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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


ID Cultures: Cultures of the Renaissance

ID Cultures:  Cultures of the Renaissance

Course Convenor: Dr Tim Chesters (, Section of French

This module aims to analyse some of the most relevant aspects of this rich and controversial historical period. The Renaissance will be studied through an interdisciplinary approach, touching upon its main ideological and cultural points. This will offer students an ample opportunity to engage with one of the defining periods in modern history, while developing their academic interests, which may lead to doctoral research. The Renaissance is one of the most crucial periods in European cultural history. Europe saw at this time a revolution in communication: printing was invented, and the development of the printed book had a profound impact on knowledge, literature, religion, systems of belief, and social relations, including gender relations. The humanistic movement, which began in Italy during the 15th century, was based on a deep rediscovery of the classical heritage; and through this rediscovery a modern vision of the world was born. This led to a new understanding of language, literature, music, art, politics, religion, philosophy, medicine, law, or social manners. These ideas were soon to spread across Europe, defining the Renaissance as a moment of intense cultural exchange. There was a common project of reform among scholars of different nations. The Renaissance is also a paradoxical period: one of economic crisis, war and violence. National and religious identities were confronted and challenged, leading for example to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. This interdisciplinary module enables you to investigate many dimensions of intellectual and literary culture and practice across Renaissance Europe, whether or not you have previously studied the period.

You can specialize in the language(s) of your own choosing and also have the opportunity to handle early printed books and to be shown how they were made and what information they yield as artefacts. The libraries of Cambridge have exceptional holdings of early printed books. Sessions will be held by colleagues from different Departments. The language used will be English. However, it is strongly recommended that students have knowledge of at least one European language.

Preliminary reading:

R. Chartier, The Order of Books, tr. Lydia Cochrane, Stanford UP, 1994

G. Cavallo and R. Chartier (eds.), A History of Reading in the West, first published 1997

E. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, Cambridge UP, 1979

J. H. Elliott, The Old World and the New (1492-1650) (Cambridge: CUP, 1970)

E. H. Gombrich, Symbolic Images: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (London: Phaidon, 1972)

Thomas Greene, The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven: Yale UP, 1982)

P. Grendler, Culture and Censorship in late Renaissance Italy and France,1981

P. O. Kristeller, Renaissance Concepts of Man, and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1972)

Eva D. Marcu, Sixteenth-century Nationalism (New York: Abaris, 1975)

D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, London, British Library, 1985 (repr. CUP, 1999);,

M. McLaughlin, Literary Imitation in the Italian Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Literary Imitation in Italy from Dante to Bembo (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

Orest Ranum (ed.), National Consciousness, History, and Culture in Early Modern Europe (Baltimore and London, The Johns Hopkins UP, 1975)

B. Richardson, Printing, Writers and Readers in Renaissance Italy, Cambridge UP, 1998

B. Richardson, ‘Questions of language’, in The Cambridge Companion in Modern Italian Culture, eds Z. Baranski and R. West (Cambridge, CUP: 2001), 63-79.


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