The period in history ranging roughly from the years 1400 to 1700 saw great changes around the world, but particularly in Europe, where the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and even the Great Plague took place. In this paper, we will briefly examine the period and evaluate historians’ claims that it was indeed the birth of the modern world.

During the so-called “Dark Ages,” literature, the arts and other creative endeavors faded into virtual oblivion. For many centuries, up to roughly the 15th century, there was little advancement in culture worldwide. Then, things began changing – slowly at first, but with an increasing urgency that once again saw the world open itself to new ideas and advances in art, technology and other aspects of life that had not been seen for so many years.

The Early Renaissance

Perhaps of the primary causes of the Renaissance was, ironically, the most devastating plague ever to strike the world. Called the “Black Death,” this massive outbreak of bubonic plague leveled about half the population of Europe between the years 1350 and 1450. The plague caused a serious economic depression in Europe, and everyone from tradesmen to merchants suffered enormous financial losses (Renaissance, online).

It would seem this was scarcely a good beginning to the explosion of culture, the arts, and exploration that was to take place, but Europe managed to rebuild its population. By the middle of the 15th century, great things were being accomplished across the continent. The cities saw a resurgence in both population and in crafts, a new middle class of bankers, merchants and others emerged, and the market for goods and services grew rapidly and steadily for the next 300 years (Renaissance, online).

Dawn of a New Age

Historians who claim that the three-century period we are discussing was really the beginning of modern life have much strength for their argument. Indeed, at no time in human history prior to the Renaissance were there such major developments.

The Renaissance, for example, produced some of the greatest artists of all time, including Leonardo daVinci, Michaelangelo, Titian, and a host of others. Their immortal works not only survive today, but are still greatly admired (Renaissance, online).

The invention of the printing press in the 15th century revolutionized the books that were produced. No longer did the world have to depend on laboriously hand-copied volumes; thanks to Gutenberg, the first foray into mass production of a product had taken place (Funk & Wagnalls, 435).

This also was the age of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton and other literary giants. And in the 17th century two of the greatest composers of all time, Bach and Handel, produced music that has more than endured the test of time (Funk & Wagnalls, 435).

The Reformation

Not all the major changes belonged to culture or the arts; religion also saw radical changes. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a church and started the Reformation, a religious movement that formed what we now call the Protestant church. At around the same time, John Calvin and John Knox took to the Protestant movement and brought forth their theories from their home bases in Geneva (Calvin) and Scotland (Knox (The Reformation, online).

The Thirty Years’ War

While the explosion of revival in arts, literature and religion was occurring, so were wars. The famous Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was both the last religious war and the first modern war. It was religious in the sense that it pitted Catholics against Protestants, but also modern because it pitted two opposing political ideologies against each other. The Catholic Habsburgs in Bohemia and the Protestant Czechs went to battle. The Protestant side was aided by Denmark and Sweden, while the Catholics were assisted by French forces. France, in the end, emerged as the dominant power in Europe, a position it would hold for more than a century (Funk & Wagnalls, 434).

Exploration and Discovery

Let us not forget the great explorers of the period we are discussing. Vaso de Gama, Christopher Columbus, and Ferdinand Magellan all made important discoveries and also helped launch a commercial seagoing merchant revolution. Their bold exploits led to the first settlers to the New World leaving England on the Mayflower and founding a new colony which was to become the United States of America. Little did the three explorers mentioned above dream that their voyages of discovery would lead to the founding of the most powerful nation on Earth (Funk & Wagnalls, 432).

It Was a New Birth

Given the tremendous advances in culture and the arts, in exploration and even the upheavals in religion and politics, we can definitely side with the historians who say the period from 1400 to 1700 was one that launched the modern world. Though not all the advancements were positive (the wars, for instance), the Renaissance, the Reformation, the explorations, and the technological advancements that occurred in that 300-year time period opened doors where previously no doors had even existed. The three-century period changed forever the way people lived, and evolution in every area of human existence continues to evolve today and will do so forever. Useful information? Go to our academic writing services and get your unique paper online

Works Cited

  • Bram, Leon, & Dickey, Norma (eds.), Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, v. 9, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Co., 1986
  • “The Reformation,” online at
  • “Renaissance: Out of the Middle Ages,” online at www.learner.org/exhibits/renaissance/middleages.html 

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