The Catholic University of America

History 633A: The Creation of the Middle Ages by the Early Modern World

The Renaissance self-consciously tried to distinguish itself from the “dark ages” that had preceded it, introducing a new and influential understanding of the European past.  But the early modern period could not easily divorce itself from the Middle Ages, even as it often disparaged medieval “barbarism.”  This course will consider the rise of medieval scholarship from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment and the powerful influence of medieval intellectuals on many aspects of early modern European life.  Topics will include the contest between humanism and scholasticism, the circulation of medieval works, the survival of the manuscript in the age of the printing press, diverging interpretations of Church history, and the practice of history.


Each student will make two presentations of about 15 minutes each.  One presentation will serve to introduce the class to the topic of the week—i.e., this presentation will summarize the main points of contention and raise issues for discussion.  The second presentation will be on the Nachleben (reception) of any medieval figure in the early modern period.  The students will choose their presentation topics in the first week.

At the end of the semester, each student will write a 10-15 page paper.  The paper may either focus on the historiographical debates covered in one week of the class or may further develop the student’s Nachleben presentation.

Each student is also expected to prepare and participate in each seminar session.


First Presentation: 25%
Second Presentation: 25%
Paper: 25%
Informed Participation: 25%


Week One: Introduction

Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages

Kristeller, Medieval Aspects of Renaissance Learning


Week Two: Classics of Renaissance Studies

Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

Baron, The Crisis of the Italian Renaissance

Hankins, "The 'Baron Thesis' After 40 Years and some Recent Studies on Leonardo Bruni" Journal of the History of Ideas 56 (1995): 309-338

Castiglione, The Courtier

Recommended: Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II


Week Three: Petrarch

Mommsen, "Petrarch's Conception of the 'Dark Ages'" Speculum 17.2 (1942): 226-242

Bernardo, "Petrarch's Attitude Toward Dante" PMLA 70.3 (1955): 488-517

Petrarch, "Ascent of Mt. Ventoux"

Petrarch, Selected Letters

Thompson, ed., Three Crowns of Florence: Humanist Assessments of Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio


Week Four: Florentine Histories

Gilbert, Machiavelli and Guicciardini

Kelley, Faces of History, pp. 99-216

Kelley, Versions of History, pp. 168-438

Recommended: Cochrane, Historians and Historiography of the Italian Renaissance; Momigliano, The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography; Ianziti, Humanist Historiography under the Sforzas


Week Five: Erasmus and Valla

Bejczy, Erasmus and the Middle Ages: The Historical Consciousness of a Christian Humanist

Nauta, In Defense of Common Sense: Lorenzo Valla's Humanist Critique of Scholastic Philosophy

Valla, On the Donation of Constantine


Week Six: Humanism vs. Scholasticism

Rummel, Humanist-Scholastic Debate in the Renaissance and Reformation

Ederer, Humanism, Scholasticism and the Theology and Preaching of Domenico De'Domenichi in the Italian Renaissance

Overfield, "Scholastic Opposition to Humanism in Pre-Reformation Germany"

Erasmus, In Praise of Folly

Alternate Presentation: Greek Scholarship in the Renaissance: Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance; Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance


Week Seven: Education

Grafton and Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities

Black, Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy

Dominici, "On the Education of Children"

Salutati, "Letters in Defence of Liberal Studies"

Ratio Studiorum

Montaigne, "Of Pedantry" and "Of the Education of Children"

Recommended: Grendler, Schooling in Renaissance Italy


Week Eight: Style and Philosophy

Gray, "Renaissance Humanism: The Pursuit of Eloquence," Journal of the History of Ideas 24.4 (1963): 497-514

Seigel, Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism: The Union of Eloquence and Wisdom, Petrarch to Valla

Erasmus, "Ciceronianus"

Kristeller, Renaissance Concepts of Man

Descartes, Discourse on Method

Recommended: Copenhaver and Schmitt, Renaissance Philosophy; Cassirer et al., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man


