Renaissance: The Transformation of the West

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliantly written and delivered A quite outstanding series of lectures. Clearly written and well-delivered, well-supported arguments, good illustrations. Inspiring.
Date published: 2020-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic, and Nuanced, Course I have absolutely loved this course and am quite taken aback by the mixed reviews. This is not "great man" history--this is a modern, social, and dare I say up-to-date take on the full spectrum of life in the Renaissance, not just what Leonardo and Michelangelo were up to--who, fascinating as I find them, are not representative of 90% or more of Renaissance individuals. Unlike so many biographies and histories, the professor doesn't automatically take on the language and tone of the times; rather she works to interrogate the time period and to consider relatively diverse views (though I think this could actually be pushed even farther). It is probably not coincidental that as a female professor, she's gravitated toward a more inclusive view of the Renaissance, and that these two factors have in turn upset those who are looking for a more traditional take on the time. But it's 2020, and we don't need yet another iteration of the Plutarchian tradition (or maybe I should say Vasarian). While the famous white guys are interesting, they are not the only people worth studying, and it would be a poor student of history who was not interested in the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the ordinary, women, non-Christians, non-heterosexual, slaves and others who made up the tapestry of the Renaissance. I've been researching this period extensively, and this lecture series is a breath of fresh air in the many volumes that uncritically regurgitate the attitudes and worldview of the Renaissance (as Professor McNabb points out, these people had really great PR -- so good we still often thoughtlessly accept it!). In terms of delivery, engagement, and professionalism, this course sets a gold standard that others would do well to look to. Great Courses: Please add more courses like this! Ones that are engaged with current thoughts and ideas about the past--especially from more diverse voices.
Date published: 2020-09-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from GOOD COURSE BUT VERY LONG When I started this course on the Renaissance I thought this would be a little more art filled with less interest in the history of this time period. I reality this course had a lot of history and covered a great deal of time including the reformation and the age of discover. I thought the professor was interesting and able to provide details on all the subjects but I think this was just to much to cover. While I liked the history I would recommend breaking this course in to two classes. There just was two much to cover to give anyone subject proper details and understanding.
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, thought provoking and enjoyable. This is a superbly developed course. One senses both the intellectual rigour and the fervent desire to engage and entertain. The result is an engrossing and satisfying experience. The lecturer is to be commended.
Date published: 2020-09-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from bailed after three episodes I hate to post a negative review but it has to be done. As other reviewers have said, there seem to be a couple of problems with this course. First is the fervent commitment to challenging previous approaches to the Renaissance. I'm all for changing my perspective but the lens here seems to come at the expense of a lot of good and valid historical information. Second is the presentation, unfortunately. The delivery of information is rapid, with many unresolved threads, and in a newscaster sort of monotone. It just doesn't pull you in. With 48 episodes there should be PLENTY of time to ask the viewer to "imagine" or "consider" a scenario, or to paint some visuals of the time or events, but I saw none of that. It's these elements that make a course compelling.
Date published: 2020-07-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not worth your time I didn't think it was possible to go on so long and say so little. Example: Yesterday I tried the lecture, Art of the High Renaissance. A little Raphael, a little Da Vinci, a nod at Michelangelo, and many, many reflections on the way we view history, and the contrast between life now and then (some questionable.) If I wanted a course on postmodern gestures I'd get one. There were then closeups on Sofonisba Anguissola and Artemisia Gentileschi, two women artists of the Renaissance (well, one of them died in 1653, but whatev.) Good to hear about women who were long ignored, but the overall structure chooses to ignore (among others) Della Robbia, Titian, Tintoretto, Bronzino, Vernonese, Bernini, and Caravaggio; concepts like painting and the relationship to power in Venice, Medici Florence, and Rome; collective arts such as tapestries; or the intertwining theories about painting, sculpture, and poetry. That's a pretty big miss, and gives me no confidence she's making good choices on other topics.
Date published: 2020-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GoofProduct and Service I am really enjoying the content and presentation. I like this professor a lot.
Date published: 2020-03-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative, great lecturer, a bit long I enjoyed this course and learned a lot, and hope that Prof McNabb does more for the TC. The title is a bit of a misnomer, because the course covers not only the Renaissance but goes well into the 17th century. For example, the Reformation is covered as well as its aftermath through the 30 years war; the Dutch defeat by the British in the 1660s is covered, and so is the execution of England's Charles I. This level of closure -- seeing these events through and tying them to their Renaissance origins -- is well done and makes sense, but the course really should be called 'Renaissance the Early Modern World' or some such. The main part dealing with the Renaissance per se is well done, but I think it would benefit from being a tad shorter. I love the way the course presents lots of useful information about culture, daily life, the economy, religion, and more as well as the politics. But I found myself skipping a lecture track now and again to move past another reading from the diary of Joe Blow (or more precisely, Giovanni Bloviatus). I found some of these readings a little tedious. Still, it's a great course, for any level of previous knowledge of the era.
Date published: 2020-02-19
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Renaissance: The Transformation of the West
Course Trailer
The Spirit of Renaissance
1: The Spirit of Renaissance

