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CSR Advanced Study Option: Critical Foundations of Renaissance Studies

Tutor: Professor David Lines ~ Place and time: Term 1, Thursdays, 10:30-12:00, in room FAB 2.35

This module will offer an overview of major developments and live critical methodologies across some disciplines in Renaissance Studies. Its aim is to provide a foundational awareness of selected approaches that have influenced (and continue to influence) the field. Attention will be paid, among others, to the development of the field of Renaissance Studies through to recent trends and orientations. By the end of the module, participants should have a clearer awareness of some of the key personalities and approaches that have shaped the study of the Renaissance, in fields such as history, literature, art history, and the history of classical reception.

Modalities of reading: students are expected to read, each time, the set text and one or two items from each of the other categories (starred items are especially helpful). Feel free to roam outside of the items listed. You should read selectively and critically. Try, as much as possible, to read the items listed not for all of the details they provide, but to capture their main argument, outlook, and methodology. Ask yourself what these scholars leave out and whether their approach really works and why.

NB: the syllabus below is subject to change.


Week 1: The rise of Renaissance Studies 

We know that the term ‘Renaissance’ emerges out of the writings of Giorgio Vasari on the lives of artists, but in fact the study of the Renaissance as a movement and a historical period did not really gain traction until Burckhardt's remarkable work, which still today continues to attract attention and congresses (many events took place, in fact, in 2018, the 200th anniversary of his birth). In this session we look at Burckhardt and at other influential interpreters of the Renaissance, especially Michelet and Huizinga, and ask in what sense their views and concerns continue to influence approaches within Renaissance Studies.

  • Set text: Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860; numerous rpts of the English translation available). Available electronically at
  • Other texts: Jules Michelet, Oeuvres complètes: Histoire de France, vol. VII (Renaissance), definitive ed. of 1895 French original available and downloadable at ; Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought, and Art in France and the Netherlands from the XIV to the XV Century (Dutch, 1919; numerous rpts. of the English translation, retitled in 1996 The Autumn of the Middle Ages); Georg Voigt, Die Renaissance: Italien (Berlin: Paul Aretz, 1932).
  • Selected criticism: Jo Tollebeek, ‘“Renaissance” and “Fossilization”: Michelet, Burckhardt, and Huizinga’, Renaissance Studies, 15.3 (2001), 354-366; William J. Courtenay, ‘Huizinga’s Heirs: Interpreting the Late Middle Ages’, in Herbst des Mittelalters? Fragen zur Bewertung des 14. und 15. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004; also Warwick e-book), pp. 25-36; William J. Bouwsma, ‘The Waning of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga’, Daedalus, 103.1 (Winter, 1974), 35–43 (accessible via JSTOR); Paul F. Grendler, ‘Georg Voigt: Historian of Humanism’, in Humanism and Creativity in the Renaissance: Essays in Honor of Ronald G. Witt, ed. by Christopher S. Celenza and Kenneth Gouwens (Leiden: Brill, 2006; Warwick e-book), pp. 295–326; ‘Renaissance, Interpretations of’ in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, ed. Paul F. Grendler (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1999; Library, REF CB361.E6), V, 288-291, 302, etc.

Week 2: Art history and culture from Aby Warburg onward 

Aby Warburg (d. 1929) is known for his influential views in art history among other fields, and these were carried forward by a number of other important scholars at the Warburg Institute, who had a strong interest in symbolism and iconology; among this group one should consider at least Ernst Cassirer, Erwin Panofsky, and E.H. Gombrich (but also Raymond Klibansky, Michael Baxendall, Fritz Saxl). In this session we look at how these views, sometimes mixed with Neoplatonism, affected the direction of art history, although we should always recall that Warburg's influence went far beyond the domain of art.

