AP European History


It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” -Winston Churchill

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The Specific Time Periods

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A Changing European Worldview


  • The revival of classical texts led to new methods of scholarship and new values in both society and religion.
  • Humanist revival of Greek and Roman texts, spread by the printing press, challenged the institutional power of universities and the Roman Catholic Church and shifted the focus of education away from theology toward the study of the classical textsurl.jpg
  • Admiration for Greek and Roman political institutions supported a revival of civic humanist culture in the Italian city-states and produced secular models for individual and political behavior.
  • The invention of printing promoted the dissemination of new ideas.
  • The invention of the printing press in the 1450s aided in spreading the Renaissance beyond Italy and encouraged the growth of vernacular literature, which would eventually contribute to the development of national cultures.
  • Protestant reformers used the press to disseminate their ideas, which spurred religious reform and helperd it to become widely established.
  • The visual arts incorporated the new ideas of the Renaissance and were used to promote personal, political, and religious goals.
  • Princes and popes, concerned with enhancing their prestige, commissioned paintings and architectural works based on classical styles and often employing the newly invented technique of geometric perspective.
  • A human-centered naturalism that considered individuals and everyday life appropriate objects of artistic representation was encouraged through the patronage of both princes and commercial elites.
  • Mannerist and Baroque artists employed distortion, drama, and illusion in works commissioned by monarchies, city-states, and the church for public buildings to promote their stature and power.
    Artemisia Gentileschi- Judith Slaying Holofernes
  • New ideas in science based on observation, experimentation, and mathematics challenged classical views of the cosmos, nature, and the human body, although folk traditions of knowledge and the universe persisted.
  • New ideas and methods in astronomy led individuals such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton to question the authority of the ancients and religion and to develop a heliocentric view of the cosmos.
  • Anatomical and medical discoveries by physicians, including William Harvey, presented the body as an integrated system, challenging the traditional humoral theory of the body and of disease espoused by Galen.
  • Francis Bacon and René Descartes defined inductive and deductive reasoning and promoted experimentation and the use of mathematics, which would ultimately shape the scientific method.
  • Alchemy and astrology continued to appeal to elites and some natural philosophers, in part because they shared with the new science the notion of a predictable and knowable universe. In the oral culture of peasants, a belief that the cosmos was governed by divine and demonic forces persisted.

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Rise of the Nation-State


  • The new concept of the sovereign state and secular systems of law played a central role in the creation of new political institutions.
  • New Monarchies laid the foundation for the centralized modern state by establishing a monopoly on tax collection, military force, and the dispensing of justice, and gaining the right to determine the religion of their subjects.
  • The Peace of Westphalia (1648), which marked the effective end of
    the medieval ideal of universal Christendom, accelerated the decline of the Holy Roman Empire by granting princes, bishops, and other local leaders control over religion.
  • Across Europe, commercial and professional groups gained in power and played a greater role in political affairs.
  • Secular political theories, such as those espoused in Machiavelli’s The Prince, provided a new concept of the state.
  • The competitive state system led to new patterns of diplomacy and new forms of warfare.
  • Following the Peace of Westphalia, religion no longer was a cause for warfare among European states; instead, the concept of the balance of power played an important role in structuring diplomatic and military objectives.
  • Advances in military technology (i.e., the military revolution) led to new forms of warfare, including greater reliance on infantry, firearms, mobile cannon, and more elaborate fortifications, all financed by heavier taxation and requiring a larger bureaucracy. Technology, tactics, and strategies tipped the balance of power toward states able to marshal sufficient resources for the new military environment.
  • The competition for power between monarchs and corporate groups produced different distributions of governmental authority in European states.
  • The English Civil War, a conflict between the monarchy, Parliament, and other elites over their respective roles in the political structure, exemplified this competition.
  • Monarchies seeking enhanced power faced challenges from nobles who wished to retain traditional forms of shared governance and regional autonomy.

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Reformation and Religious Wars


  • The Protestant and Catholic Reformations fundamentally changed theology, religious institutions, and culture.
  • Christian humanism, embodied in the writings of Erasmus, employed Renaissance learning in the service of religious reform.
  • Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, as well as religious radicals such as the Anabaptists, criticized Catholic abuses and established new interpretations of Christian doctrine and practice.
  • The Catholic Reformation, exemplified by the Jesuit Order and the Council of Trent, revived the church but cemented the division within Christianity.
  • Religious reform both increased state control of religious institutions and provided justifications for challenging state authority.
  • Monarchs and princes, such as the English rulers Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, initiated religious reform from the top down (magisterial) in an effort to exercise greater control over religious life and morality.
  • Some Protestants, including Calvin and the Anabaptists, refused to recognize the subordination of the church to the state.
  • Religious conflicts became a basis for challenging the monarchs’ control of religious institutions.
  • Conflicts among religious groups overlapped with political and economic competition within and among states.
  • Issues of religious reform exacerbated conflicts between the monarchy and the
    St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

    nobility, as in the French Wars of Religion.Catherine de’ Medici

  • The efforts of Habsburg rulers failed to restore Catholic unity across Europe.
  • States exploited religious conflicts to promote political and economic interests.
  • A few states, such as France with the Edict of Nantes, allowed religious pluralism in order to maintain domestic peace.
    • Poland
    • The Netherlands

TAKE A BREAK– What period in history do you really belong in?