How did the Renaissance—as it occurred in Italy and in other parts of Europe—pioneer a new way of thinking about history itself? Who, exactly, was the typical “Renaissance Man”? Get answers to these and other questions about the Renaissance’s powerful fusion of classical and medieval worldviews.

33 min
Rebirth: Classical Values Made New
2: Rebirth: Classical Values Made New

Here, consider how the key contexts and values of the European Renaissance set the stage for a new era of questions. The two chief examples you’ll use to chart the origins of the European Renaissance are the Black Death and the letters of Petrarch.

27 min
The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance
3: The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance

Discover why the Renaissance first bloomed in, of all places, Italy. First, look at the politics and economics of medieval Italian states. Then, explore how the legacies of antiquity gained traction throughout the peninsula. Finally, consider the influence of trade revivals, a dynamic social order, and the profits from holy wars.

32 min
The Rise of the Humanists
4: The Rise of the Humanists

Focus on one of the most-challenging foundational concepts of the Renaissance: humanism. Professor McNabb outlines how and why education underwent its extreme makeover, explores the fields that dominated this new way of learning, and introduces you to humanist schools and schoolmasters.

33 min
Renaissance Florence: Age of Gold
5: Renaissance Florence: Age of Gold

Florence, defined by hierarchy and inequality, has become synonymous with the Italian Renaissance. How did this happen? Here, you will explore the complex political journey of this “most noble” of cities from model republic to six decades of domination by the iconic Medici family, and back again.

31 min
Renaissance Venice: More Serene Republic
6: Renaissance Venice: More Serene Republic

Dive into the byzantine history and legacy of Venice during the period of the Renaissance, when the city managed to prosper even without that most valuable of commodities: land. Learn how Venice was shaped by its merchant elite, how it joined the ranks of Italian city-states, and how Venice experienced humanism.

30 min
Renaissance Rome and the Papal States
7: Renaissance Rome and the Papal States

Investigate how the new learning in Rome challenged the wisdom of centuries of spiritual authority as the capital of Christianity. While exploring Rome’s papal history, encounter the noble family who considered it their birthright to wield control over the city: the infamous Borgias (including Cesare and Pope Alexander VI).

32 min
Renaissance Italy’s Princes and Rivals
8: Renaissance Italy’s Princes and Rivals

In this lecture, turn to the other great power players in Renaissance Italy, including the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily and the duchy of Milan. Then, examine the eclipse of the age of the republics by the age of the tyrants: elite families who used cunning to obtain—and maintain—positions of authority.

33 min
Renaissance Man as Political Animal
9: Renaissance Man as Political Animal

Renaissance Man can perhaps best be understood as an educational and political ideal, someone as schooled in warfare as he was in classical antiquity. Here, meet three men whose lives and works exemplify different iterations of the Renaissance Man in action: Niccolò Machiavelli, Baldassare Castiglione, and Leon Battista Alberti.

31 min
Women and the Italian Renaissance Court
10: Women and the Italian Renaissance Court

Step inside 15th- and 16th-century Italian courts to investigate how a number of smart, powerful, and cunning women helped steer the course of the Renaissance. Among the women you’ll meet are Isabella d’Este, noted for her trendsetting sense of style and substance, and the Italian poet, Veronica Franco.

33 min
Painting in the Early Italian Renaissance
11: Painting in the Early Italian Renaissance

Using the careers and works of artists like Masaccio, Giotto, and Botticelli, discover how early Renaissance painting innovated and celebrated the experience of being human. In addition, you’ll examine the business side of art, including matters of patronage that were central to artists during the Italian Renaissance.