  • Set text: Aby Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity: Contributions to the Cultural History of the European Renaissance, transl. by David Britt, with intro. by Kurt W. Foster (Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1999).
  • Other texts: Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1960; also e-book) or Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (1962; also e-book); Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy (1963); idem, The Warburg Years (1919-1933): Essays on Language, Art, Myth, and Technology (transl. Yale University Press, 2013), and E.H. Gombrich, Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, vol. Symbolic Images (1966; 1972).
  • Selected criticism: Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky, ed. by M. Meiss, 2 vols (New York University Press, 1961); E. H. Gombrich, Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography, 2nd ed. (Phaidon, 1986); *Carlo Ginzburg, ‘From Aby Warburg to E.H. Gombrich’, in idem, Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989); Dieter Wuttke, Aby Warburgs Methode als Anregung und Aufgabe: mit einem Briefwechsel zum Kunstverständnis (Wiesbaden: O. Harassowitz, 1990); Rossella Malagò, ‘L’interpretazione dell’ideale classico del Rinascimento negli scritti di Aby Warburg e Jacob Buckhardt’, in L’ideale classico a Ferrara e in Italia nel Rinascimento (Florence: L. Olschki, 1998), pp. 239-252; *Giorgio Agamben, 'Aby Warburg and the Nameless Science', in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy (Stanford University Press, 1999), pp. 89-103; Art History as Cultural History: Warburg’s Projects (Amsterdam: G+B Arts International, 2000); *Georges Didi-Huberman, L'image survivante. Historie de l'art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (Editions de Minuit, 2002); Christopher D. Johnson, Memory, Metaphor, and Aby Warburg’s Atlas of Images (Cornell University Press, 2012); Audrey Rieber, Art, histoire et signification: un essai d’épistémologie d’histoire de l’art autour de l’iconologie d’Erwin Panofsky (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2012); Maud Hagelstein, Origine et survivance des symboles: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky (Hildesheim: Olms, 2014). On Warburg see also the website

Week 3: Renaissance Studies in the immediate aftermath of WW II: Kristeller, Garin, Yates 

After World War II, several scholars turned to the Renaissance period (and to humanism in particular) in search for solutions to the horrors of the war and what they saw as an unhealthy and reductive focus on science and technology. Paul Oskar Kristeller and Eugenio Garin emerged as the two most influential champions of Italian Renaissance humanism, yet they held very different ideas about how to define it and how it related to other aspects of Renaissance culture and society. This session will examine how different their conceptions were, how a Warburg historian (Frances Yates) offered yet a different model and focus, and why their respective views still today strongly influence interpretations of humanism, especially along linguistic and national lines.

  • Set texts: P.O. Kristeller, 'Humanism and Scholasticism in the Italian Renaissance'; Eugenio Garin, Italian Humanism: Philosophy and Civic Life in the Renaissance, trans. Peter Munz (1965; Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975).
  • Other texts: Frances Yates, Occult Philosophy in Elizabethan England (1979).
  • Selected criticism: Michele Feo, ‘Eugenio Garin: il Burckhardt italiano’, Quaderni petrarcheschi, 17-18 (2007-08), 1177-1181; Cesare Vasoli, ‘Garin, Burckhardt e la concezione storiografica del Rinascimento’, in Eugenio Garin: dal Rinascimento all’Illuminismo. Atti del convegno: Firenze, 6-8 marzo 2009 (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2011), pp. 1-36; *James Hankins, 'Two Twentieth-Century Interpreters of Renaissance Humanism: Eugenio Garin and Paul Oskar Kristeller,' Comparative Literature 23 (2001), 3-19; Kristeller Reconsidered: Essays on his Life and Scholarship, ed. by John Monfasani (New York: Italica Press, 2006); Stephan Toussaint, ‘Kristeller e Garin: polemiche umanistiche’, Historia Philosophica: An International Journal, 12 (2014), 11–24; Jill Kraye, ‘Beyond Moral Philosophy: Renaissance Humanism and the Philosophical Canon’, Rinascimento, 56 (2016), 3–22. See also entries on Kristeller and Garin in Oxford Bibliographies. 

