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Unit information: The Renaissance Book in 2016/17

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Unit name The Renaissance Book
Unit code ITAL30052
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Rhiannon Daniels
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The Renaissance gave birth to artists, writers, and patrons who shaped the modern world: Michelangelo, Macchiavelli, the Medici. Renaissance Italy was at the forefront of new discoveries and inventions, pushing the boundaries of the known world on earth and beyond: Giovanni Caboto sailed from Bristol to the New World, while Galileo was training his telescope on the heavens. Arguably the greatest achievement and invention of the Renaissance, however, was the printing press, and Venice was one of the major centres of early print culture. The reproduction and dissemination of standardized texts and images changed the world forever.

The cultural history of the Renaissance printed book is the focus of this unit. Students will be trained to handle and analyse 15th and 16th-century books held in Bristol Library Special Collections. We will study books as cultural products which exist within overlapping networks of producers and agents (printers, publishers, editors, artists), buyers and consumers (book owners, readers). Bringing together a study of these sociological networks with a study of the construction of the book itself allows us to consider the ways in which early Italian printed books reflected and shaped the world around them.

We will focus on some of the bestselling literary texts of the Renaissance – Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Castiglione, and Ariosto – but rather than analyse the contents of the author’s text, we will instead consider how the text is packaged and marketed within the Renaissance book. In this way we will evaluate the cultural value of authors and texts and consider how and why they achieved celebrity status.

This approach to the study of books will transform your relationship to books produced in any period of history, and enable you to reflect on the communications revolution we are all experiencing now, as we move from the age of print to the digital age.


1) to introduce students to different ways of constructing production and reading practices within the theoretical disciplines of book history and reception studies

2) to develop an understanding of some of the processes by which key Italian authors from the Middle Ages and Renaissance came to assume a canonical status

3) to use reception studies and book history as a means of reflecting more widely on the cultural history of Cinquecento Italy

4) to introduce students to object-based analysis, using rare books in Bristol University Library

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students will be able to:

1) evaluate critically the complex relationship and reciprocal influences that exist between authors and their receiving cultures

2) analyse in detail specific instances of reception and appropriation relating to the authors studied on the unit, and display a good understanding of their cultural context

3) evaluate critically the role played by Cinquecento print culture in the authorization of selected Italian authors

4) distinguish between and evaluate different relevant theoretical approaches

5) conduct primary research on rare books

Teaching details

Lectures, seminars, and visits to Special Collections

Assessment Details

One 15 minute oral presentation (25%)

One written assignment of 1500 words (25%)

One written assignment of 3000 words (50%)

The longer essay will require students to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the theoretical and methodological framework within which they are studying book culture and apply this effectively to an analysis of the reception of an author(s) with reference to relevant aspects of the wider cultural context (ILOs 1-5). The shorter tasks will require students to demonstrate the ability to analyse the language and structure of early Italian texts and deploy an understanding of print culture of the period (ILOs 2,3,5). This will be enhanced through close study of material in the Library’s Special Collections.

Reading and References

1) Rhiannon Daniels, Boccaccio and the Book: Production and Reading in Italy 1340-1520 (London: Legenda, 2009)

2) Simon Gilson, Dante in Renaissance Florence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

3) William J. Kennedy, Authorizing Petrarch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994)

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

5) Deborah Parker, Commentary and Ideology: Dante in the Renaissance (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993)

6) Brian Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text, 1470-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)