33 min
 Painting in the High Italian Renaissance
12: Painting in the High Italian Renaissance

Turn now to the High Italian Renaissance era of painting, credited with a veritable artistic revolution in the art form. During this time, artists like Leonardo and Michelangelo were celebrities who rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful. Not to be overlooked: the role of women painters, including Artemisia Gentileschi.

33 min
Italian Sculpture, Architecture, and Music
13: Italian Sculpture, Architecture, and Music

Learn how Renaissance architects and city planners—including Donato Bramante, Sebastian Serlio, and Andrea Palladio—imbued sculpture and architecture with tremendous ideological and practical power. Then, discover how Renaissance musicians helped move music out of the religious sphere and into the princely courts.

33 min
Letters in the Italian Renaissance
14: Letters in the Italian Renaissance

In this lecture, examine the lives and careers of a trio of fascinating Renaissance authors who used their words to help write the Renaissance into the pages of history. Professor McNabb covers the merchant, Francesco Datini; the artist-biographer, Giorgio Vasari; and the Florentine historian, Francesco Guicciardini.

32 min
Renaissance Statecraft: A New Path
15: Renaissance Statecraft: A New Path

Venture to the other side of the Alps for a closer look at what’s known as the “Northern Renaissance.” You’ll chart the political evolution of the region from barbarism to feudalism to feudal monarchy, explore why feudal monarchies trended toward weakness, and get a brief overview of power struggles among northern kings.

35 min
European Renaissance Monarchies
16: European Renaissance Monarchies

Turn the lens on the monarchical rivalries of the Northern Renaissance, which changed the course of Western politics as much as the rivalries in Italy. Focus on the rule of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, the rise of the Tudors in England, and the waxing power of France.

33 min
The Birth of the Christian Renaissance
17: The Birth of the Christian Renaissance

Consider the development of humanist thought in the north, which commingled with the idea of a Christian rebirth and a reordering of society’s morals that planted the seeds for the Reformation. Among the inquisitive and critical Christian humanists you’ll encounter are Erasmus and Thomas More.

34 min
Northern Renaissance Art and Music
18: Northern Renaissance Art and Music

Using works by Matthias Grünewald, Jan van Eyck, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hans Holbein the Younger, and others, explore how northern artists breathed artistic life into themes of faith, duty, and fidelity. Then, visit the court of the dukes of Burgundy for a look at the music of Guillaume Dufay.

33 min
Northern Renaissance Literature and Drama
19: Northern Renaissance Literature and Drama

Meet the Northern Renaissance authors and playwrights who offered entertainments and edification in the page and on the stage—authors who would become some of the greatest writers in Western history. These geniuses include François Rabelais; Miguel de Cervantes; William Langland; Geoffrey Chaucer; and, of course, William Shakespeare.

35 min
Did Women Have a Renaissance?
20: Did Women Have a Renaissance?

Examine the “woman question”: the contemporary debate about Renaissance women’s abilities and deficiencies. The question, as you’ll learn, was really about access to education. Along the way, you’ll consider whether we can say women had a renaissance of their own—and why that issue still matters today.

33 min
Renaissance Life: The Rural Experience
21: Renaissance Life: The Rural Experience

In the first of several sketches on the conditions of Renaissance life, explore the geographical setting where the vast majority of the European population lived at the time: the countryside. You’ll look at festivals and feast days, types of settlements, the competition for land, and the peasant rebellions that followed.

35 min
Renaissance Life: The Urban Experience
22: Renaissance Life: The Urban Experience

How exactly do we define “urban” during the Renaissance? How did three, early modern institutions—craft guilds, confraternities, and public drinking establishments—help to define the urban experience? Find out in Professor McNabb’s fascinating lecture on the urban experiences of rich and poor alike.

35 min
Renaissance Life: Crime, Deviance, and Honor
23: Renaissance Life: Crime, Deviance, and Honor

Continue exploring daily life during the Renaissance by turning to issues of personal crisis—and their consequences. In studying crime, deviance, and Renaissance attitudes toward honor and shame, you’ll discover how early modern communities and authorities sought to order the world and project their morality.

32 min
Renaissance Life: Marriage
24: Renaissance Life: Marriage

Marriage during the Renaissance was a major component of the “good life” during the period. It was also a complicated affair shaped by the intersection of private desires with more practical considerations. Delve into the ways Renaissance societies constructed marriage, and how marriage customs differed depending on geographic location.