Week 4: Social/cultural history and microhistory

Starting in 1929 the so-called Annales School in France offered a different approach in history from that of previous historians, who concentrated on politics, diplomacy, and high actors in history. Championing a 'total' history and of the mentalities of the periods they studied, they were influential through the works of historians such as Lucien Febvre (The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais 1942), Marc Bloch (The Historian's Craft 1949), Jacques Le Goff (Intellectuals in the Middle Ages 1955), and Fernand Braudel (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II 2nd ed. 1975 ), reaching most recently to Roger Chartier. Although several of the themes of the Annales school were welcome to later historians, particularly with their focus on the more marginal elements of society, the emphasis of that school on longue-durée history was rejected by the architects of the social and cultural history that arose in the 1960s and 1970s especially among Italian and Anglophone scholars. This session examines in particular their investigation of much more focused aspects, personalities, and events. One of the famous examples was Carlo Ginzburg's Il formaggio e i vermi (1976, transl. as The Cheese and the Worms), which – though not his best book – centred on the trial for heresy of a miller in Friuli and quickly gained an international audience. Also highly engaging is Natalie Zemon-Davis's The Return of Martin Guerre (1983) – a story of identity theft in sixteenth-century France. Our set text gives a sense of how interest in social and cultural history has evolved in more recent years.

  • Set text: Beat Kümin, Drinking Matters: Public Houses and Social Exchange in Early Modern Central Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  • Other texts: Carlo Ginzburg, I benandanti: ricerche sulla stregoneria e sui culti agrari tra Cinquecento e Seicento (1966; transl. as The Night Battles: Withcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries); Natalie Zemon-Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (1983); Edward Muir, Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta and Factions in Friuli during the Renaissance (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Guido Ruggiero, Binding Passions: Tales of Magic, Marriage, and Power at the End of the Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 1993).
  • Selected criticism: Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe, ed. by Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991); Small Worlds: Method, Meaning, and Narrative in Microhistory, ed. by James F. Brooks, Christopher R.N. DeCorse, and John Walton (School for Advanced Research Press, 2008); special issue (Microhistory and the Historical Imagination: New Frontiers) of The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 47.1 (2017).

Week 5: Literary theory and the New Historicism (with Prof. Catherine Bates)

This session will look at influential developments especially related to literary criticism and theory, from structuralism (e.g., the New Criticsm of scholars such as Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren) and post-structuralism (Deconstruction) to the theories of Foucault, Greenblatt, and the New Historicism. Michel Foucault – one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century – was strongly affected by currents in literary theory as well as by the thought of Nietzsche. He advocated an 'archeological' approach to the past and emphasized the relationships between knowledge and power as well as the incommensurability of the past in relationship to the present. Stephen Greenblatt, an American literary critic especially known for his study of Shakespeare, has been hugely influential in taking up several of Foucault's themes and stressing the interconnections between literature, politics, and history. He offers a contextual and historical reading of literature, in which the fixity and naturalness of various conceptions are called into question. Looking at two key articles written by Louis Montrose and Jean Howard at a point when New Historicism was first being theorized, we will go on to discuss ways in which the strengths and weaknesses of that critical position gave rise to subsequent developments in literary theory, the evolution of numerous subfields, and to major realignments within the discipline.

    • Set text: Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (1966, selections); Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980); Louis A. Montrose, ‘Renaissance Literary Studies and the Subject of History’, English Literary Renaissance, 16.1 (1986): 5-12; Jean E. Howard, ‘The New Historicism in Renaissance Studies’, English Literary Renaissance, 16.1 (1986): 13–43.
    • Other texts: Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry, rev. ed. (1968); Paul Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations (1969; Northwestern University Press, 1974).
    • Selected criticism: *Vincent B. Leitch, American Literary Criticism from the Thirties to the Eighties (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Richard Danson Brown, ‘From Burckhardt to Greenblatt: New Historicisms and Old’, in The Renaissance in Europe: A Reader, ed. by Keith Whitlock, pp. 4-11; John Martin, ‘Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence: The Discovery of the Individual in Renaissance Europe’, American Historical Review, 102.5 (December 1997), 1309-42 (extracts in The Renaissance in Europe: A Reader, ed. by Keith Whitlock, pp. 11-31); *Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism (Chicago University Press, 2001).

