This course will explore European society and culture from the fifteenth to the early seventeenth century, an exciting and turbulent time often referred to as the ‘Renaissance.’ The term means ‘rebirth’ and immediately brings to mind bursts of creativity and advances in knowledge, influenced by the recovery of ancient culture and wisdom, religious reform and the European discovery and colonisation of the ‘New World.’ Throughout the semester, we will examine new models and innovations in literature, education, the arts, and sciences, within the contexts of social, economic and political transformations, as well as in relation to the beginnings of European overseas empires. We will study the works and worlds of famous princes, philosophers, artists and explorers, and examine the lives of ordinary individuals and marginalised groups, such as the working-poor, the sick, prostitutes, pirates, slaves, Jews, Muslims, heretics and witches, and displaced and decimated indigenous populations. In this course, we will see that the Renaissance was a dynamic and fascinating time but that it was also one of great contradictions: endlessly beautiful art and inspiring philosophy stand side by side with terrible struggles and atrocities. While we learn about the societies and cultures of Europe during these centuries, we will also critically reflect on the use of the term ‘Renaissance’ to give this period of time meaning: how does the term shape our assumptions of European history in this period? Also, how has that history been used and represented in our own popular culture?
This course will explore the revolutionary changes in European society and culture brought on by the religious reformations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We will study the lives, thoughts and initiatives of important Protestant and Catholic reformers, the creation of new ecclesiastical institutions, and examine the everyday religious experiences of ordinary people (how they contributed to and/or resisted reform). We will approach ‘Reformation’ as a religious phenomenon but one that was inseparable from broader social, cultural, political and economic transformations. How did Martin Luther or John Calvin’s theology impact state diplomacy, local communities and individuals? Why did the Spanish and Italian Inquisitions exist and what did they do, in theory and in practice? What impact did religious reform have on issues of gender, class and race? What/who was a ‘saint’, a ‘heretic’, a ‘witch’, and what did they do? What role did art, music, and material culture play in religious devotion? As we investigate these and other questions, we will take a cross-cultural and global perspective: what role did Jewish and Muslim communities play in Christian reform movements, and how were these communities affected by reform? What role did religion play in European imperialist ambitions, and how was Christianity transformed by interactions with the peoples and faiths of the Americas, Asia and Africa? Throughout the course, we will ask what did ‘Reformation’ mean in the early modern period, and critically reflect on how its histories have been written.
This seminar will explore topics and debates in early modern Mediterranean history, 1450-1750. Historically and in current affairs, the Mediterranean is often portrayed as a ‘borderland’ or ‘frontier’ separating vastly different cultures and peoples: the Christian and Muslim worlds; Europe, Asia and Africa. Historians, however, have shown that the Mediterranean has been a space of constant entanglement and exchange, a “liquid continent” where societies and cultures met, overlapped and co-existed, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently, since ancient times. In the early modern period, the cultural, religious, linguistic and even physical borders between Mediterranean societies were permeable and ill-defined: many people participated in several cultures and religions over the course of their lives, and thus embodied complex identities. Through a range of secondary and primary sources, we will explore the thoughts, beliefs, conditions of existence and life experiences of the women and men who crossed the Sea and lived on its shores. Our focus will be on the movement, both voluntary and forced, of individuals across the Mediterranean world, and the encounters and entanglements these produced. We will also consider questions of scale and perspective. Should the Mediterranean be studied as a coherent unit or be studied in parts? How do our understandings of the Mediterranean as a site of historical analysis change when examined from national, religious, gender, and linguistic perspectives, or when approached from the Sea’s eastern, western, northern or southern shores? How does our image change when we move from a macro to a micro-historical perspective?