34 min
Renaissance Life: Home and Hearth
25: Renaissance Life: Home and Hearth

What was domestic life like during the Renaissance? Get a feel for it with this lecture that highlights several topics related to home and hearth. These topics include: food culture (with a focus on baking), the practicalities of dress, the details about childrearing, and the role of servants and retainers.

34 min
Renaissance Faith: Medieval Contexts
26: Renaissance Faith: Medieval Contexts

Examine the two medieval heavyweights whose legendary disputes illustrate some key points about faith and power in the Renaissance world: King Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII. Then, learn how new and revitalized orders—including Ci stercians and Franciscans—attracted adherents in astonishing numbers.

34 min
Renaissance Faith: The Papacy
27: Renaissance Faith: The Papacy

The particular conditions of 15th- and 16th-century Italy allowed the popes to augment their power and fashion themselves as rulers. Here, explore papal programs designed to cement Rome as Christendom’s true capital (after a century of geographic dislocations) and their architects, including Nicholas V, Pius II, and Sixtus IV.

33 min
Renaissance Faith: Religious Uniformity
28: Renaissance Faith: Religious Uniformity

Take a closer look at the ways in which European political authorities dealt with matters of faith in their drive to enhance authority. You’ll learn about English theologian John Wyclif’s challenges to traditional Christian authority, the persecution of European Jews, and the birth of the Inquisition.

34 min
Luther: Breaking the Christian Consensus
29: Luther: Breaking the Christian Consensus

The Renaissance is vital to understanding how Martin Luther took on the church and not only survived but thrived, initiating a protest movement that put an end to more than 1,000 years of Christian consensus. Start considering Martin Luther as a man of a very particular historical moment.

34 min
Radical Reform in Renaissance Europe
30: Radical Reform in Renaissance Europe

Professor McNabb highlights the many fractures that strengthened the shockwaves Martin Luther created in Christianity—some of which he couldn’t foresee or control. Learn the importance of the Anabaptists, the tumult of the German Peasants’ War, and why Martin Luther resists easy demonization or lionization.

33 min
Renaissance and Reformation: Connections
31: Renaissance and Reformation: Connections

Turn your attention to various calls for a reformation of faith identifiably shaped by the new learning of the Renaissance and the ideas of Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. Calvin’s ideas traveled on to Scotland, where the Reformation, working in tandem with powerful men, toppled a monarch from the throne.

32 min
English Reformation
32: English Reformation

Embark on an exciting look at the causes, processes, and consequences of the Tudor reformations, featuring some of the most famous personages in English history, including Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and Elizabeth I. What made this path to reform so different from events playing elsewhere on the European continent?

34 min
Catholic Reformations: The Road to Trent
33: Catholic Reformations: The Road to Trent

Why didn’t the Catholic Church defeat the Reformation? Why didn’t it do more to stop Martin Luther? Cultivate a new way of thinking about the papal response to the theological revolution—epitomized by the Council of Trent, which created a Roman Catholic identity.

34 min
Catholic Reformations: Spiritual Revival
34: Catholic Reformations: Spiritual Revival

In the face of the slings and arrows of Protestant reformers, the Catholic Church lauded a number of individuals whose commitment to the “true faith” offered a balance to the Reformation that threatened to bury Catholicism. Learn how men and women became exemplars of piety during the Catholic Reformation.

33 min
Reformation Culture: Continuity and Change
35: Reformation Culture: Continuity and Change

Get a feel for what it was like to be a Protestant or Catholic in Reformation Europe. Your focus here: the culture wars that accompanied this period, including the rise of iconoclasts like Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, the use of vernacular language in religious services, and the dawn of Baroque art.

35 min
Renaissance War and Peace: Diplomacy
36: Renaissance War and Peace: Diplomacy

In the first of several lectures on the interaction among the states of early modern Europe, learn how diplomacy operated in a Europe increasingly characterized by religious dissention and violence. Central to this subject is the important role of permanent ambassadors and other diplomatic figures.

34 min
The French Wars of Religion
37: The French Wars of Religion

Religious violence kept France in its grip for an entire century. Discover how the French Wars of Religion sparked both bloodshed and a new way of thinking about the relationship between individuals and the figures of power to whom they owed allegiance (a favorite topic of Renaissance writers).

35 min
The Dutch Revolt
38: The Dutch Revolt

Witness a number of factors you’ve examined in other lectures collide in a fascinating (if also, destructive and costly) way during the Dutch Revolt. You’ll also see a glimmer of the new demands of early modern warfare and the role of print in presenting a platform for action.

