This is an archived course. A more recent version may be available at

Archived Versions

The Age of Reason: Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries

As taught in: Spring 2005

An image of a man asleep at his desk being attacked by several owls and bats.  The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya y Lucientes.

Aquatint by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters," 1797-1798. (Image by Fastfission at Wikimedia Commons.)


Prof. Jeffrey S. Ravel

MIT Course Number:




Course Highlights

This course features an in-class exercise on the trial of Louis XVI in the assignments section. This course also features archived syllabi from various semesters.

Course Description

Has there ever been an "Age of Reason?" In the western tradition, one might make claims for various moments during Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. In this class, however, we will focus on the two and a half centuries between 1600 and 1850, a period when insights first developed in the natural sciences and mathematics were seized upon by social theorists, institutional reformers and political revolutionaries who sought to change themselves and the society in which they lived. Through the study of trials, art, literature, theater, music, politics, and culture more generally, we will consider evolution and revolution in these two and a half centuries. We will also attend to those who opposed change on both traditional and radical grounds.

*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.