Literary history has largely ignored its own origins in the late Renaissance, and we still lack a full account of how literary history, based in the European vernacular literatures, emerged during the early modern period. Pask attempts to redress this lack by arguing, primarily through English examples, for the long-term significance of the cultural debate between Ancients and Moderns across Europe. The Moderns argued for the possibility of historical change in literary standards; the Ancients, for the putatively unchanging models of the Greek and Roman classics. Probably the most important outcome of this debate was the self-conscious historicity of the European national literatures as they consolidated new forms of cultural authority. The idea of historical change aligned the literary Moderns with a revolution in scientific discourse, including Baconian science. It also produced an account of national literature that was cosmopolitan in scope rather than narrowly chauvinistic.

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