Spring 2019 - HIST 402 D100

Renaissance Italy (4)

Class Number: 3912

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 3 – Apr 8, 2019: Wed, 9:30 a.m.–1:20 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Emily O'Brien
    1 778 782-3150
    Office: AQ 6240
  • 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 studying 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.

Prerequisites: 45 units including nine units of lower division history and one of HIST 220, 223, HUM 219, 305, 311, 312 or permission of the department. I welcome upper-division students from other departments and faculties at SFU. If you are not a History major/minor and are interested in enrolling, then please contact me by e-mail. I will consider prerequisite waivers on a case-by-case basis so long as space is available.


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 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 20%
  • Seminar discussion questions 10%
  • Short research assignment 10%
  • First paper 25%
  • Final project 35%



Duccio Balestracci, The Renaissance in the Fields: Family Memoirs of a Fifteenth- Century Tuscan Peasant (1999)

Francesco Guicciardini, Maxims and Reflections (Ricordi) (1972)

Sister Bartolomea Riccoboni, Life and Death in a Venetian Convent: the Chronicle and Necrology of Corpus Domini, 1395-1436 (2000)

Paula Findlen, ed. The Italian Renaissance: the Essential Readings (2002)

These texts will be available for purchase at the SFU bookstore and on reserve at Bennett library. Additional readings will be available on e-reserve at Bennett library.  

Registrar Notes:

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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