Spring 2021 - HIST 402 D100

Renaissance Italy (4)

Class Number: 5621

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history and one of HIST 220, 223, HUM 219, 305, 311, 312W or permission of the department.



An exploration of the history and historiography of the Renaissance Italy. Emphasis will be given to politics, religion, culture and the economy, and to a balanced study of the Italian peninsula, including Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples, the countryside and smaller urban centres.


The Black Death. The Medici. Leonardo da Vinci. Machiavelli. The Italian Renaissance (c. 1300-1550) has the ability to “shock and awe” audiences through its vivid accounts of devastating plague, through its radical conceptions of political power, and through its dazzling artistic masterpieces. HIST 402 aims to investigate, scrutinize, and complicate this understanding of the Renaissance and of the events, individuals, and ideas that shaped it. It will do so, in part, by considering alongside its more familiar features the less familiar dimensions of the Renaissance (e.g. urban poverty, peasant life, motherhood). We will do so through a rich collection of primary sources ranging from nuns’ chronicles to merchant diaries, and by positioning those sources and -- our own ideas about them -- in the context of current scholarly debate. Each class, we will integrate into our discussion elements of material culture; and we will focus in particular on unraveling the political and social meanings embedded in works of Renaissance art. Among the many questions we will tackle in HIST 402 is the very blunt and very important “Why should we care?” In other words, what does the study of Italian Renaissance history offer us today? These “so what?” questions are particularly well-suited to this course. Fourteenth-century Italy witnessed the emergence of the humanities, first as a counter-cultural movement and then as an institutionalized curriculum of study. It also saw the development of a robust defence of the value of this liberal arts education. As we study this period in history, we will work to understand how and why it championed the humanities and did so successfully. At the same time, we will work to articulate how and why the humanities, and the study of Renaissance history more specifically, remain so valuable today.


Through regular seminar participation and a series of written assignments, students will have the opportunity to strengthen a range of skills essential to the historian’s craft. Particular attention will be paid to sharpening skills of critical analysis when analyzing a wide range of historical documents, including works of art and literature, and historical scholarship. Students will also practice important research skills – ones that can be applied well beyond the study of pre-modern history. All assignments are designed to encourage creative as well as analytical approaches to studying, writing, and thinking about Renaissance Italy.


  • Seminar participation + discussion questions 20% + 5% 25%
  • Research Exercise 10%
  • "Why study Renaissance Italy?" project 15%
  • First paper 20%
  • Second paper 30%


HIST 402 is a synchronous class. All seminar meetings will be held live on Zoom at the regularly scheduled time (Mondays, 2:30 – 5:20 p.m.). Registered students must be available in this time slot during the semester.

Students with questions about remote learning in HIST 402 are welcome to contact the instructor (eobrien@sfu.ca) before the semester begins.



Sister Bartolomea Riccoboni, Life and Death in a Venetian Convent : the Chronicle and Necrology of Corpus domini, 11395-1436 (University of Chicago Press, 2000).  (This book can be purchased or rented at the University of Chicago Press website.  It can also be rented on Google Play).

All other course readings will be made available through Canvas.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).