Short courses


Italian Life and Culture: Introduction to Renaissance Italy

  • 20 hours
  • 10 weeks (2 hours per week)


This ten-week evening course provides an introduction to Italian Renaissance studies.

By studying the works of three fundamental figures of the Italian Renaissance, you'll learn about key strands of early modern thought.

You'll learn about:

  • the debate between religion and astronomy, with the controversial figure of Galileo Galilei
  • the question of etiquette and morality through The Book of the Courtier by Baldassarre di Castiglione
  • great leaders, laws and arms, as discussed by Niccolò Machiavelli in his famous book The Prince

In addition to learning about these key texts and their historical contexts, the course will help you develop the critical skills required to assess and analyse early modern texts, and engaging in critical discussions.

This course is for anyone who is curious or passionate about Italian culture. Basic knowledge of Italian would be beneficial but isn't essential.

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.

Structure and teaching

Classes are held on Wednesday evenings, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, over ten weeks in the winter term.

At 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).

Although the emphasis will be on studying the texts in their original language as much as possible, they're available in English translation and you can study them solely in English.

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

Course content

The course is divided into three main topics:

The Galileo Affair (five seminars)

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is one of the most controversial figures to emerge from Italy in the early modern period. He's arguably best known for his clash with the Church over the Copernican hypothesis (that the earth orbited the sun) which culminated in Galileo being put on trial in Rome in 1633.

These five seminars will examine the background to, and impact of, the trial by focusing on its central figures and works, including Nicolaus Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543).

The following topics will be considered:

  • The origins of the shift from the geocentric universe, with earth at its centre, to the heliocentric one, in which the earth became the third planet orbiting the sun
  • The intellectual impact of this cosmographical change, for example, how did the Catholic Church react to a perceived challenge to the authority of scripture?
  • Did the format in which ideas were presented, such as a dialogue, affect their reception?
  • What effect did the 'Galileo Affair' have on the relationship between science and religion?

Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier (two seminars)

These two seminars will examine Baldassarre Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier (1528), a handbook for courtiers in Renaissance Italy.

They will consider the following topics:

  • What was the purpose of a courtier at a Renaissance court?
  • How was a courtier supposed to look and act? What was he supposed to know?
  • Castiglione's concept of sprezzatura (studied nonchalance): what was it, and how was the courtier supposed to deploy it?
  • What role did women play at court?

Machiavelli's The Prince (three seminars)

The first two of these seminars will examine the principal themes of Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince (1532), including:

  • What we can learn by studying the actions of great historical figures
  • What type of army a ruler should have
  • Whether the ends justify the means
  • How Machiavellian Machiavelli actually was

The third seminar will be held in UCL Special Collections. You'll be able to study 16th- and 17th-century editions of Machiavelli's and Castiglione's works, and how early modern readers annotated them.

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, in particular those of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution
  • developed the critical skills required to assess and analyse early modern texts
  • greater confidence in engaging in critical discussions of the topics covered

Assessment and certificates

There's no formal assessment.

You'll receive a Certificate of Attendance if you attend at least 70% of classes.

Who this course is for

This course is for anyone who is curious or passionate about Italian culture (including art, history, literature, politics and food).


There are no formal prerequisites for this course.

Basic knowledge of Italian can be beneficial but not essential.

You'll need internet access and a computer to make use of the online and multi-media supporting resources.

Costs and concessions

The standard fee for this course is £350.

Discounted rates are available for:

  • UCL staff: £300
  • seniors: £250
  • students: £150

What makes this course unique

Joining this course gives you access to the renowned Italian department at UCL.

Expert staff - you'll be taught by native Italians who are experts in the field, engaged in frontline research.

Breadth of study - you'll have the opportunity to explore a variety of topics and literature that will give you a board view of the subject.

Flexibility - you can choose which courses in the 'Made in Italy' series you're interested in. There are no restrictions on how many you can do.

Based in the heart of London - immerse yourself in a wealth of knowledge and expertise about Italian culture and history within central London, access the wealth of Italian cultural heritage in the city.

You'll also be able to:

  • meet like-minded people with a passion for Italy
  • access the department's library which contains UCL rare books collections (for example Dante Incunables), and other resources
  • become part of UCL's Italian department and enjoy many seminars and other events, including the Italian Film Club

Course team

Andrew Campbell

Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Italian at UCL. He teaches a course on Renaissance literature, as well as various language classes. His doctoral research focuses on the life and works of the Carmelite friar Paolo Antonio Foscarini (c. 1562-1616). His other research interests include the Renaissance disputation, encyclopedism, and weather forecasting in southern Italy at the turn of the 17th century.

Course information last modified: 15 Jan 2020, 09:13