Welcome to the website of Mark Greengrass. I am an Emeritus Professor at the University of Sheffield and author, most recently, of Christendom Destroyed. A History of Europe (1517-1648),volume 5 of the New Penguin History of Europe (general editor, Sir David Cannadine), published in July 2014 by Penguin UK, and December 2014 by Viking Press, USA
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The Tower of Babel was one of the four Biblical images of the potential and perils of human knowledge. Alongside maps of the presumed location of the Garden of Eden, nautical designs for Noah’s Ark, and architectural drawings of Solomon’s Temple, it regularly featured among the only illustrations to adorn the larger editions of Protestant Bibles from Geneva. All four images represent different ways in which knowledge about the world was changing in the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth centuries. Painters in Europe were particularly attracted to the story of Babel during this period. They used it to encapsulate the major theme behind this new history of the period: the collapse of Western Christendom. Christendom was a millennial project to create a belief community in the West, sustained by a superstructure of institutions (especially the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire). In less than a century and half, that project collapsed as completely as Babel. Europe was the geographical projection which emerged in its wake. Framed in the mirror of the wider world with which Europe’s relations were in the process of changing fundamentally, Europe became the way of representing its divisions – religious, political, social and intellectual – which culminated in a dramatic paroxysm around the middle of the seventeenth century. It is a story which leads us to reflect on our own perceptions of Europe today.
Babel is also a good way of reflecting the various historical projects with which I have been associated over the past decade.