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Unit information: The Italian City: Medieval and Early Modern Cultures in 2020/21

Unit name The Italian City: Medieval and Early Modern Cultures
Unit code MODL30020
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Kay
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The major urban centres of medieval and early modern Italy – Florence, Rome, Venice, Milan and Naples – were the sites of great social and economic renewal and cultural innovation, from literature to the visual arts, and from elite culture to popular entertainment. Writers like Dante and Boccaccio, artists like Giotto and Donatello, thinkers like Ficino and Machiavelli, and public figures like Lorenzo de’ Medici and Savonarola permanently transformed the cultural landscape in ways that continue to shape the present. This unit takes one of these centres, in the first instance Florence, and introduces students to the social and cultural world of its citizens. Drawing on resources from across the full Faculty of Arts, those taking the unit will be encouraged to engage with these cities in all their multifaceted complexity by moving across the usual subject interests, encompassing not only Italian literature and art history but the classical tradition, religious culture, and historical material. We will not only explore the cultural history of these urban environments but also the ways in which they have been transformed as physical sites and as virtual destinations in our collective imagination.


To introduce students to the rich and multifaceted culture of late medieval and early modern Italy within a clearly defined urban context.

To explore the ways in which an interdisciplinary approach can shed light on the various strands of Italian culture during this period, from the literary to the visual.

To engage with the relevant scholarship from more specialism and to critically compare subject specific approaches.

To develop broader skills of cultural inquiry and criticism, building on those acquired in Years 1 and 2. To equip students with the skills required to undertake postgraduate study in a relevant field.

Intended learning outcomes

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

  1. critique medieval and renaissance cultural artefacts in their social and intellectual context;
  2. analyse methodological as well as contextual questions raised by this material;
  3. identify and examine contemporary critical debates concerning the ongoing relevance of medieval and renaissance culture;
  4. develop effective written communication skills;
  5. formulate independent judgements through sophisticated critical approaches.

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 1500-word commentary (30%). Testing ILOs 1-5.

1 x 3500-word essay (70%). Testing ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Core primary texts will be carefully selected from the writers, artists and other cultural and political figures detailed in the course description.

Key critical texts will include:

Abulafia, D., ed., Italy in the Central Middle Ages, 1000-1300 (Oxford, 2004) Ames-Lewis, F., ed., Florence (Cambridge, 2012) Larner, J., Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch (London, 1980) Najemy, J., A History of Florence, 1200-1575 (Oxford, 2006) Najemy, J., Italy in the Age of the Renaissance, 1300-1550 (Oxford, 2004) Waley, D.,The Italian City-Republics (London, 1969)