(Week 6: Reading Week)

Week 7: The history of science and Thomas Kuhn 

The appearance of Kuhn's book in 1962 caused consternation and debate among philosophers and historians of science for a number of reasons: one was his view of the messiness of the scientific process, which he saw as not nearly as smooth and progressive as had been assumed by Whig historians, but as proceeding by periods of revolution and (more often) of stasis. Kuhn also described 'normal science' in ways that many practitioners and theorists found unflattering, and argued that there was no neat way of evaluating different scientific 'paradigms'. It is thanks to Kuhn that the latter word entered the lay vocabulary, and that historians of science came to give increasing attention, not only to the 'correctness' of the theories enunciated in the past, but the frameworks and communities in which they had been developed, thus giving rise for instance to the sociology of science.

  • Set text: Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962; 5th ed., 2020).
  • Other texts: Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life: Including a Translation of Thomas Hobbes, Dialogus physicus de natura aëris by Simon Schaffer (Princeton University Press, 1985); Mario Biagioli, Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism (University of Chicago Press, 1993).
  • Selected criticism: K. Brad Wray, Kuhn's Evolutionary Social Epistemology (Cambridge University Press, 2011); Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Revisited, ed. by Vasso Kindi and Theodore Arabatzis (New York: Routledge, 2012); Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions--Fifty Years on, ed. by William J. Devlin and Alisa Bokulich (Cham: Springer, 2015); Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions at Fifty: Reflections on a Science Classic, ed. by Robert J. Richards and Lorraine Daston (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

Week 8: History of scholarship and classical reception 

The study of the ancient (and, especially, classical) world (Altertumswissenschaft) used to be viewed as an effort to recover the pure past, without the accretions brought about by (mis)interpretations across time and space. In the past few decades, however, much attention has come to be given to the reception of classical texts, a burgeoning field that has been the site for broader re-evaluations and new methodologies on multiple levels: the turn toward cultural studies, the transformation of intellectual history, the understanding of more active processes of interpretation (indicated for instance by marginalia), the consideration of the wider ancient world as opposed to just Greece and Rome, the study of forgeries as well as works of genuine scholarship, of Christian as well as pagan ideas, the study of the vernacular as well as Greek and Latin, etc. This session will look at some of this complexity by considering in particular the interest in reading strategies and marginalia sparked by a seminal article by Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, which led to important research projects just now coming fully to fruition, including the ‘Archaeology of Reading’ project, and to new perspectives on the issue of reception. Other scholars (particularly intellectual historians and historians of education) have studied the art of note-taking, from books but also from experience and observation.

  • Set text: Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, ‘“Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read his Livy’, Past & Present, 129 (Nov. 1990), 30–78; also see
  • Other texts: Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (London: Duckworth, 1986); Roger Chartier, The Order of Books (selections); Ann Blair, ‘The Rise of Note-Taking in Early Modern Europe,’ Intellectual History Review, 20.3 (2010), 303–316; Annabel Brett, 'What Is Intellectual History Now?', in What Is History Now?, ed. D. Cannadine (London: Palgrave, 2002); Charles Martindale, ‘Thinking through Reception’, in Classics and the Uses of Reception, ed. by Charles Martindale and Richard F. Thomas (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006), pp. 1-13; idem, 'Reception', in A Companion to the Classical Tradition, ed. by Craig Kallendorf (Blackwell, 2007), pp. 297-311;.
  • Selected criticism: Robert C. Holub, Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction (London: Methuen, 1984); James Hankins, 'Forging Links with the Past', Journal of the History of Ideas, 52.3 (1991), 509-518; Charles Martindale, Redeeming the Text : Latin Poetry and the Hermeneutics of Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Presss, 1993); Lorna Hardwick, Reception Studies (Oxford University Press, 2003); Christopher S. Wood, 'Reception and the Classics', in Reception and the Classics: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Classical Tradition, ed. by William Brockliss et al. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 163-173. Also see the International Journal of the Classical Tradition; edited volume Translation and the Classic: Identity as Change in the History of Culture (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Week 9: Materiality, the senses, and space

