The Italian Elites project at the University of Warwick was initiated over fifteen years ago. It had its genesis in the concentration of interests in the Italian Renaissance in the History and Art History Departments, with five members of staff contributing to the teaching of the 'Venice Term', when each year a group of Warwick undergraduates spend the autumn term in Venice. The project's direction was influenced by the work of Professor Michael Mallett and Dr Humfrey Butters as editors of volumes of the Lettere of Lorenzo de' Medici. Initially it took the form of a series of one-day symposia.
In 1991 Dr Christine Shaw joined the project as a senior research fellow at the Humanities Research Centre, working on political exiles in Quattrocento Italy, and financed by further grants from the British Academy and the Humanities Research Board (including one of the first BA/HRB Institutional Fellowships), she was able to develop research into the political elites of Siena and Genoa to complement the existing expertise on Florence and Venice within the Department of History. From this came two monographs, The Politics of Exile in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge University Press) and L'Ascesa al potere di Pandolfo Petrucci il Magnifico, Signore di Siena (Il Leccio), both published in 2000, as well as several other publications on Siena, and latterly on Genoa. Her book, Popular Government and Oligarchy in Renaissance Italy, as with The Politics of Exile, uses Siena as a model with which to compare and contrast developments in other Italian states.
This reflects what have become major emphases of the Elites project: on comparisons between states, and on placing stress on the networks of elites crossing the boundaries of different states. Another emphasis has been on how the various elites - political, social, ecclesiastical, professional and cultural - overlapped and interacted. This breadth of interest has been apparent in the symposia which continued to be held once or twice each year, on subjects ranging from universities and the medical profession, to exiles, ambassadors and political councils.
There was an increasing emphasis on cultural elites in following years, and there were further symposia on art history. Professor Julian Gardner, who had been joint director of the project with Michael Mallett for four years, became sole director following the latter's retirement. Professor Mallett was still very actively involved. The incorporation of the Elites project into the AHRB Centre for the Study of Renaissance Elites and Court Cultures brought the appointment of two new postdoctoral fellows: Dr Jonathan Davies, who wrote a monograph on Tuscany and its universities, 1537-1609; and Dr Fabrizio Nevola, who wrote a monograph on the urban and architectural history of Siena. A member of the History Department, Dr Luca Molà, was also associated with the project, working on technical and economic elites. Christine Shaw, as Senior Research Fellow, continued her research on Genoa, while incorporating some of the results of this into a book on barons in Renaissance Italy.
The focus of the project was extended from the second half of the fifteenth century to encompass the first three decades of the sixteenth century. This extension was foreshadowed by a conference on The World of Savonarola: Italian Elites in Crisis 1494-1519, which was held at Warwick in 1998. Speakers at this conference (who came from Italy and the U.S.A. as well as from the U.K.) discussed how the cultural, artistic, religious and political elites responded and adapted to the fundamental changes in Italian politics and society in the late fifteenth and ealry sixteenth centuries, brought about not least by the Italian Wars. Most of the papers given to this conference are published in The World of Savonarola: Italian Elites and Perceptions of Crisis, edited by Stella Fletcher and Christine Shaw (Ashgate, 2000).
To complement the vertical case studies of changes in specific elites over time, there was also a collaborative horizontal case study, based on the extensive research material produced for the edition of Lorenzo de' Medici's Lettere. This provides an online biographical dictionary of the Lettere of Lorenzo de' Medici from 1480 to 1486.
In 2003 an international conference was held at Warwick. The papers from this conference have been published in Italy and the European Powers: The Impact of War, 1500-1530, edited by Christine Shaw (Brill, 2006)