Historical research approaches societal phenomena from the fourth dimension: time. Identifying and analysing the processes of change and continuity helps historians to better understand occurrences and their circumstances. In furtherance of this goal, they search for so-called caesurae, or breaking points in time. Thus, the caesura marking the start of the Early Modern period is usually placed between 1450 and 1550 because drastic changes appear to have taken place at that time and these transformations spanned the political, economic, social, institutional, religious, and cultural spheres. The caesura at the end of the period is usually situated around the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when profound changes at all levels of society were again observed.
The identification of such caesurae gives rise to a great deal of debate touching upon the very core of what historical change means. After all, how should such countless political, social and other developments be understood? What was the precise nature of these changes? What weight should be given to the respective factors in determining whether a caesura had taken place? To what extent was there a correlation between the various developments? A further question is whether the changes identified at the start and end of a period lend the era a unique character, clearly setting it apart from what came before and distinguishing what came after.
The Institute for Early Modern History (IEMH), a research alliance between Ghent University and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, intends to utilise the collective expertise available at both institutions in assessing the specificity and nature of the transformational processes that took place during this ear. In addition, there are three chronological focal points for this collaboration, which can be further divided thematically. The first of which is the transition period from the late Middle Ages to the Early Modern period. Indeed, to what extent does this constitute a turning point in history? Were the changes so dramatic that we can speak of a new kind of society and a new era? A similar analysis will be performed for the transition from the Early Modern period to the Modern. Furthermore, are the developments that took place around 1500 and 1800 comparable, and what is the value of such a comparative analysis? Thirdly, the Early Modern period itself will be scrutinised. Was this period characterised by continuity? Were developments gradual? Orgs it possible to distinguish clear turning points in which significant changes occurred across several social spheres?
Our research alliance offers an excellent opportunity for tackling such highly abstract and overarching questions. The scientists involved have complementary fields of expertise, which will enable them to translate these conceptual themes into concrete historical investigation. Researchers at both institutions are immersed in studying the period from 1500 to 1800. Furthermore, the scholars researching the Early Modern period at Ghent University include a number of specialists already engaged in examining the transition of the late Middle Ages, while their colleagues in Brussels are focussing their efforts on the years between 1750 and 1850. Both research groups are also highly complementary in terms of historical themes: together, their investigations have run the full gamut of economic, social, cultural, political, and military factors at play throughout the period. In short, the mission of the IEMH is to coordinate the exchange of the results of their investigations in order to make a solid contribution towards answering the questions outlined above.