Notes on Bias and Sources
Modern Inquisitions has a bias: we focus on the connections betwee
seventeenth century and ‘‘modern’’ life, not on the distinctions be
them. Because of that bias—and our focus on modern institution
bureaucracies, colonialism, and race—we risk encouraging the perce
that little of substance changed between the seventeenth century an
nineteenth.That, of course, was not the
Seminal differences distinguish the early modern world from late
turies. The creation of nation-states built on individual sovereignt
the secularization of life—along with enormous shifts in the conce
and practices of power that ensued—are among the most crucial. I
that time a feeling of strangeness. You have encountered this ‘‘str
ness’’ in Inquisition testimony—in assumptions about social hiera
and human nature, in the weakness of subjects vis-à-vis state institu
in the literalist interpretation of the Bible, in the intricacies of state
als, in rhetorical arrogance, and in musings about devils and Jews (a
A focus on difference also points to a seminal lesson about bure
part of, and do the bidding of, larger political systems.
A significant body of Renaissance scholars have sought to emp
the uniqueness of the period. Some of the peculiarities of Renais
life involve the way political authority was effected and conceptua
we are shocked by the seemingly unchecked powers of governing
tutions and startled by the political culture of personal monarchies
their ritual celebrations of kingly
Contra the thrust of M
Inquisitions, these historians would be reluctant to use ‘‘state’’ to c
terize either early modern politics or the emerging bureaucracies
Previous Page Next Page