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Machiavelli - HIS00086H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. David Wootton
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19 to Spring Term 2018-19

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

This module will explore the life, times and works of Machiavelli (1469-1527). Machiavelli is one of the most important figures in the history of political thought, yet there has always been sharp disagreement about what he believed in and how his work is to be interpreted. Understanding him requires a close examination of his life and context – and he proves to be an exceptionally complex and interesting person.

The major source for this special subject will be the three volume Chief Works of Machiavelli, trans. Gilbert, which will (I trust) be available on line as well as in paper copies. We will also be reading texts by significant contemporaries, such as Guicciardini.

In recent years there has been a series of attempts to argue that Machiavelli was not an unprincipled opportunist simply concerned with the pursuit of power but a man of principle – he has been variously presented as a republican (Skinner), a nationalist (Viroli), a constitutionalist (Bobbit) and a believer in liberty (Benner). One of our central concerns will be to establish whether Machiavelli had principles and if so what they were, and this will involve a consideration of the varying principled positions that were available to a Renaissance author.

Machiavelli has also been read as someone responding not only to contemporary events, such as the restoration of the Medici, but also to a set of texts inherited from classical Rome (Cicero, Lucretius) and Greece (Plutarch), and we will seek to place Machiavelli in this broader humanist intellectual context of the imitation of the ancients.

Teaching Programme:
Special Subjects are taught over seventeen weekly three hour seminar sessions, eight in the autumn term and nine in the spring term. One-to-one meetings will also be held to discuss the assessed essay.

Seminars will likely cover the following areas:

  1. Savonarola
  2. Soderini
  3. The Militia
  4. Cesare Borgia
  5. Lucretius
  6. The Restoration of the Medici
  7. The Prince I
  8. The Prince II
  9. The Discourses I
  10. The Discourses II
  11. The History of Florence
  12. The Art of War
  13. Mandragola
  14. The Correspondence
  15. The Restoration of the Republic
  16. Machiavelli in the Sixteenth Century
  17. Machiavelli in the Twentieth Century


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : 4,000 words
N/A 50
University - closed examination
3 hours 50

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to do practice gobbets and then required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay relating to the themes and issues of the module in either the autumn or spring term.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4,000-word essay which utilises an analysis of primary source materials to explore a theme or topic relating to the module, due in week 5 of the summer term.

They then take a three-hour closed examination for summative assessment in the summer term assessment period comprising: one essay question relating to themes and issues, but showing an awareness of the pertinent sources that underpin these AND one ‘gobbet’ question (where students attempt two gobbets from a slate of eight).

The essay and exam are weighted equally at 50% each.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : 4,000 words
N/A 50
University - closed examination
3 hours 50

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’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 unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. London: Jonathan Cape, 1955.

Najemy, John. A History of Florence 1200-1575. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

Black, Robert. Machiavelli. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013.

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.