Democracy and Science, Beetles and Battlefields
In choosing the characters whose lives most reflect these themes, Professor Steinberg has not confined himself to those who are most often studied—monarchs, politicians, military leaders—but has included scientists, artists, philosophers, and industrialists, and even an entire population threatened with starvation—the Irish. Professor Steinberg ably explores how the nature of absolute rule evolves from the unquestioned autocracy of a ruler like Augustus the Strong to the many styles of enlightened absolutism exemplified by rulers such as Maria Theresa of Austria, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. You see how the success of even enlightened rulers was ultimately betrayed by limitations, whether imposed by human nature, the backwardness of a realm, or the nature of reason itself. You follow the emergence of the public sphere, the shattering of artistic boundaries, and the creation of new marketplaces as bold new visionaries including Samuel Johnson, Goya, C.P.E. Bach, Goethe, and Wagner take the public stage. You watch as science achieves a profound new importance—often at the expense of religion—as theories and discoveries of people such as Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur are framed by historical context. Professor Steinberg draws pictures with words, from the image of Darwin excitedly stuffing a newly captured and squirming beetle into his mouth because he has nowhere else to put it, or a description of Napoleon's profound battlefield influence on his troops—an ability to inspire loyalty that helped make his life, in Professor Steinberg's words, "the single most important" encountered in this lecture series.
It is, considering the company kept during these 36 lectures, a bold statement.
Why History through Biography?
After an introductory lecture on history as a "soft" science, Professor Steinberg describes his course as a road map to the period in which the world of Europe becomes like our own and a new "self," set in a new social reality, becomes the dominant actor. Each of the remaining 35 lectures is named for, and devoted to, a personality or group of people. The lectures unfold chronologically over 200 years. "To lecture on lives raises a serious problem of method," says Professor Steinberg. "Much of what happened in the years 1715 to 1914 depends on the lives and activities of ordinary people whose struggle for existence and happiness makes up the great story of modern history. "Changes in population, disease, famine, immigration and emigration, factory labor, strikes and trade unionism, literacy, emancipation of women, armies, and empires are mass phenomena, not individual ones. No single life can remotely express these huge forces," he points out. "What justifies the biographical approach?" asks Professor Steinberg. He gives three reasons:
"First of all, it is fun. It is in our nature to be interested in one another. The people whom we shall study are among the most interesting people who have ever lived.
"Second, it is way to look at the great changes. If we see the times in which our figures lived as a kind of lens or magnifying glass, we can look for the background, as well as the foreground. We know what they could not: What happens next.
"Third, it is a way to educate ourselves. It draws out our awareness of ourselves and our world." By looking at what even the greatest of the actors of the past could not see or understand, we get a glimpse of what we may be missing in our own thinking. When we observe the way people in the past seemed unaware of great changes now obvious to us, we have a useful moment of self-doubt. What are we missing in our world? We become one degree less self-confident that we know what is going on. "That touch of humility, that creative moment of hesitation, that openness to the possibility that we might be wrong, those are the signs of a real historical education," states Professor Steinberg.
01-36 - History as a Soft Science
02-36 - Augustus the Strong - Princely Consumption
03-36 - Robert Walpole - Politics of Corruption
04-36 - Frederick the Great - Absolute Absolutist
05-36 - Jean-Jacques Rousseau - A Modern Self
06-36 - Samuel Johnson - The Harmless Drudge
07-36 - Maria Theresa - Mother of the Empire
08-36 - David Hume - The Cheerful Skeptic
09-36 - CPE Bach - Selling the Arts
10-36 - Catherine the Great - Russian Reformer
11-36 - Joseph II - The Rational Emperor
12-36 - Goethe - The Artist as Work of Art
13-36 - Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations
14-36 - Marie Antoinette - Queen Beheaded
15-36 - Edmund Burke - The New Conservatism
16-36 - Robespierre - The Democrat as Terrorist
17-36 - Mary Wollstonecraft - The Rights of Women
18-36 - Napoleon - The Revolutionary Emperor
19-36 - Metternich - The Spider and the Web
20-36 - NM Rothschild - Financier to the World
21-36 - Goya - The Painter as Social Critic
22-36 - Giuseppe Mazzini - Idealist of the Nation
23-36 - George Eliot - A Scandalous Woman
24-36 - The Irish Starve - The Great Famine
25-36 - Napoleon III - The Empire of the Boulevards
26-36 - Pius IX - The Infallible Pope
27-36 - Richard Wagner - Revolution in Music
28-36 - Marx and Engels - The Perfect Collaboration
29-36 - Otto von Bismarck - Blood and Iron
30-36 - Charles Darwin - Origin of Species
31-36 - Queen Victoria - We Are Not Amused
32-36 - Friedrich Krupp - The New Plutocracy
33-36 - Louis Pasteur - Modern Laboratory Science
34-36 - Count Leo Tolstoy - Lord and Serf
35-36 - Alfred Dreyfus - First Act in the Holocaust
36-36 - David Lloyd George - Champion of the Poor
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