LIT559: Renaissance & Reformation Europe
Instructor: Joseph Tipton
Summer Term 2019 (May 27-August 23; Residency July 22-26)
The intellectual and artistic orientation that emerged during the Italian Renaissance still informs the way we think and create today. The Renaissance and the Reformation have bequeathed to the modern and postmodern world a legacy which, for its sheer extent and influence, would be difficult to estimate adequately. Similarly, the doctrine and practices formulated during the Reformation have exerted a formative influence in important theological, political, social and literary developments.
Scholarly work on the Renaissance as a distinct historical period began with Jacob Burckhardt and the publication of his seminal work, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Since Burckhardt’s day scholars have offered a host of interpretations of the Renaissance and Reformation, many of which are incompatible with one another. These differing interpretations shape how we assess all the “isms” we inherit from the period: classicism, humanism, rationalism, empiricism, absolutism, Protestantism (just to name a few!). Given that so much is at stake, how do we navigate the currents and cross-currents of these multifarious interpretations? Certainly the fairest way to do so is to extend to those who lived during this period the same courtesy they extended to their classical forebears, to go ad fontes, and examine what they actually thought, said and wrote.
Accordingly, in this course we will explore the three-hundred year period that extends from 1300 to 1600 through a reading of crucial texts that provide precious insights into often neglected features and relationships of the period. The course will follow a historical narrative provided by a standard textbook on the period, while the reading of key texts will punctuate this narrative. We will pay particular attention to humanist literature and the ways humanist thought and writing anticipate the Reformation. The main texts we will be reading are Petrarch’s On his own ignorance, Valla’s On Free Will and Erasmus’ Colloquies. This course informs how we understand not just the Renaissance and Reformation, but more importantly, the relationship of the two with one other and with ourselves.