There is a lot of talk these days about the relative values of the humanities versus the so-called STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). When a US political candidate recently declared that “we need more welders, less philosophers,” my first reaction was: “Why the dichotomy? Why shouldn’t welders be philosophers and vice versa?” I then thought about individuals such as Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti, and Leonardo da Vinci. Engineering was not the enemy of the liberal arts in the Renaissance, nor was mathematics, when Luca Pacioli, Leonardo, and Piero della Francesca learned from one another. Galileo, the preeminent mathematician and natural philosopher of his day was also a musician and poet.
This vivisection of the human spirit is a modern development: in creating strict divisions between the disciplines, we divide our own selves. In rating certain endeavors as more valuable based on an imagined “practical” value to society, we endanger the very values that society is founded upon. It is essential that we have bridges built over rivers, but we must also have citizens who understand what it meant to the Roman Republic when Caesar’s troops forded the Rubicon.
I believe the Renaissance does matter, today more than ever. Not only are its values relevant today, but in many ways the Renaissance is still with us. For instance, though life has changed dramatically since then, we share a similar approach to communication to Italians five centuries ago. In a recent article entitled “Italian women and 16th-century social media” published on the OUP blog I explore the way Italian Renaissance women, in particular, expressed themselves in letters, sharing their views with the world at large. So here, following the lead of women such as Veronica Franco, Isabella Andreini, and Laura Cereta, I try to provide the reader with my views on the Italian Renaissance.
On this site you will find resources — texts, images, and links — that enhance and illustrate my books A Short History of Renaissance Italy and A Corresponding Renaissance: Letters Written by Italian Women, 1375-1650. In my teaching and lecturing I have observed that images can vividly bring the world of the Renaissance to life for students, so I have included many of my favorites here. For those who want even more detail, I have included the original texts of many of the documents referred to in my books, in particular, Renaissance women’s letters, many of them never before published.
I hope you find this site useful and, as always, enjoy receiving comments and suggestions!
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