Short courses


Enchanted Italy: Magic, Religion and Science from 1400 to 1800

  • Tuesdays (6pm to 8pm)
  • 5 weeks


This 5-week online evening course examines the relationship between magic, religion and science in early modern Italy and Europe.

Magic was a serious matter in early modern Italy. Intellectuals, priests, artisans and peasants all agreed that demons and angels were capable of intervening in the natural order and that skilled humans could use magic to produce wondrous, perhaps harmful, effects.

Taking Italy as a case study, this course considers why beliefs that are deemed incredible today were held to be not only plausible but entirely rational in early modern Europe.

This course is run by the UCL Italian Department. It's part of the 'Made in Italy' series which offers a uniquely comprehensive approach to learning the about the culture and history of Italy.

Who this course is for

This course is for anyone who is curious or passionate about early modern Italian and European thought and culture.

You do not need any previous knowledge of the subject.

Course content

During this course you'll learn about:

  • the intellectual, religious and social foundations for belief in magic
  • why some individuals openly defended magical practices
  • the ‘scientific’ basis for magical belief
  • the motivations driving the trials for magic and witchcraft
  • whether belief in magic has truly been relegated to the past

Structure and teaching

Classes are held on Zoom on Tuesday evenings, from 6pm to 8pm (UK time), over 5 weeks.

In each class, you'll:

  • listen to a lecture-style overview of the week’s topic or work
  • take part in a group discussion of the themes raised

To prepare for the discussion sessions, you'll need to read a series of extracts before each class (approximately 50 pages each week). All texts studied will be in English.

You'll be sent details of the main texts and recommended editions when you register for the course.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course, you'll have:

  • a thorough knowledge of the texts studied in the course
  • a greater understanding of the historical contexts in which ideas are developed, maintained and contested
  • developed the critical skills required to assess and analyse early modern texts
  • greater confidence in engaging in critical discussions of the topics covered

Course team

Dr Neil Tarrant

Dr Neil Tarrant

Neil is a specialist in the intellectual and cultural history of sixteenth-century Italy, with a particular focus on the history of science and medicine.

He studied in the History Department of the University of Edinburgh, the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London, and the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex. He has subsequently worked at several universities, including in the History Department at the University of York.

His new book, Defining Nature's Limits: The Roman Inquisition and the Boundaries of Science, will be published by The University of Chicago Press in August 2022.

Course information last modified: 30 Nov 2022, 16:00