Europe in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century

Category: Culture
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“In Europe, the period from 1400 to 1600 is considered to be a period of innovation and exploration because the aftermath of the black death led to the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy. The plague had a disastrous impact on environment because it led to drastic reductions in the population over time due to food shortages and diseases. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were considered to be an age of questioning and rethinking accepted truths because for the people who survived this pandemic disease, the plague opened up opportunities for expansion due to food shortages and the labor shortages encouraged new experiments which further led to innovations. Printing press, Columbian Exchange and Absolutism are some of the dramatic changes that occurred in the European society and culture during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Firstly, the invention of the printing press played an important role in the European society and many other developments of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The printing press helped with the widespread of information and news. It helped with rapid communications among people and made it difficult for those in power to censor dissenting opinions but at the same time it made possible for rulers to govern empires abroad. The printing press was the medium through which the Renaissance ideals were extended and diversified in the late fifteenth century. For example, the influence of renaissance ideals is seen in the work of Albrecht Dürer, a German artist who used printing press to circulate his work to audience to make his drawings into engravings for mass production. The printing press also helped spread Martin Luther’s message about the reformation of Christian religion by mass producing his pamphlets and vernacular bibles at a cheaper price. The cheap mass production of the pamphlets and the bibles by the printing press made it affordable to be purchased and read easily. Martin Luther gained lot of supporters with his pamphlets but that would not have been possible without the printing press.

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Secondly, the Columbian exchange played a crucial role in the sixteenth because it accelerated the rate of global connections causing extraordinary movement of peoples, plants, animals, goods, cultures, and diseases. The exchange is considered as a turning point in human history and the history of the earth’s ecology. Alfred Crosby, a historian named this movement, “Columbian exchange” in reference to Columbus’s voyage. The exchange surpassed lands far beyond Columbus’s voyage. It covered Australia and the Pacific Islands along with Africa, Eurasia and America. The Columbian exchange had both good and bad impact on the society. The exchange put new agriculture products into circulation and introduced new species of domesticated animals but at the same time it encouraged the spread of deadly diseases and the devastating invasions of nonnative plants and animals. The natural ecosystems and human immune systems around the world were either destroyed or transformed due to the exchange. For example, the landscapes of Central America and Southwestern North America were denuded of vegetation after Spanish settlers turned it to large scale herding and ranching operations. Overall the spread of deadly diseases had a huge impact on the nation because according to Cole and Symes, (authors of the textbook) about ninety percent of the pre-Columbian population of the America died from deadly diseases such as smallpox, cholera, influenza, typhoid, measles, malaria, and bubonic plague. These deadly diseases were brought from Europe through the Columbian exchange. The exchange also involved the transfer of human populations in the form of settlers, soldiers, merchants, indentured servants and slaves. The importation of food from one place to another in the world changed the diets of populations due to cultivation in new habitats. For example, American potato, grown in substandard soil and stored for long periods became staple diet for the European poor when it was imported in Europe. The foods and flavors that are in the modern day cuisines are the result of the Columbian exchange.

Thirdly, the concept of Absolutism brought in drastic changes in the European society and culture because it was a political theory that encouraged the rulers to claim complete sovereignty within their territories. The period from around 1660 when the English monarchy was restored and Louis XIV began his personal rule in France to 1789 when the French Revolution erupted is considered the age of absolutism. In Europe, the age of absolutism was considered as a crucial period because it interrupted the development of modern, centralized, bureaucratic states. Absolutism is differentiated from earlier models of kingship by absolute monarchy. The absolute monarchy is a system of government that invests all authority in the king. It was Louis XVI’s model of kingship and he successfully applied the concept of absolute monarchy to his reign. As an absolute monarch, a person has a right to make law, dispense justice, create and direct a bureaucracy, declare war, and levy taxation without the approval of any other governing body. The absolutism reinforced the imperial ambitions of European monarchies which led to wars that were increasingly fought in Europe and in colonial spaces around the world. The good thing about these was that the pressures of war led by absolutism favored dynasties and made them capable of building strong centralized states with reliable sources of revenue from trade and taxation. Since the absolutism was not successful around the world, the English monarch attempted to impose absolutist rule but their proposal was rejected by parliamentary leaders who insisted for more inclusive institutions of government. In 1789, the entire structure of absolutism was crashed due to sweeping revolution which was introduced in France.

Lastly, these dramatic changes that occurred in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe helped shape the European society and culture in both good and bad ways. At first the invention of printing press made people more knowledgeable about their surroundings through newspapers. Second, the Columbian exchange was both beneficial and disastrous because it introduced new species but with that it also brought deadly diseases. At last, the absolutism was more like a dictatorship where the ruler had all the power which means that the ruler can eventually snatch the rights of people. Overall these dramatic changes that occurred in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries kind of helped the society overcome the black death and made the nation more stable.

Work Cited

  1. Cole, J., & Symes, C. (2017). Western Civilizations: Their History & Their Culture (Nineteenth Edition) (Vol. 2). W.W. Norton & Company.”
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Europe in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century. (2021, Jun 05). Retrieved from