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Unit information: Medieval and Renaissance Italy in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Medieval and Renaissance Italy
Unit code ITAL10034
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Rhiannon Daniels
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit aims to provide students with a broad historical overview of thirteenth- to sixteenth-century Italy, and to introduce them to some of the important cultural trends and developments associated with this period. The unit will be divided into two parts. Weeks 1-5 will focus on aspects of late-medieval culture, with particular reference to the city of Florence. Each week will introduce a key question associated with the period (the medieval city-state, manuscript culture, Latin and vernacular language, love and desire, gender) in a lecture. These questions will then be discussed in relation to selected chapters from Dante’s first major work, the Vita nova. Students will submit a short written piece on the Vita nova in Week 7. Week 7’s class will concern definitions of the Renaissance and the question of humanism, while weeks 8-11 will introduce a comparative dimension to literary analysis through three case studies emphasizing different types of transmission and reception trajectory through the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Boccaccio’s use of Dante, Petrarch’s translation into Latin of Boccaccio’s Griselda story, and Botticelli’s use of Boccaccio’s Nastagio story. Using these case studies we will resist an artificial historical distinction between the Middle Ages and Renaissance and focus instead on the relevance of mobility and exchange. Two classes will also be dedicated to reflecting on the ways in which the production, transmission and reception of pre-modern texts influences literary study, through a workshop on a selection of manuscripts and printed books held in Special Collections, and a class using online digital resources. Students will write a longer comparative essay at the end of the unit.

The unit will thus introduce students to some overarching questions associated with literary, artistic, and intellectual culture in medieval and Renaissance Italy, and will provide them with some of the linguistic and analytical tools and terminology for approaching literary and visual texts from these earlier periods. The unit will thus develop broader critical skills as well as preparing students for specific medieval and Renaissance cultural units during the remainder of their degree programme.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will be able to demonstrate:

  1. a knowledge and understanding of some key historical turning-points and cultural trends in medieval and Renaissance Italy that will prepare them for future cultural units focused on these periods
  2. skills in the analysis of medieval and Renaissance texts in their historical and cultural context;
  3. ability to reflect upon different critical approaches to the periods in question;
  4. academic writing skills appropriate to level C;
  5. essential skills of cultural inquiry, analysis, and criticism.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation

Assessment Details

1 x short writing task of 1000 words (30%) (ILOs 2, 4, 5)

1 x essay of 2000 words (70%) (ILOs 1- 5)

Reading and References

An anthology of key primary and secondary texts will be provided to students in Week 1. The following critical works will be helpful points of reference:

Weeks 1-5

- Barolini, Teodolinda. ‘Dante and the Lyric Past’, in Jacoff (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Dante, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 14-33 - John Larner, Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch (London: Longman, 1980) - John Najemy, A History of Florence 1200-1575 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006) - Usher, Jonathan, ‘Origins and Duecento’ and Pertile, Lino, ‘Dante’, both in The Cambridge History of Italian Literature, ed. by Brand and Pertile (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 3-38 and pp. 39-69

Weeks 7-11:

- Alison Brown, The Renaissance, 2nd edition (London: Longman, 1999) - Peter Burke, The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986) - Charles Dempsey, The Portrayal of Love: Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ and Humanist Culture at the Time of Lorenzo the Magnificent (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992)

Ronald Lightbown, Sandro Botticelli: Life and Work (London: Thames and Hudson, 1976)