Exploration and Colonization


  • European nations were driven by commercial and religious motives to explore overseas territories and establish colonies.
  • European states sought direct access to gold and spices and luxury goods as a means to enhance personal wealth and state power.
  • The rise of mercantilism gave the state a new role in promoting commercial development and the acquisition of colonies overseas.
  • Christianity served as a stimulus for exploration as governments and religious authorities sought to spread the faith and counter Islam, and as a justification for the physical and cultural subjugation of indigenous civilizations.
  • Advances in navigation, cartography, and military technology allowed Europeans to establish overseas colonies and empires.sextants.jpg
    • Compass
    • Stern-post rudder
    • Portolani
    • Quadrant and astrolabe
    • Lateen rig
    • Horses
    • Gunpowder
  • Europeans established overseas empires and trade networks through coercion and negotiation.
  • The Portuguese established a commercial network along the African coast, in South and East Asia, and in South America.
  • The Spanish established colonies across the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, which made Spain a dominant state in Europe.
  • The Atlantic nations of France, England, and the Netherlands followed by establishing their own colonies and trading networks to compete with Portuguese and Spanish dominance.
  • The competition for trade led to conflicts and rivalries among European powers.
  • Europe’s colonial expansion led to a global exchange of goods, flora, fauna, cultural practices, and diseases, resulting in the destruction of some indigenous civilizations, a shift toward European dominance, and the expansion of the slave trade.
  • The exchange of goods shifted the center of economic power in Europe from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic states and brought the latter into an expanding world economy.
  • The exchange of new plants, animals, and diseases — the Columbian Exchange — created economic opportunities for Europeans and facilitated European subjugation and destruction of indigenous peoples, particularly in the Americas. 7305278_orig.jpg
    • Wheat
    • Cattle
    • Horses
    • Pigs
    • Sheep
    • Smallpox
    • Measles
    • Tomatoes
    • Potatoes
    • Squash
    • Corn
    • Tobacco
    • Turkeys
    • Syphilis
  • Europeans expanded the African slave trade in response to the establishment of a plantation economy in the Americas and demographic catastrophes among indigenous peoples

TAKE A BREAK- Watch Captain Europe (Captain America Parody)

Early Modern Society

  • Economic change produced new social patterns, while traditions of hierarchy and status persisted.AmsterdamBeurs.jpg
  • Innovations in banking and finance promoted the growth of urban financial centers
    and a money economy.

  • The growth of commerce produced a new economic elite, which related to traditional elites in different ways in Europe’s various geographic regions.
    • Gentry in England
    • Nobles of the robe in Franceb704253dc09b41a15731ce4055189a0a.jpg
    • Town elites (bankers and merchants)
    • Caballeros and hidalgos in Spain
  • Hierarchy and status continued to define social pow
    er and perceptions in rural and urban settings.
  • Most Europeans derived their livelihood from agriculture and oriented their lives around the seasons, the village, or the manor, although economic changes began to alter rural production and power.
  • Subsistence agriculture was the rule in most areas, with three-crop field rotation in the north and two-crop rotation in the Mediterranean; in many cases, farmers paid rent and labor services for their lands.
  • The price revolution contributed to the accumulation of capital and the expansion of the market economy through the commercialization of agriculture, which benefited large landowners in western Europe.
    • The enclosure movement
    • Restricted use of the village common
    • Free-hold tenure
  • As western Europe moved toward a free peasantry and commercial agriculture, serfdom was codified in the east, where nobles continued to dominate economic life on large estates.
  • The attempts of landlords to increase their revenues by restricting or abolishing the traditional rights of peasants led to revolt.
  • Population shifts and growing commerce caused the expansion of cities, which often found their traditional political and social structures stressed by the growth.
  • Population recovered to its pre–Great Plague level in the 16th century, and continuing population pressures contributed to uneven price increases; agricultural commodities increased more sharply than wages, reducing living standards for some.
  • Migrants to the cities challenged the ability of merchant elites and craft guilds to govern and strained resources.
    • Sanitation problems caused by overpopulation
    • Employment
    • Poverty
    • Crime
  • Social dislocation, coupled with the weakening of religious institutions during the Reformation, left city governments with the task of regulating public morals.
    • New secular laws regulating private life
    • Stricter codes on prostitution and begging
    • Abolishing or restricting Carnival
    • Calvin’s Geneva
  • The family remained the primary social and economic institution of early modern Europe and took several forms, including the nuclear family.
  • Rural and urban households worked as units, with men and women engaged in separate but complementary tasks.
  • The Renaissance and Reformation movements raised debates about female roles in the family, society, and the church.
  • From the late 16th century forward, Europeans responded to economic and environmental challenges, such as the “Little Ice Age,” by delaying marriage and childbearing, which restrained population growth and ultimately improved the economic condition of families.
  • Popular culture, leisure activities, and rituals reflecting the persistence of folk ideas reinforced and sometimes challenged communal ties and norms.
  • Leisure activities continued to be organized according to the religious calendar and the agricultural cycle and remained communal in nature.
    • Saint’s day festivities
    • Carnival
    • Blood sports
  • Local and church authorities continued to enforce communal norms through rituals of public humiliation.
    • Charivari
    • Stocks
    • Public whipping and branding
  • Reflecting folk ideas and social and economic upheaval, accusations of witchcraft peaked between 1580 and 1650.

TAKE A BREAK: Watch The Most Insane Rulers in History


Tired of all the reading? Check  out these TV shows and movies about various European events and people.


The Crown,2016: about Queen Elizabeth II115845.jpg

Victoria, 2016: The early life of Queen Victoria

Napoleon, 2002: While being held prisoner, Napoleon tells a young girl his life story

Versailles, 2015: King Louis XIV and the events while living at Versailles

The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1999: Adventures during the French Revolution

The Tudors, 2007: The life of Henry VIII


Click HERE for more European historically accurate movies