Skip to main content

Unit information: The Renaissance Book in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name The Renaissance Book
Unit code ITAL30052
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Rhiannon Daniels
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


We are taught not to judge a book by its cover. In this unit you will be actively encouraged to pay attention to the design and presentation of books and think about the text in its material context. Looking closely at the layout of the text on the page, the relationship between words and illustrations, the choice of typeface, and the contents of prefaces and dedications included in the book reveals valuable information about the status of an author and a text. Each book-object has its own history which can be reconstructed from traces of use such as book plates, marginalia, doodles, and fingerprints.

We will focus on a collection of sixteenth-century Italian printed books held in the University Library containing texts by both medieval and Renaissance authors, including Dante, Boccaccio, Castiglione and Ariosto. Through the hands-on study of these books you will gain an enhanced understanding of the literary history of some of Italy’s most famous exports, and the technology of early modern printing, both of which will enable us to explore key aspects of the rich culture of Renaissance Italy. With the support of digital facsimiles and secondary literature, topics may include censorship, the commentary tradition, linguistic debates, the biographical tradition, and the rise of author-function.


1) to introduce students to different ways of constructing production and reading practices within the theoretical disciplines of book history and reception studies

2) to develop an understanding of some of the processes by which key Italian authors from the Middle Ages and Renaissance came to assume a canonical status

3) to use reception studies and book history as a means of reflecting more widely on the cultural history of Cinquecento Italy

4) to introduce students to object-based analysis, using rare books in Bristol University Library

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students will be able to:

1) evaluate critically the complex relationship and reciprocal influences that exist between authors and their receiving cultures

2) analyse in detail specific instances of reception and appropriation relating to the authors studied on the unit, and display a good understanding of their cultural context

3) evaluate critically the role played by Cinquecento print culture in the authorization of selected Italian authors

4) distinguish between and evaluate different relevant theoretical approaches

5) conduct primary research on rare books

Teaching details

Lectures, seminars, and visits to Special Collections

Assessment Details

One 15 minute oral presentation (25%)

One written assignment of 1500 words (25%)

One written assignment of 3000 words (50%)

The longer essay will require students to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the theoretical and methodological framework within which they are studying book culture and apply this effectively to an analysis of the reception of an author(s) with reference to relevant aspects of the wider cultural context (ILOs 1-5). The shorter tasks will require students to demonstrate the ability to analyse the language and structure of early Italian texts and deploy an understanding of print culture of the period (ILOs 2,3,5). This will be enhanced through close study of material in the Library’s Special Collections.

Reading and References

1) Rhiannon Daniels, Boccaccio and the Book: Production and Reading in Italy 1340-1520 (London: Legenda, 2009)

2) Simon Gilson, Dante in Renaissance Florence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

3) William J. Kennedy, Authorizing Petrarch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994)

4) Martin McLaughlin, Literary Imitation in the Italian Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Literary Imitation in Italy from Dante to Bembo (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

5) Deborah Parker, Commentary and Ideology: Dante in the Renaissance (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993)

6) Brian Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text, 1470-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)