34 min
 The Spanish Armada
39: The Spanish Armada

Get the full story behind the Spanish Armada by paying attention to three key issues: the rivalry of Philip of Spain and Elizabeth I of England, the Spanish Armada’s fateful engagement with the English in the summer of 1588, and the untidy consequences of Spain’s defeat.

31 min
The Thirty Years’ War
40: The Thirty Years’ War

Welcome to ground zero of religious warfare during the Age of Reformation: The Thirty Years’ War, which would engulf most of the European continent. By the end of this lecture, you’ll learn how this struggle drew the map of Europe that would exist until the French Revolution.

33 min
Renaissance at Arms: The Military Revolution
41: Renaissance at Arms: The Military Revolution

What, exactly, constitutes a military revolution? What are the four major changes that happened between 1560 and 1660 that transformed warfare? How did a typical warrior from the 15th century compare to his counterpart 200 years later? How did large gunpowder weaponry influence other military developments?

34 min
Renaissance and the Birth of Modern Science
42: Renaissance and the Birth of Modern Science

Professor McNabb guides you through the intersection of Renaissance values and patronage with the new ways of thinking about the universe brought about by the Scientific Revolution. See how many of the activities and individuals associated with this period exhibit key dynamics of the Renaissance covered in other lectures.

35 min
Renaissance and Magic: Witchcraft
43: Renaissance and Magic: Witchcraft

Between 1450 and 1700, somewhere between 40,000 to 60,000 people were executed on charges of witchcraft. Why did ideas about demons and witches have such an appeal in early modern Europe? How did these beliefs produce a new type of criminal to be targeted by secular and spiritual authorities?

34 min
Renaissance Encounters with Islam
44: Renaissance Encounters with Islam

From the Reconquista to the collapse of Christian Constantinople to the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent, examine the relationship between Christians and Muslims during the early modern period—a relationship of competition and coexistence that shaped the development of the Western tradition.

32 min
Renaissance and Exploration: Motives
45: Renaissance and Exploration: Motives

The Age of Discovery can be thought of, in many ways, as a Renaissance project. Here, you’ll learn many of the values, motivations, and conflicts that fostered preconditions for European exploration, including a curiosity about the natural world, technological innovations, and the underlying quest for glory and riches.

33 min
Renaissance and Exploration: New Horizons
46: Renaissance and Exploration: New Horizons

How did Portugal and Spain set out to build overseas empires? Examine the first round of European expansion in the Americas and the Indian Ocean basin in the broader contexts of the Renaissance. Along the way, follow the journeys and discoveries of explorers like Christopher Columbus and Francisco Pizarro.

33 min
Early Modern Power: The New Global Rivalries
47: Early Modern Power: The New Global Rivalries

Turn now to other European states joining the race for global empire. Consider the developments of three states—the Dutch Republic, Britain, and France—in an age of change, and learn how they helped spell the demise of the Ancien Régime and the birth of the modern world.

34 min
Renaissance Legacy: Burckhardt and Beyond
48: Renaissance Legacy: Burckhardt and Beyond

Return to the critical question that started this entire course: Have we reached the end of the Renaissance? Professor McNabb uses this concluding lecture to reflect on the meaning of the Renaissance for its contemporaries, for subsequent historians like Jacob Burckhardt, and for us in the 21st century.

37 min
Jennifer McNabb

We’re Renaissance people. We’ve updated some aspects of the Renaissance past and infused it with our own contemporary concerns. And, such activities are in keeping with the Renaissance as well.


University of Colorado, Boulder


Western Illinois University

About Jennifer McNabb

Dr. Jennifer McNabb is a professor of history and the chair of the Department of History at Western Illinois University. She received her PhD in History from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2003. Since joining Western Illinois University in 2005, Professor McNabb has received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Faculty Award for Teaching and for Service. She also served as the associate director of the University of Illinois Centennial Honors College.

Professor McNabb has spoken and published widely on social relationships in early modern Europe, especially courtship and marriage. In addition to articles in journals such as the Journal of Women’s History and Quidditas, she has authored material for several textbooks on Western civilization and European history. Professor McNabb has served as president of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association and is the former chair of the program committee of the Midwest Conference on British Studies. In 2018, she was appointed as the Advanced Placement European History Chief Reader.

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