Spring 2024 - HIST 402 D100

Renaissance Italy (4)

Class Number: 4729

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Mon, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • 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 debates. 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.


  • Seminar participation (20%) + discussion questions (5%) 25%
  • Research exercise 10%
  • “Why study Renaissance Italy?” project 15%
  • First paper 20%
  • Second paper 30%


If you are interested in enrolling in the class but do not have the prerequisites, please contact me by e-mail. This invitation applies to more than History students: I also welcome upper-division students from other departments and faculties at SFU. I will consider prerequisite waivers on a case-by-case basis so long as space is available.

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) as soon as possible to ensure that they are eligible and that approved accommodations and services are implemented in a timely fashion.




  • Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Trans. G. H. Williams (Penguin Classics; 2nd revised edition, 2003). ISBN-13: 978-0140449303
  • Sister Bartolomea Riccoboni, Life and Death in a Venetian Convent: the Chronicle and Necrology of Corpus Domini, 1395-1436 (University of Chicago Press, 2000). ISBN 978-0226717890

These texts will be available for purchase at the SFU bookstore and on reserve at Bennett Library. Additional readings will be available through Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website 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