I recently completed a course on Early Modern Europe in which I had to write an essay discussing the concept of the 17th Century Crisis. I took the view that given a lot of what happened in the 17th century, particularly in the first half, were the ramifications of the events of the 16th century (the Protestant Reformation in particular), it couldn’t rightly be viewed as a crisis so much as the culmination of many changes occurring in multiple areas, which resulted in general disorder

(17th Century Crisis contd.) and strife. However I heard from classmates who had taken a class in Medieval to Early Modern Russia who argued that given that a similar degree of disorder and revolution was taking place in Russia during roughly the same time period–which could not be attributed to the Protestant Reformation–meant that there was some kind of underlying zeitgeist of confusion and devastation going on. My problem is that the term “crisis” is innaccurate since that word usually

(17th Century Crisis, contd. 3) connotes some kind of flashpoint, and I think a hundred years is a little too long to be defined as that kind of zero hour event, except perhaps in the very longest of historical lens. I’m curious to know what your thoughts/opinions on this debate are.

What an interesting question! 

I don’t really have a problem with the idea of a crisis being a long-term process rather than a “flashpoint” or “zero hour event.” 

After all, historians of the Roman Empire talk about the “crisis of the third century” to describe a series of assassinations, coups, civil wars, plagues, economic depressions, etc. because even though a lot of these are separate events, there are a lot of commonalities between them – the over-concentration of political power in the armies, the breakdown of economic and political networks that allowed the empire to function, etc. 

Likewise, today we talk about climate change as a crisis, even though it too is the “culmination of many changes occurring in multiple areas.” 

So to me, the question of accuracy would come down to whether there are sufficient elements of commonality to tie the various events together. 

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