Wednesday, December 27, 2006

the enlightenment ? no so enlighted !

As you all probably know Xavier and I are now studying in Maastricht. I love the university and all the Dutch students in my class. They integrated us immediatly as opposed to what I expected. We are now very good friends. They have a lot of respect for foreigners and always make a great effort to understand and help us when we try to explain something difficult in Dutch. I am leaving Maastricht next saturday, wat makes me feel very sad. They all proposed me to come back to study here next year. The subjects we are studying are also very interesting. During the first period ( 5 september to 27 octobre ) we had a course on the enlightenment. I was passionate by the subject. That's why I would like to share it with you.
Most people consider the enlightenment like a period of equality, stability and rationality during which science emerge as a source of knowledge that could not be contradicted. The problem is that this popular belief is opposed to the reality. During our classes we have seen many examples of injustices and inequalities. I will present two cases.
The first obvious example of inequality was between men and women. In 1789 in France the declaration of the rights of men and of the citizen was adopted but women were not seen as citizens. They were represented by their husband or their father. But the enlightenment was seen a period of equality, what threatened the traditional place given to women in society: the lowest one. Science, which could not be contradicted, gave arguments to prove that women could not be citizens and vote. Scientists tried to find argument to keep the tradional role patron. They explained that women are made to have babies that's why they had to stay at home. Some said that if women were engaged in an activity outside the house it would cost them too much energy. The consequence would be that they would not have enough energy to carry a baby. Some also said that the skull of a women was usually larger than the one of men compared to the rest of the body, which is also the case of children. Those scientists concluded that women were childish and therefore unable to vote.
The second example of inequality is slavery. The slaves were used during the enlightenment. Science played an important part in justifying the use of slaves. For some scientists the slaves were the gap that was missing between the whites and the apes. They were inferior and could be treated badly.
I learned during this course that you also have to be careful when you study history and take different point of views to have a good representation of what really happened. I advise you to visit this website: or to read 'Beloved' by Toni Morrison. I can lend the book to anyone that would be interested in it. It is a good illustration of what we study here.


XavierOberneck said...

Dear caroline, thanj you for this little overview of what we learnt there in Maastricht! This is an important part of an education at university: breaking down popular misconceptions!

I still have a little comment: are you sure of the link for the website about "Beloved"? Because when you click on it it sends you on the website of an artist...

Happy new year!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Xavier,
of course I am sure ! You must watch the entire movie (which is not very long) to understand why it is a good example of our course.