Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path

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University of Chicago Press, Jul 15, 2010 - History - 400 pages

Why did capitalism and colonialism arise in Europe and not elsewhere? Why were parliamentarian and democratic forms of government founded there? What factors led to Europe’s unique position in shaping the world? Thoroughly researched and persuasively argued, Why Europe? tackles these classic questions with illuminating results.

Michael Mitterauer traces the roots of Europe’s singularity to the medieval era, specifically to developments in agriculture. While most historians have located the beginning of Europe’s special path in the rise of state power in the modern era, Mitterauer establishes its origins in rye and oats. These new crops played a decisive role in remaking the European family, he contends, spurring the rise of individualism and softening the constraints of patriarchy. Mitterauer reaches these conclusions by comparing Europe with other cultures, especially China and the Islamic world, while surveying the most important characteristics of European society as they took shape from the decline of the Roman empire to the invention of the printing press. Along the way, Why Europe? offers up a dazzling series of novel hypotheses to explain the unique evolution of European culture.


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The Agrarian Revolution of the Early Middle Ages
The Manorial Roots of European Social Structures
Social Flexibility through Looser Ties of Descent
A Special Path of Feudalism
Western Christendom as a Highly Organized Religious Community
The Roots of European Expansionism
Early Modes of Mass Communication
Through what concatenation of circumstances ? Interacting Determinants of Europes Special Path

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About the author (2010)

Michael Mitterauer is professor emeritus of social history at the University of Vienna and the author of numerous books, including A History of Youth. Before his retirement Gerald Chapple was associate professor of German at McMaster University.

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