Recently social and cultural historians have accorded increasing attention to material culture in the pre-modern world, with a particular emphasis on how the senses functioned and how we can reconstruct significant aspects of a world foreign to us via taste, smell, and touch or digital tools that support a new approach to space (see The scholarship of Evelyn Welch, Nicholas Terpstra, Fabrizio Nevola, and others provides interesting models.

  • Set text: Experiences of the Street in Early Modern Italy, special issue, ed. by Georgia Clarke and Fabrizio Nevola, I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 16 (September 2013).
  • Other texts: David Garrioch, 'Sounds of the City: The Soundscape of Early Modern European Towns', Urban History, 30.1 (May 2003), 5-25 (a classic, combining senses with space); Mark M. Smith, Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Touching in History (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007); Herman Roodenburg, ed., A Cultural History of the Senses in the Renaissance (London: Bloomsbury, 2014); Julia Rombough, 'Regulating Sense and Space in Late Renaissance Florence', Urban History, 48 (2021), 1–20 provides an interesting example of examination of both the senses and urban life along with some useful bibliography. For a different approach, Georgia Clarke, 'The Emperor's Hat: City, Space, and Identity in Contemporary Accounts of Charles V's Entry into Bologna in 1529', I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 16 (September 2013), 197–220. A useful overview of other concerns is The Material Renaissance, ed. by Michelle O'Malley and Evelyn Welch (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010). See also: Niall Atkinson, The Noisy Renaissance: Sound, Architecture, and Florentine Urban Life (Penn State University Press, 2016); Nicholas Terpstra and Colin Rose, eds., Mapping Space, Sense, and Movement in Florence: Historical GIS and the Early Modern City (Routledge, 2016); Rob Boddice and Mark. M. Smith, Emotion, Sense, Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

  • Week 10: Global history and the 'global Renaissance'

    In the past decade or so, the rise of global history has made significant inroads into a number of approaches to the Renaissance. Although the approach of global history is not universally accepted, particularly by fans of local archival studies, it has been leading to important discussions about historical methodologies and geographical concentrations. This approach has been blended with interests in, for instance, the history of food (see previous week) in the work of scholars such as Rebecca Earle.

  • Set texts: Sebastian Conrad, What Is Global History? (Princeton, 2017), esp. Ch. 3 (see here); Zoltán Biedermann, '(Dis)connected History and the Multiple Narratives of Global Early Modernity', Modern Philology 119.1 (August 2021), 13-32.
  • Other texts: Catherine Holmes and Naomi Standen, 'Introduction: Towards a Global Middle Ages', Past & Present, 238 issue supplement 13 (Nov. 2018), 1-44, available here; the EUI Global History Seminar Group (European University, Florence), 'For a Fair(er) Global History' (February 2021), available online; Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Three Ways to Be Alien: Travails and Encounters in the Early Modern World (2011); Ayesha Ramachandran, The Worldmakers: Global Imagining in Early Modern Europe (2015); Global History and Microhistory, ed. by John-Paul Ghobrial, Past and Present supplement 14 (2019), available here; Stefan Hanß, 'Lepanto in the Americas: Global Storytelling and Mediterranean History', Journal of Early Modern History, 26(3), 163-198. doi: opens in a new window