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Unit information: The Italian City: Medieval and Early Modern Cultures in 2014/15

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Unit name The Italian City: Medieval and Early Modern Cultures
Unit code ITAL30051
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kay
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Italian
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 during the medieval and early modern periods, 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 course 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 course 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

Successful students will have:

1. Become confident, sophisticated, and critical readers of medieval and renaissance cultural artefacts in their social and intellectual context;

2. Reflected upon methodological as well as contextual questions;

3. Engaged with contemporary critical debates concerning medieval and renaissance culture;

4. Communicated effectively, both orally and in writing;

5. Developed broader skills of cultural inquiry, analysis and criticism.

Teaching details

Two seminar hours per week across one teaching block (20 contact hours).

Assessment Details

One oral presentation (25%) plus one written assignment of 1500 words (25%) plus one written assignment of 3000 words (50%)

The oral presentation will be an exercise in synthesizing and communicating effectively a body of primary and secondary material on an allocated topic (ILO 4). The shorter written assignment will be an exercise in detailed close analysis of a literary or artistic text (ILO 1). The final essay will be a wider enquiry into a chosen topic, engaging with methodological questions and a number of contemporary critical texts as well as primary sources (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)