This week, we will be examining the Renaissance, seen by some as the final catalyst of the events of the Middle Ages and by others as an historical footnote not worth our attention.
The Renaissance was not a historical event that happened spontaneously within Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries. It was a culmination of multiple events that took place within Europe and beyond and laid the foundation for a revolution in Art, Architecture, Literature, Politics, and Philosophy. Perhaps the greatest realization of the age was this: the natural world operated according to its own laws i.e. natural laws. This lead to a shift toward greater secularism within European society, and was also a critical first step towards the Scientific Revolution led by Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. Admittedly, many of the changes of the Renaissance impacted the scholars, intellectuals, and the rich and fashionable, but not the general population.
However, the Renaissance is also a period of gradual change, to the point where many historians ask it was even its own event, or simply a culmination of other changes in Europe from the 12th century onwards. Even JM Roberts called it “one of those myths which help men to master their own bearings and therefore to act more effectively”. While Europe was not fundamentally changed by the Renaissance, it was indicative of a reexamination of the European past and a gradual break with some medieval traditions of the Middle Ages.
Within this context, you have a rebirth, or “Renaissance” (A French word. The Italian word is Rinascimento), within Italy. The Renaissance was a “rebirth” arugably occurred at the same time as many crises within Europe, but the development of the Renaissance was largely impacted by the “discovery” or rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman works from either the collapsed Byzantine Empire or the Muslim world. In some ways, history had come full circle with the Renaissance.
Italy, the “birthplace” of the Renaissance, was also a location of political and economic change during this period. The podcasts this week will give you an idea of the structure and composition of these Italian City States. It is in this environment that the old medieval order began to shift. In Florence in particular, while there was a nobility, power truly rested with the merchant guilds, illustrating a clear fact of this period: Merchant capitalism had begun to erode the power of the nobility.
It is the power of these non-noble elements which draws up to the work of Machiavelli. We will be spending so much of our time this week looking at Machiavelli largely due to his place in the historical memory of the Renaissance, but also due to the ambiguity of so much of his work.
Note: One of the key ideas that will surround Machiavelli and the Renaissance is the idea of Humanism. Pay particular attention to Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man as a marker of what we mean by this term.
This week, we will have both the Discussion Posts and the Discussion Paper due.
What elements of the Italian City States allowed for the creation of this period we know as the Renaissance? You can discuss elements of art, literature, economics, or politics.
Please do not be overly general, but instead, illustrate specific details from the assigned material. Remember, your posts should be at least one to two paragraphs. Keep in mind a paragraph is three to five complete sentences.
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