Beyond Florence: The Contours of Medieval and Early Modern Italy

Beyond Florence: The Contours of Medieval and Early Modern Italy

Beyond Florence: The Contours of Medieval and Early Modern Italy

Beyond Florence: The Contours of Medieval and Early Modern Italy


For many years English-language scholarship on late medieval and early modern Italy was largely dominated by work on Florence -- as a city, culture, and economic and political entity. During the past few decades, however, scholarship has moved well beyond the "Florentine model" to explore the diversity of Italian urban and provincial life -- the "many Italies" that stretched from the Apennines to the Mediterranean. This volume brings together a group of sixteen urban, social, religious, and economic historians of late medieval and early modern Italy whose work reflects this shift, and illustrates some of the significant new research directions of the field.

At the volume's core are questions important to all historians of late medieval and early modern Europe: What does the new work on Italy beyond Florence have to say about the traditional definition of the Renaissance, a definition that made Florence its paradigmatic expression? What new questions about the period in general have emerged as aresult of decentering the Renaissance? How has the effort to view Florence in a wider set of Italian and Mediterranean political and economic networks shed new light on the history of city states? And how has this work led to a reexamination of the continuities connecting the late medieval world to the early modern period?

In exploring the contours of Italy from the eleventh through the seventeenth centuries, the volume creates a landscape against which to evaluate the current state of Florentine studies, the resurgence of Venetian studies, the renewed interest in Italy under Spanish rule, and the development of many other regional and local histories that are increasingly used by scholars tofacilitate a broader understanding of Italy as a whole.


Beyond Florence: The Contours of Medieval and Early Modern Italy emerged from a conference held at Stanford University in November 1998 to celebrate the career and accomplishments of William M. Bowsky, well known among historians of medieval and early Renaissance Italy for his work on the social, political, and economic history of the medieval commune of Siena, and more recently for his work on the religious history of Florence. This conference brought together several generations of scholars of Italian urban, religious, and social history–many of them former students and colleagues of Bill Bowsky–for a lively discussion of the current state of the field. We spent three memorable days returning to some of the classic problems of Italian history, debating the use of sources, examining each other's case studies, and discussing the reasons periodic conversation among medievalists and early modernists sharpens our perception of both fields.

We chose the theme “Beyond Florence” for several reasons that become apparent throughout this volume. In the past two decades, the study of Italy among Anglo-American historians has broadened considerably from an intense focus on the Florentine Renaissance to a much more diffuse exploration of Italy's geography. The chapters in this volume reflect the results of this research. Although acknowledging that the field, in its entirety, has never focused exclusively on Florence–nor for that matter is it ignoring Florence now, since there is currently a considerable renewal of Florentine scholarship–we are nonetheless convinced that historical research today on premodern Italy is much more reflective than it was some fifteen years ago of the complexity and variety of social and political arrangements in the Italian peninsula, much more willing to look at the small city and contado in conjunction with the well-known city-states.

At the same time, our conversations have made us well aware of how much our methodological approaches to those regions beyond Florence have been shaped by the powerful imprint of Florentine historiography. Florence is almost always a crucial point of reference in any study of Italy that attempts comparative analysis. We might simply say that historical scholarship on Florence reached a state of maturity before work done on virtually any other city-state, or even on other parts of Tuscany. The con-

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