Medieval & Renaissance History

Monash has one of the strongest programs in Medieval and Renaissance history in Australia. We teach first-year units in medieval European history and the history of the Renaissance, and upper-level units in the Crusades, Renaissance Italy, medieval and early modern witch-hunts, the early Middle Ages from the fall of Rome, and the Renaissance in Florence, and other religious, social and cultural history units.

Our Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies hosts seminars, language and paleography training for postgraduates, symposia and visiting scholars. A highlight of studying Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash is the opportunity to take an undergraduate unit at the Monash University Centre in Prato Italy. For information on all units available at Monash Prato please visit the Arts in Prato website.

Staff Research Areas

The History program includes a number of staff working on Medieval and Renaissance History:

Peter Howard Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern Europe
Carolyn James Medieval and renaissance history, cultural and social history
Constant Mews History of ideas (ancient, medieval to early modern)
Megan Cassidy-Welch Medieval history; cultural history; history and memory
Kathleen Neal Medieval and Renaissance history
Anne Holloway Medieval and Renaissance history; religious history; Crusades

Units Offered

We offer a range of units in Medieval and Renaissance history. See the Monash handbook for a full list of units, but you might want to consider:

Medieval Europe
The long term changes in European society and civilisation from the time of Charlemagne in the late eighth century to the first signs of the breaking apart of the idea of a unified Christendom in the early fifteenth century. Themes include social structure, urbanisation, relationships between men and women, education, the crusades, the role of the church and the relationship between religious reform and heresy.
Renaissance Europe
The social and cultural history of Western Europe from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, especially the Italian Renaissance and the spread of its influence in northern Europe in the sixteenth century. Themes include humanism, art and patronage, gender, discovery of the New World, science, political and religious changes in the later Middle Ages, and the dissemination of the civilisation of the Renaissance in Western Europe.
Witches and depravity in the medieval and early modern world
This unit will consider the cultural history of Western Europe from late antiquity through to the beginnings of modernity. We will focus particularly on the persecution of witches, accused sometimes of fornication with the devil or of infanticide and cannibalism, but will look also at other individuals and groups that have been considered sinful, unnatural, freakish or depraved. In so doing, we will explore the long story of the European outsider, and ask what these harsh designations and cruel treatments of people who were marginal or different might tell us about the history of European society as a whole.
Renaissance Italy
A study of the political, social and cultural history of the Italian city from the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth centuries, with particular reference to the Renaissance period. Case studies will be selected from Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, Naples or one of the northern courts, such as Mantua or Ferrara.
The Ages of Crusades: Cultures and Societies
This unit examines the impact of the Crusades on European culture and society during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with particular reference to changing relationships between Christians, Jews and Muslims. It explores the relationship between ecclesiastical politics, religious reform and Crusading ideology, as well as the socio-economic pressures that underpinned Christian expansion in both the Near East and other parts of Europe, such as Spain. It considers episodes of cultural interaction and appropriation, as well as of conflict between Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities by considering the perspectives of commentators and thinkers from each of these religious groups.
From the fall of Rome to the millennium: The world of the early Middle Ages
The early medieval period (c. AD 400-1000) was a time of both upheaval and development. From the disintegration of the Roman Empire to the apocalyptic horrors associated with the millennium, the medieval world underwent profound cultural, political and religious transformations. The unit will explore those historical changes through analysis of key questions such as: Why did the Roman empire collapse? How did the barbarian kingdoms come into being? What was the impact of the Vikings? Did medieval people think that they were living in the ‘Dark Ages’? Why did Christianity spread throughout Europe during this period? What were the varieties of cultural experience in the Byzantine world, the world of Islam, and the world of western Europe? Students will explore how medieval people experienced the world around them and how the early Middle Ages has been constructed by post-medieval writers, thus engaging with and analyzing critically a formative period of Europe’s past.
The Renaissance Codes: Art, magic and belief
This unit examines the history and ideas underpinning popular representations of Christianity in modern texts such as The Da Vinci Code, and Angels and Demons. It aims to investigate the construction of religious cultures in their broader context, with particular emphasis on the fifteenth-century revival of late antique Christianity and esoteric philosophies. Topics will include representations of the life of Jesus; the function of saints’ lives (e.g. Mary Magdalene); relics and legends; the role of ‘secret’ societies; the impact of new thinking on artists (da Vinci, Botticelli) and the implications of heresy, magic and sorcery.
Dante’s Medieval World: Politics, Religion and the City
Taught at Prato. This unit explores the political, social, artistic and spiritual milieus of Italy and Europe from the late thirteenth to the early fifteenth centuries. It focuses in particular on the writings of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri but extends also to the study of literary and archival sources from the period following the Black Death. Taught in Prato, the unit provides an opportunity to understand Dante’s literary achievement and his political activities through direct experience of the urban environment in which he lived and wrote about. The unit will encompass reflections on the history of love and war, religion and money, politics and the papacy, as well as the impact of 14th century crises such as the Black Death through a close analysis of the built environments of medieval Tuscany and its hinterlands and of the cultural artefacts that survive from the period.
The Renaissance in Florence
Taught at Prato. This intensive course of 4-week’s duration departs from Melbourne in mid-November. It involves interdisciplinary study, conducted in the city itself, of the political, social and cultural history of Florence, from the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth centuries, with particular reference to the Renaissance period.