215: The Italian Renaissance, Then and Now

Tu 2-5 | 6331 Dwinelle | Instructor: Albert Ascoli

Units: 2 or 4

Taught in English, reading knowledge of Italian and/or Latin useful but not indispensable

Fulfills REMS DE requirement for intellectual history

As the New Historicism began its quest to revolutionize Renaissance studies, one of the first things to go was a little book by E.M.W Tillyard called The Elizabethan World-Picture, Tillyard’s book, like Curtius’ even more valuable European Literature in the Latin Middle Ages, was a compendium of clichés, absent any contextualization in the complex of social, political, religious conflicts and the realities of everyday life from which they had been abstracted.  And yet, those clichés were deeply embedded in the language and texts of the times, and the fact that we have stopped teaching them systematically in favor of more interesting and complex, yet also more narrowly conceived, topics has, in significant ways, made the period less legible, more susceptible to partial and anachronistic readings.

In this course we will attempt to do three things, of necessity in partial and heuristic ways.  First, we will revisit the “classic” Italian Renaissance, as defined by Burckhardt, Michelet, Garin, Baron, Kristeller and others, and we will read in and around a number of the texts upon which 19th and 20th century historians of the period drew to construct their image of it (Petrarch; Alberti; Pico; Machiavelli; Castiglione; Ariosto; Vasari). Second, we will examine the margins or boundaries which both historians and period authors drew upon to construct seemingly secure but ultimately unsustainable versions of a linguistic, intellectual, artistic, and political “rebirth” in Italy—margins including but not limited to: contrasting historical periods before and after, such as “The Classics,” “The Middle Ages,” “The Reformation,” “The Baroque,” and the “Enlightenment”; oppositional and/or exoticized spaces such as “The Nation-State” (France; Spain; England), “The New World,” Islam, Africa, and “The Orient”; repressed and/or subordinated groups including: the poor, women, Jews, Moors, and so on.  Finally, we will consider some of the by-now classic historiographical critiques of/alternatives to “Renaissance Studies,” including Kelly’s “Did Women Have a Renaissance?”, Ginsburg’s “The Cheese and the Worms,” efforts by Ruggiero, Rocke and others to give a non-idealized picture of Renaissance sexualities; economically-oriented “early modern studies; along with some more recent attempts both to critique and to reclaim the Renaissance (e.g., Wojciehowski, Group Identity in the Renaissance World; Ramachandran, The Worldmakers; and others).

Readings: TBD, on-going student in-put will be partially responsible for choices of texts

Requirements: a series of short papers (3-5 pp.), roughly one every two weeks, on weekly course topics; regular turns as “discussion leader.”  Students wishing to write a longer term paper may do so with the consent of the instructor and appropriate reduction of other requirements from week 10 on.