Welcome to Renaissance Online!
This course intends to provide students with an overview of the history of Western Europe at the beginning of the early modern period. Chronologically, our focus will be on the second half of the fifteenth and the first three quarters of the sixteenth centuries, roughly spanning the years from 1450 until 1575. Some topics will demand explanations that move beyond these limits, but by and large we will respect them. The goal of this course is to explain the key historical developments, such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and Counter-Reformation. Other topics for discussion include the diffusion of printing, the first European maritime explorations and development of overseas empires, the contours of rural and urban societies, the spread of the “new learning” (humanism) beyond the confines of Italy, as well as the developments in warfare and politics.
As with any historical endeavor, certain themes will be highlighted in this course to the exclusion or marginalization of others. The choice of subjects was made with the following questions as guides: What happened five hundred years ago that prompted historians (and contemporaries) to declare an end to the Middle Ages? Were the changes that took place only perceived by elites, or were they experienced by society at large? What was life like for men and women during this period? Who were the key political, religious, and intellectual figures of the time, and what was their contribution to modern history, culture, and thought? What technological developments occurred in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to permit the eventual projection of European power on a global scale? And, how did early modern society react or adapt to these changes?
The Renaissance Online will present a synthesis of the historical events of the sixteenth century in Europe with the goal of communicating factual information. The lectures are presented in a way that clearly and concisely transmits the outlines of early modern European history. Beyond this straightforward aim, the purpose of this course is to encourage students to acquire a set of analytical skills that will help them over the course of their education. These skills include the capacity to read texts closely, to consider them in light of historical contexts, and to write clearly, succinctly, and coherently about them. In response to both the course’s lectures and reading assignments, students in this course will become able to make their own informed interpretations of this crucial phase in European history.