A Companion to the Worlds of the Renaissance.
Blackwell Companions to European History. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. xii + 562 pp. index. bibl. $124.95. ISBN: 0-631-21524-7.
This volume forms part of the ambitious series entitled Blackwell Companions to European History and like the other volumes in the series is committed to synthesizing the present state of scholarship in the field and to pointing to future trends in research. In his often highly figured preface the editor calls on his readers to rethink the Renaissance, to dream "rich dreams that resonate with contemporary approaches to the past," and to abandon the dream of the Renaissance as "dreamt only by those who would roll back history and scholarship to the study of great ideas produced by great white European males" (3). To accomplish this purpose the editor has designed the collection to develop three themes: (1) "Encounters," the contacts of Europe with other societies both ancient and contemporary; (2) "Imitation," the influence of Renaissance Italy on the rest of Europe and the reorganization of society and culture it produced; and (3) "Reconstruction," the ways in which European society "recreated itself" in response to wars and economic and demographic change.
By implication the editor firmly resists the attack of the early modernists, who in one way or another question the validity of the term Renaissance. For him the Renaissance aptly applies to a period of time stretching from the early fourteenth to the early seventeenth century "and perhaps a bit beyond" (5). In the event, his selection of contributors, most of whom are specialists in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, determines that the end of the period and beyond receives the greatest attention.
To accomplish his purpose Ruggiero places the twenty-eight articles in the collection loosely under five rubrics: (1) The Course of Renaissance Events; (2) The Worlds and Ways of Power; (3) Social and Economic Worlds, (4) Cultural Worlds; and (5) Anti-Worlds. There is some overlapping of material in some of the articles, but on the whole the divisions work well.
Taken as a whole the twenty-eight short articles are of the highest quality. While I encountered specific judgments with which I do not agree, I am reluctant to mention these in such a short review. A number of these articles should be singled out for special praise. Because Italy was the dynamo of the Renaissance, Gene Brucker's succinct critique of Burckhardt is well placed as the opening article of the collection. In his "Government and Bureaucracies," Edward Muir deftly depicts the Renaissance state as more "a sphere of influence, a chain of jurisdictional authority, and a place of institutionalized negotiations than a delineated geographic space" (112). He especially points to the new interest of government in social problems and the creation of new offices to deal with them.
Although the new bureaucracies largely failed in this mission, their very existence testifies to "the more expansive social mission of Renaissance governments" (122). Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia's "Religious Cultures" superbly traces how weaknesses in ecclesiastical authority and floods of popular piety in the fifteenth century broke down boundaries "between the clergy and the laity, between the holy and the everyday, between men and women, between Christians and non-Christians, and between the orthodox and heretics" (332). Within this context the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reform represent attempts to reestablish the old boundaries. While controversial, Linda Woodbridge's provocative thesis in "Renaissance Bogeyman: The Necessary Monsters of the Age" that a growing sense of interiority in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was directly linked to the ubiquity of investigation and spying, that is, fear of the same interiority in others, merits further research.
Despite my high opinion of the scholarship in this collection, I come away from my reading dissatisfied. Ruggiero's hostility toward intellectual history smacks of an old-fashioned materialism reinforced by political correctness that discounts the contribution of individuals and their ideas to historical development. Although the humanists inevitably appear in John Najemy's excellent article on political theory, the one chapter devoted to humanism, contributed by Ingrid Rowland, bears its title "High Culture" like a brand. Ruggiero seems to be using the collection to fight a nonexistent enemy in that today no reputable intellectual historian writes or teaches unaware of the kinds of approaches taken by his contributors, none of which is really new. As it is, the writings of the leading intellectual historian of the twentieth century, Paul O. Kristeller, are not mentioned in the consolidated bibliography at the end of the volume. There is no chapter on education in the Renaissance. His Renaissance includes a religious Reformation without theology. Ruggiero's conception of the Renaissance, consequently, can only offer a partial vision of the period.
RONALD G. WITT