Week Nine: Church History

Bentley, Humanists and Holy Writ: New Testament Scholarship in the Renaissance

Stinger, Humanism and the Church Fathers: Abrogio Traversari (1386-1439) and Christian Antiquity in the Italian Renaissance

Platina, The Lives of the Popes


Week Ten: Reformers

Spitz, The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists

Trinkaus, In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought

E. Gordon Rupp et al., Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation

Recommended: Ozment, The Age of Reform (1250-1550); Tentler, Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation; Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400-1700; D'Amico, Renaissance Humanism in Papal Rome: Humanists and Churchmen in the Era of the Reformation


Week Eleven: Women and the Family

D'Elia, The Renaissance of Marriage in Fifteenth-Century Italy

Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe

Kelly, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?"

Boccaccio, Famous Women

Recommended: Stone, Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800


Week Twelve: The State and Political Philosophy

Bratchel, Medieval Lucca and the Evolution of the Renaissance State

Nederman, Lineages of European Political Thought

Hotman, Antitribonian and Franco-Gallia

Recommended: Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy; Soll, Publishing the Prince; Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought


Week Thirteen: Early Modern Novelties

Grafton, "The Importance of Being Printed," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11.2 (1980): 265-286

Choose Two: Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe
                      Elliott, The Old World and the New
                      Parker, The Military Revolution
                      Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence
                      Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought
                      Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800


Week Fourteen: Medievalism and Modernity

Burstein, "Counter-Medievalism: Or Protestants Rewrite the Middle Ages"

Verdun, "Medievalism"

Freedman, "Medieval Studies"

Encyclopédie (selections)

Choose One: Ranke, History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations (1494-1514)
                      Hume, History of England, Vol. 1-2
                      Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 37-38, 42-3, 45, 47, 49, 54, 56, 58-61, 66-7, 69-71
                      Friedrich Karl von Savigny, History of the Roman Law During the Middle Ages, Vol. 1
                      Jakob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology
                      Michelet, History of France, books 1-11
                      Guizot, France or General History of Civilization in Europe
                      Augustin Thierry, Tales of the Early Franks: Episodes from Merovingian History
                      Augustin Thierry, Norman Conquest of England
                      Fustel de Coulanges, The Origin of Property in Land
                      Bémont and Monod, Medieval Europe from 395 to 1270
                      Selections from the Monumenta Germaniae Historica
                      Felix Dahn, Kampf um Rom, Urgeschichte der germanischen und romanischen Völker, or Felicitas
                      Ludovico Muratori, Dissertazioni sopra le Antichita Italiane
                      William Stubbs, The Constitutional History of England
                      F. W. Maitland, Constitutional History of England, or Domesday Book and Beyond, or History of English law Before the Time of Edward I, or English Law and the Renaissance, or Roman Canon Law in the Church of England, or the selection of his writings by Schuyler
                      Henry Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
                      Jean Mabillon, De re diplomatica libri sex


Choose One: Lionel Gossman, Medievalism and Ideologies of the Enlightenment
                      Bruce Holsinger, The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory
                      Stefan Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory: War, Remembrance and Medievalism in Britain and Germany, 1914-1940
                      John M. Ganim, Medievalism and Orientalism: Three Essays on Literature, Architecture and Cultural Identity
                      Maike Oergel, The Return of King Arthur and the Nibelungen: National Myth in Nineteenth-Century English and German Literature
                      R. J. Smith, The Gothic Bequest: Medieval Institutions in British Thought, 1688-1863
                      Elizabeth Emery and Laura Morowitz, Consuming the Past: The Medieval Revival in Fin-de-Siècle France
                      Patricia A. Wood, The Medievalism of Victor Hugo
                      Andrew Wawn, The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth Century Britain
                      Michael Alexander, Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England
                      T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920
                      Norman Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages
                      Lionel Gossman, Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas
                      David W. Marshall, ed., Mass Market Medieval: Essays on the Middle Ages in Popular Culture