The Catholic University of America

History 549: From Humanism to the Enlightenment

This is an introductory survey of early modern intellectual history. We will focus on defining Humanism and weighing its influence (or lack thereof) on the Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. How did each of these successive movements break away from Humanism, and why did Humanism remain a vital educational and cultural force despite these shifts? For each week we will read one major monograph and one primary source. Advanced undergraduates are welcome to enroll.




Each student will make two presentations of no more than ten minutes each.  The presentations should not summarize the reading but should rather raise problems and/or make a compelling argument about the topic of the week.  After the presentation, the student will be responsible for leading the discussion for the rest of the class, so it is recommended that you come prepared with questions.


For the paper you will write an assessment (10-12+ pages) that reviews the life’s work of one intellectual historian of the early modern period.   What central themes have preoccupied him or her?  How has the work developed over his or her life?  How did he or she change the field?  In what ways was his or her work shaped by the times in which he or she worked?  How does he or she define intellectual history?  You should read as much as possible by this historian.  You may choose your own historian, provided that he or she has written at least three books, but here are some suggestions:  Jacob Burckhardt, Frances Yates, Anthony Grafton, Paul Kristeller, Arnaldo Momigliano, Ernst Cassirer, Quentin Skinner, Charles Trinkaus, or Robert Darnton.




Paper: 50%

Presentations: 20%

Informed Participation: 30%


Course Schedule


January 11: Introduction


January 18: The Renaissance


Nauert, Humanism and the Culture of the Renaissance


Primary Sources: Petrarch, “On His Own Ignorance and that of Many Others”

and “Ascent of Mount Ventoux”


January 25: Humanism


Grafton and Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities


Primary Sources: Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy.  N.B.  I assume that you have already read The Prince.  If not, start there.


February 1: Renaissance Philosophy


Kristeller, Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance


Primary Sources: Vives, "A Fable About Man," and Ficino, "Five Questions Concerning the Mind"


February 8: The Printing Press


Febvre and Martin, The Coming of the Book


            Primary Source: Erasmus, In Praise of Folly and Erasmus, “Festina Lente”


February 15: Hermetic Philosophy


Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition


            Primary Source: Giordano Bruno, Cause, Principle and Unity


March 1: Science in the Renaissance


Debus, Man and Nature in the Renaissance


Primary Source: Paracelsus: Essential Readings


March 15: Luther


McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation


Primary Source: Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings


March 22: Calvin


Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait


Primary Source: Calvin, Institutes


March 29: Political Philosophy


Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought


            Primary Source: Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos


April 5:  The Seventeenth Century


Rabb, The Last Days of the Renaissance


Primary Source: Montaigne, Essays


April 12: Science


            Shapin, The Scientific Revolution


            Primary Sources: The Galileo Affair, A Documentary History and Descartes,

Discourse on Method


April 19: The Early Enlightenment


            Hazard, The European Mind


            Primary Sources: Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, aka Theological-

Political Treatise


April 26: Enlightenment


            Krieger, Kings and Philosophers


            Primary Sources: Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?” and Rousseau, Émile