that challenged and enriched English industry and intensified interest in new methods of production and in an emerging economic liberalism. Thus by the 1770s, England was approaching an economic breakthrough fully as significant as the great political upheaval destined to develop shortly in neighboring France.

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