Text and Community: an introduction to the world of Renaissance Florence and its leading scholars

Honours student, Kate Aldred, reports on recent CMRS teaching and seminar activities in Prato.

What constitutes a text? And how do texts relate to community? These are the two key questions the participants in ATS3/4311 Text and Community in Medieval and Renaissance Europe found themselves asking whilst discovering the historic streets of Florence.

As each student gave an oral presentation at various historical locations, they questioned the definitions of text and community, reaching a preliminary conclusion about how they functioned within the lived experience of Renaissance Florentines in relation to their various sites.

Students read the physical environment of Tuscany as a text while visiting the Prato campus.

Further clarification and understanding were found in the libraries of San Marco, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana and the Biblioteca Nazionale where the insights of Peter Howard and Silvia Catitti shed light on the complex topics of reading manuscripts, written sources, architecture and space as texts.

Likewise, the expertise of Constant Mews and John Henderson was shared and discussed in seminars focusing on the politics of archival preservation and questioning how and why our primary sources have survived into the modern period.

These workshops in particular assisted the students in developing the analytical perspective required for historical study at an Honours and Postgraduate level, introducing them to the analytical questions that need to be considered when striving to understand historical sources.

The knowledge gained by the students was then put into practice as they attended the Prato Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Postgraduate Workshop. Engaging with the up and coming scholarship of these postgraduates, the Text and Community students found themselves asking new questions on the sensory experience Renaissance Florence, the role of religion in politics, and how spaces can be transformed through human practice, the key focus of many of the postgraduate presentations.

Prof John Henderson (Birkbeck) of the Prato Consortium, talks with students.

Over the final two days of the course the students attended the Prato Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Symposium on The Art and Language of Power in Renaissance Florence, in celebration of the scholarship of Alison Brown.

This was perhaps the most exciting event of the course as students were able to mix with some of the best postgraduates and scholars in their field. The high quality papers presented and exposure to current scholarly debates inspired the students to consider the future directions of their research, as well as learn more about their field from some of the experts.

One of the highlights of the Symposium was the overview, discussion and celebration of the scholarship of Alison Brown, whose presence and contribution were both inspiring and greatly appreciated by all who attended.

I believe I can speak for all of the participants in Text and Community in saying that the experience of studying the Florentine Renaissance on location in Florence, particularly through exposure to some of the leading academics in the field, has greatly inspired everyone to continue to pursue their research in this field in the future.