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Enlightenment, geography of

  Conventionally, an understanding of the Enlightenment as a distinctive European and eighteenth-century philosophical and historical enterprise occurring in national context. In this understanding, the central tenet of the Enlightenment is the public use of reason to change human society and to de-mystify the world, the Enlightenment is treated as almost entirely a European affair, as relatively homogeneous and with quite precise temporal definition between, for example, the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the 1793 guillotining of Louis XVI (Hulme and Jordanova, 1990). Enlightenment philosophers shared a general commitment to criticizing the \'old order\', to the emancipation of civil society through knowledge, education and science (what many saw as the \'Science of Man\'), and shared, too, a belief in future \'progress\', both as a means to understand and manage social transformation and as an end in itself — the perfectibility of the human condition (Porter, 1990). In these terms, Enlightenment scholars have widely debated the \'what\' and the \'why\' of the Enlightenment. What little attention has been paid to the geography of Enlightenment has largely considered it at the level of the nation-state within Europe with limited attention to the Enlightenment in the Americas. Porter and Teich (1981) is a key work in this respect with its emphasis upon the Enlightenment\'s geographical, social and political location as a cultural movement\' [original emphasis], and its attempts \'to grasp the meaning of Enlightenment in thirteen national contexts\' (Porter and Teich, 1981, p. vii).

For several reasons, however, this understanding is now no longer widely held, or, at least, is being strongly challenged. The idea of the Enlightenment has been subject to renewed scrutiny (Outram, 1995; Schmidt, 1996). To understand the geography of the Enlightenment as a national matter obscures variation within the nation in the production and reception of Enlightenment ideas, even given the fact that the idea of the nation was uncertain in this period (see nation; nationstate). Further, conceiving of national Enlightenments tends to essentialize the Enlightenment either in terms of defining characteristics or in relation to the lives of individual philosophers and to treat questions of geography as simply matters of location. Finally, it is now accepted that the European Enlightenment was substantially moulded through encounters with other parts of the world, notably with the Americas and with the Pacific (Hulme and Jordanova, 1990; Outram, 1995). For these reasons, consideration should be given to a more diverse understanding of Enlightenment and its geography (see Enlightenment, geography and). (CWJW)

References Hulme, P. and Jordanova, L., eds, 1990: The Enlightenment and its shadows. London: Routledge. Outram, D. 1995: The Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Porter, R. 1990: The Enlightenment. London: Macmillan. Porter, R. and Teich, M., eds, 1981: The Enlightenment in national context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schmidt, J., ed., 1996: What is enlightenment?: eighteenth-century answers and twentieth-century questions. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.



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