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Why Europe?

The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path

Why did capitalism and colonialism arise in Europe and not elsewhere? Why were parliamentarian and democratic forms of government founded there? What factors led to Europe’s unique position in shaping the world? Thoroughly researched and persuasively argued, Why Europe? tackles these classic questions with illuminating results.

Michael Mitterauer traces the roots of Europe’s singularity to the medieval era, specifically to developments in agriculture. While most historians have located the beginning of Europe’s special path in the rise of state power in the modern era, Mitterauer establishes its origins in rye and oats. These new crops played a decisive role in remaking the European family, he contends, spurring the rise of individualism and softening the constraints of patriarchy. Mitterauer reaches these conclusions by comparing Europe with other cultures, especially China and the Islamic world, while surveying the most important characteristics of European society as they took shape from the decline of the Roman empire to the invention of the printing press. Along the way, Why Europe? offers up a dazzling series of novel hypotheses to explain the unique evolution of European culture.

400 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2010

History: European History, General History

Medieval Studies

Sociology: Social History


"Every scholar of medieval studies will find something of interest here."


Table of Contents

Translator’s Note

Preface to the English Edition



1 Rye and Oats: The Agrarian Revolution of the Early Middle Ages

2 Manor and Hide: The Manorial Roots of European Social Structures

3 The Conjugal Family and Bilateral Kinship: Social Flexibility through Looser Ties of Descent

4 The Feudal System and the Estates: A Special Path of Feudalism

5 The Papal Church and Universal Religious Orders: Western Christendom as a Highly Organized Religious Community

6 The Crusades and Protocolonialism: The Roots of European Expansionism

7 Preaching and Printing: Early Modes of Mass Communication

CONCLUS ION “Through what concatenation of circumstances . . . ?” Interacting Determinants of Europe’s Special Path




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