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Approaches to Renaissance & Early Modern Studies - HIS00003M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Simon Ditchfield
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

The period from c.1450 to c.1700 witnessed the emergence of a range of remarkable and remarkably sophisticated scholarship in many disciplines. Traditionally, this has been given the label of ’The Renaissance’ and regarded as the origin of ‘modernity’ in its various guises: such as the emergence of individualism, of religious scepticism, realpolitik and of the science of history itself. However, in this module such teleological narratives are eschewed in favour of less teleological accounts that give due emphasis to what thinkers, writers and artists actually thought they were trying to achieve (as far, of course, as the evidence allows). This core module, taught each year by a selection of colleagues from several of the constituent departments of the faculty of arts and humanities, which include: Archaeology, English, History, History of Art, Music, Philosophy, Politics, and Theatre, Film and Television, offers a distinctive, exciting and exacting multi-disciplinary exploration of Renaissance and Early Modern Culture. Seminars draw upon and develop problems and ideas that fascinated writers, artists, and thinkers of the period, and are again at the cutting edge of research today.

On this module, students gain experience in working with diverse sources ranging from music manuscripts to paintings, from tracts on translation to life-writing across genres, and from political theory to travel narratives. Students taking the course become familiar with a wide range of scholarly and methodological perspectives, and examine the strengths, weaknesses and possibilities of different ways of reading, interpreting and analysing texts and other sources from the period.

In the process, students develop their skills in source analysis and interpretation relevant to this broad range of primary materials and gain an appreciation of the possibilities of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary analyses of the period, which will enrich future study and dissertation work.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

Students who take this module will:

  • Examine key themes in the historiography and critical literatures of the early modern period
  • Consider Britain as part of Europe and the impact on European identity of exposure to those differing cultures found on Europe's frontiers and overseas
  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of primary source material
  • Develop their powers of critical and historical argument
  • Explore the different intellectual possibilities of different methodological perspectives
  • Explore inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches to Renaissance and Early Modern Culture

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully should:

  • Have a substantial grounding in a broad range of primary materials documenting the intellectual, political and aesthetic cultures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  • Be familiar with the range of resources available for studying the cultures of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain, Europe and the wider world, and have acquired the interpretative skills needed to find, read and work with them.
  • Have acquired knowledge of the relationship between English, British, European and Global cultures during this period of dramatic geographical and intellectual expansion and of profound political and religious change.
  • Be able to pursue their research questions across departmental and disciplinary boundaries.

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The seminar programme may include the following themes (but not necessarily in this exact order):

  1. Discovering how to describe the world in the first global age
  2. Reformation of society and reformation of the self
  3. On living in a material world
  4. Cultures of Translation
  5. Place, Space, and Performance
  6. Word and Image
  7. Music and Patronage in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
  8. Sovereign Selves and Sovereign States


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 Words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the autumn term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial.

Students taking the module as a core module will submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 10 of the autumn term. For those taking the module as an option module, a 4,000-word assessed essay will be due in week 2 of the spring term for summative assessment.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 Words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive verbal feedback consisting of comments and a mark in a one-to-one tutorial within 10 working days of submission. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their convenor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The convenor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

Before arriving at York you might like to look at two or more of the following:

EITHER: Pettegree, Andrew. The Book in the Renaissance. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010 OR: McKitterick, D. Print, manuscript and the search for order. Cambridge University Press, 2005 pbk

Grafton, Anthony. Bring out your dead: the past as revelation. Havard University Press, 2004 pbk.

Grafton, Anthony & Glenn Most eds. The Classical Tradition. Havard University Press, 2013 pbk.

Marshall, Peter ed. The Oxford Illustrated history of the Reformation. Oxford University Press, 2017 pbk.

Gerritsen, Anne. & Giorgio Riello eds. Writing Material Culture history. Bloomsbury, 2015 pbk.

Greene, Roland. Five words: critical semantics in the age of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Chicago University Press, 2013.

And not just for fun: read, watch or refresh your memories of any historical novel/film or TV serial based on the early modern period

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.