The Renaissance

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What was the dark side of the Renaissance?

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One way of addressing the dark side of the Renaissance is to look at the Euro-centric concept as an outgrowth of early globalization. The mineral wealth, especially silver, extracted from the New World, supported Europe's economic boom. The Crusades had required massive outlays of money and human labor, which the European powers aimed to recoup through colonizing the Americas.

Closely related to the economic exploitation of resource extraction was the racially unbalanced exploitation of human resources. Encountering so many different types of people in the Americas was unsettling to the least. The Europeans struggled to locate them in the primarily Biblical, Judeo-Christian conceptual universe. Bringing them to spiritual salvation all too often was enforced rather than voluntary. Europeans were often confident of their own superiority and formulated new ideas about "natural" hierarchy that justified European domination. Even in Shakespeare's Tempest we find references to Americans' inferiority and even questioning their humanity: "O brave new world, that has such creatures in it!"

Enslaving Africans to send them to work on New World plantations largely grew out of the Renaissance economic expansion, for disease had killed millions of Native Americans. Still others had died in the wars of conquest.

In culture as well, especially in literacy because Europeans deemed writing the supreme form of communication, European dominance was promoted. As Indians learned to read and write, mostly in the conqueror's tongue, they simultaneously were encouraged to denigrate their own culture and admire that of the conquerors. On literacy in particular, Walter Mignolo's work should prove useful.

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The Renaissance tended to portray itself as a period of enlightenment and movement away from the barbarism of the "dark ages", more properly termed the medieval period, preceding it. The reality is more complex, though.

First, in religion, the Renaissance was marked by the Reformation, which consisted of two different approaches to church reform. One resulted in Protestantism, which broke away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church; the other—properly termed the counter-Reformation—attempted reform of abuses within the Church. The dark side of this reform was the ensuing period of devastating religious warfare that consumed Europe.

The Renaissance was a great era of exploration. Although this increased Europeans' knowledge and understanding of the world and led to many scientific discoveries, it had a dark side in the development of conquest, exploitation, and colonialism of peoples in Africa and the Americas.

The development of new technologies is often viewed as a positive element of this period, but this also included advanced weaponry, which allowed people to kill each other far more efficiently than they previously could. New technology also made many jobs obsolete, disrupting the lives of skilled craftspeople.

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