European Enlightenment MSt/MPhil Programme

‘Knowledge is Power’
‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’
‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’
‘God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh’

These are some of the slogans and rallying cries of the Enlightenment, the eighteenth-century set of interlocking European movements that founded our modern conceptions of science, religion, ethics, politics and aesthetics. Its protagonists include Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot in France, Locke in England and Adam Smith and Hume in Scotland, Lessing and Kant in Germany, Karamzin and Radischev in Russia. In their individual writings and in collective enterprises like the Encyclopédie, these thinkers interrogated and challenged the bases of human knowledge and the grounds for religious faith. They formulated notions of human rights and of scientific method, and they launched debates about religious tolerance and the separation of Church and State. Enlightenment thinkers also placed concepts of the human body and definitions of sensibility at the centre of their writings on ethics and aesthetics. Students taking the new Oxford M.St. course will engage with the philosophical, scientific and socio-economic innovations of the Enlightenment which continue to resonate today.

The Special Subjects are taught as seminars by members of the various departments within the Oxford Modern Languages Faculty. The aim is to offer graduates the opportunity to explore the literature and intellectual history of this crucial period in its main national traditions. The seminars will enable M.St. students to explore the relationships between the intellectual experiments of the Enlightenment and its literary and artistic innovations in genres, and to appreciate literary and artistic works in their historical, cultural and intellectual context.

A degree level knowledge of a European Language plus English is a requirement for admission to this option. All students take ‘Enlightenment Debates’ in Michaelmas Term; students then choose between ‘Writing the Enlightenment’ and ‘The Art of the Enlightenment’ in Hilary Term (not available in 2017-2018).

Faculty members participating may include:

Staff at the Wallace Collection participating may include:

  • The Curator of Eighteenth-Century Paintings
  • Dr Helen Jacobsen, Senior Curator and Curator of Eighteenth-Century Decorative Art
  • Dr Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour

Special Subjects

Compulsory Special Subject

Enlightenment Debates (Michaelmas Term)

This subject considers key episodes in the history of the ideas in the Enlightenment. Topics may include:

  • The Public Sphere
  • Savagery and Politeness
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Nation and Cosmopolitanism
  • God and Nature
  • Origins
  • Aesthetics
  • Print Culture
  • Kant’s ‘What is Enlightenment?’
  • Science
  • Commerce and Money

Choose one of these two Special Subjects

Writing the Enlightenment (Hilary Term)

This subject focuses on achievements in various literary forms and genres, including the novel, the dialogue, the philosophical tale, dictionaries and encyclopedias, travel writing, epic, pornography, satire, theatre.  Texts may include: Volatire, Candide; Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew; Montesquieu, Persian Letters; Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloise; Goethe, The Sufferings of Young Werther; Moritz, Anton Reiser; Richardson, Pamela; Sterne, A Senimental Journey; Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishements; Karamzin, Letters of a Russian Traveller; Mozart’s Operas and Da Ponte’s Libretti.

NOT AVAILABLE IN 2017-18: The Art of the Enlightenment: Image, Text, Object (Hilary Term)

This Special Subject offers MSt students a unique opportunity to work with the objects in one of the finest collection of eighteenth-century French art outside France:

Seminar topics may include:

  • The History of Eighteenth-Century Collecting
  • The Salon and Public Debate
  • Science, Technology, and Production
  • Politeness, Violence, and the Fashioning of the Male Body
  • Commerce and Luxury
  • The Representation of the Exotic

All topics will be approached by way of objects in the Wallace Collection, such as sales catalogues and illustrated books; paintings by Fragonard and Greuze; porcelain; snuff boxes; pistols and swords; furniture; chinoiserie.

NB Since the course involves handling the objects in the collection, student numbers cannot exceed 8.

The seminars will take place at the Wallace Collection in London, which is easily accessible on the X90 from the High Street, Oxford (alight at Baker Street + 5 minute walk).

Staff at the Wallace Collection involved in the course may include all or some of the following:

  • The Curator of Eighteenth-Century Paintings
  • Dr Helen Jacobsen, Senior Curator and Curator of Eighteenth-Century Decorative Art
  • Dr Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour

Students considering this course may wish to begin by exploring: Paris: Life and Luxury in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Charissa Bremer-David (2011); Charlotte Guichard, Les amateurs d’art à Paris au XVIIIe siècle (2008); Patrick Michel, Le commerce du tableau à Paris dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle : acteurs et pratiques (2007); Thomas Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris (1985).

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