Italian Studies 592

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Did Women Have a Renaissance?
Susan Gaylard  

Did women have a Renaissance? This question, famously posed by Joan Kelly in the 1970s, has invited myriad responses over the last 30 years. This seminar invites students to examine their own assumptions, and that of the canon: that the “Renaisssance” was constructed by, for, and through the work of male writers, artists, rulers­--and male historians. In order to formulate a response to the problem, we will examine a series of Italian texts (by both men and women) from the 1300s-1580s, within the context of recent debates. Our analyses will take into account the historical context, including evolutions in portraiture and the significance of clothing and fashion. We will cover four main areas: the woman as valued status symbol, the court lady, the courtesan, and the warrior woman. In closing we will consider monstrous women and witches.

Course objectives:

  • Engage with the major debates surrounding the study of Renaissance culture in contemporary criticism, and consider the status of women as both the objects and the producers of cultural discourse in the early modern period, in order to formulate a response to the question, “Did women have a Renaissance?”
  • Build a collegial community, within which to develop a scholarly contribution to ongoing discussions (in the form of a long paper).
  • Engage with the work of peers so as to provide them with useful feedback, and so as to develop critical awareness of one’s own work within the academic community.
  • Evaluate the appropriation of a Renaissance woman’s poetry in a contemporary film, in order to consider how both women and history are represented in film.

Course requirements

No prior reading knowledge of Italian; texts and criticism will be read and discussed in English; students whose major field is Italian will read texts in the original. Students will be required to write 1 short paper (3-5 pages) and give one major presentation; this work will lead to the development of a final research paper (12-18 pages).