Defining Documents in World History: 17th Century Review

“This collection uses a broad range of primary source documents from the 17th century to illustrate the key themes of that eventful era—scientific discovery and exploration; religious wars; flowering of political theory; and the expansion of the mercantile economy and global trade. The editor draws documents from Europe, with a separate section on England’s Civil War and the Restoration; Asia; the Muslim world; and the European colonies in the Americas. Each of the 49 articles starts with the historical context for the document, a brief biography of the document’s author, the historical document itself, an analysis of the key points of the document, and a summary of essential themes and the document’s historical significance. The types of documents range from religious tracts and sermons to speeches, essays, laws, edicts, and letters written by scholars, scientists, philosophers, clerics, kings, and revolutionaries. As an example, the editor has included Galileo’s Starry Messenger in which the astronomer asserts the earth revolves around the sun, raising questions as to man’s place in the universe and illustrating a key debate of this century—science versus religion. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Laws of Military Households, which led to the demise of the samurai class and thus indirectly to the urbanization of Japan, shows us that this century was also a turning point in the East as well as in the West. Reading these primary sources with their accompanying explanatory notes brings alive this pivotal time when the world shifted from the medieval period to the modern age—a historical period that has relevance to us today as we go through our own disruptive transition from the scientific to technological age.

“While the format for encyclopedias of important primary documents has not changed much over the years (introduction/history, document, analysis, extra reading, etc.), the curated content and analysis of such collocations has vastly improved. The publisher's "Defining Documents in World History" series brings together some obvious choices from the time period covered by this particular volume, including portions of classic works by Locke (Second Treatise on Civil Government) and Hobbes (Leviathan), and John Rolfe's letter to Sir Edwin Sandys, alongside the Treaty of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years' War in 1648. The volume also highlights documents from the Muslim world and Japan and China not often included in coverage of the 17th century. Excerpts from less-familiar works like the "Twelve Decrees" issued by Mughal emperor Jahangir, or Japanese shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu's "Laws Governing Military Households" highlight primary sources that are rarely taught in high school or early-college courses. The images and document transcription are excellent, and the analysis and future readings are well written and researched by experts in their fields, bringing additional information and perspective to the less well-known documents…this collection of documents is a welcome addition to any high school or collegiate library.

Summing Up: Recommended. High school through undergraduate students; general readers.”