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HIS3352 : The Renaissance World of Machiavelli, 1450-1550

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Katie East
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This Special Subject uses the works of one of the greatest minds in the history of political thought, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), to explore the political, intellectual, and cultural world of Renaissance Florence. Through the lens of Machiavelli’s political tracts, scholarship, plays, letters, and diplomatic texts, we will discover how various political, religious, and social issues informed his position, shaping the radical view he took of the world, a view which had an immense and lasting influence throughout Europe. We will encounter key figures of the period, such as Cesare Borgia, Caterina Sforza, Pope Alexander VI, Girolamo Savonarola, and members of the Medici family, and we will examine the tensions at work in Italy at this time, between city states and the Papacy, and with respect to external threats from France and the Holy Roman Empire. Florentine culture during the Renaissance will also be studied, particularly the importance of humanism, the arrival of print, the role of the genders, and the occupation with questions of morality.

Students will engage with a rich and active historiographical tradition, in which debates concerning the character of Machiavelli, his aims and beliefs, and his ultimate importance, will be confronted different approaches which instead of placing Machiavelli from front and centre broaden that focus to consider the world within which he moved. Students will also engage with a diverse array of sources, encompassing not only Machiavelli’s written works of numerous genres, but also works by his contemporaries, examples of print and scholarship, and images drawn from the rich offerings of Renaissance Florence.

Outline Of Syllabus

Each week of the module will address a different theme, approached in the first place through Machiavelli, then broadened in order to interrogate this perspective, and determine the forces which informed it. Topics typically covered during this module may include:
• Citizenship and living in a civic society
• Political Power
• Religion
• Gender and morality
• The function of war
• Renaissance Humanism and Print Culture
• The afterlife of Machiavelli

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion631:0063:00For two assessment components
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials111:0011:00Part of student contact hours (e.g. 1 hr lecture recordings p/w)
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading411:0041:00Set, recommended and further reading
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00One two-hour seminar p/w
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities112:0022:002 hrs prep tasks per seminar
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study411:0041:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lecture materials will introduce topics with key debates and themes. Seminars encourage independent learning, discussion, and debate, while also guiding students on how to approach primary sources and historiography in a critical and effective manner. In the event that on-campus sessions need to be reduced, there is the capacity to hold live seminar discussions online and retain timetabled slots.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M301000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Essay1A702500 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Oral Presentation1MA presentation to be posted to the weekly discussion board (short video, podcast, or a PowerPoint presentation)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The shorter written exercise will take place during the semester, and will focus on analysis of primary and secondary sources, allowing both the accumulation of understanding and a tool for tracking and informing student progress. The final essay will test both knowledge and understanding, and the students’ ability to synthesise and evaluate the themes studied during the module.

The presentations will, while developing the relevant skill-set for presenting ideas, build up knowledge of how to analyse sources, and create a collaborative resource on the discussion boards for all the participants in the module.

All assessments for this module will be submitted and marked online.

Reading Lists