HIS32430 Florence 1200 - 1400

Academic Year 2023/2024

Florence rose from being a relatively unimportant regional town in 1200 to become one the greatest cities in Europe over the course of the next two centuries. Its growth in size, wealth, power and prestige was both rapid and remarkable. It was based on a thriving economy dominated by the textile industry, commerce and banking. By the early fourteenth century Florence had a population of around 100,000 and lay at the centre of a vast international web of trade and finance which stretched from the British Isles to the Holy Land. The political and social life of the city was dominated by great noble families and the city’s leading trade and craft guilds who vied with each other for power and influence in the Commune - the name for the collective civic government in which all citizens could participate. However, in 1348, Florence was devastated by the Black Death. Up to 60% - or 2 in 3 - of the population perished. This led to severe economic contraction and social dislocation culminating in a popular uprising in 1378 which briefly threatened city's stability. Despite these turbulent times Florence, unlike many other Italian city-states which came to be dominated by a single powerful family during this period, resisted the drift towards urban lordship( 'signoria'). For this reason Florentines came to imagine their city as the successor of the ancient Roman republic, a beacon of republican freedom surrounded by hostile cities ruled by 'tyrants'. This self-image was connected with a revival of interest in all aspects of Classical culture (philosophy, literature, history, art and architecture). This cultural movement became known as Humanism and was profoundly influential. The Florentines fought a series of wars against neighbouring towns and cities in Tuscany during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries – especially Siena, Pisa and Lucca - and as a result achieved a measure dominance over the region. Florence has an extremely rich legacy of written sources from this period which form the basis of the material studied on this module. These include chronicles, government records, personal memoirs, letters and legal documents. Major themes that will be covered include politics, war, commerce, religion, history and literature, art, architecture and urban development.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of the module students should be able to:
- Demonstrate familiarity with and understanding of the principal events of Florentine history in the Middle Ages
- Critique relevant primary sources in translation.
- Identify themes and engage with debates in the modern historiography of Florence.
- Demonstrate knowledge of the spatial development of Florence inthe period studies and of the significance of the principal buildings and monuments of the city.
- Participate effectively and contribute knowledgably to class discussions .
- Produce in-depth and scholarly written work on an aspect of Florentine history.

Indicative Module Content:


Weekly ( 1 hour)

The lectures provide an outline of Florentine history c.1200-1400 which is designed to give context to the primary sources that are studied in seminar.


Weekly ( 2 hours)

Selected readings from primary sources will be discussed in each seminar. Reading for the seminars will be assigned in advance and posted on Brightspace. Further details of the primary source material and relevant further reading will accompany each seminar.

Module Schedule

1. The origins of Florence: myth and reality

2. Guelfs and Ghibellines: honour , feud and struggles for power 1200-1270

3. The Popolo: government by the guilds 1250-1300

4. Florentine territorial expansion in Tuscany 1220-1320

5. Blacks and Whites: the culmination of factionalism 1290-1300

6. Florence in ‘good and happy state’: the apogee of the medieval city 1300-1330

7. Florence and the first crash in the history of Western capitalism 1330-1350

8. The Black Death: a biological catastrophe 1348-1370

9. The Ciompi revolt: guild republicanism on the brink 1378-82

10. Civic Humanism and the revival of Antiquity 1350-1400

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This is a small-group seminar-based module. It is taught through a one-hour weekly lecture and a two-hour seminar. The lecture provides an overview of the week's topic and provides context for the material studied in the seminar. The seminar is based around discussion of primary sources in sub-groups, discussion boards on Brightspace and peer review. The module is assessed through a weekly learning journal and a capstone project ( essay) of 4000 words. Autonomous student learning is encouraged in tandem with instructor mentoring of both assessment components. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Continuous Assessment: Contributions to in-person class discussion and online Discussion Board on Brightspace. Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Essay: 2500-3000 word essay. Choice of topic from a list of available titles related to the module themes prepared by module coordinator in consultation with class. Week 12 n/a Graded No


Journal: A weekly academic diary of learning acquired on the module (300 word minimum). Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Peer review activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

- Feedback on Learning Journals given online in VLE and through one-to-one meetings by appointment throughout the semester. - Feedback of draft assignments prior to summative assessments given online in VLS and through one-to-one meetings by appointment. - Peer review of essays ( consultation on essay titles and group work on essay plans) is conducted in class.

This is an indicative list to give an idea of the module content.

Ames-Lewis, Francis, ed., Florence ( Artistic Centres of the Renaissance) (Cambridge, 2012).
Caferro, William, Petrarch's war. Florence and the Black Death in context ( Cambridge, 2018).
Roger, Paoletti, John T., eds., Renaissance Florence. A social history (Cambridge, 2008).
Dameron, George, Florence and its church in the age of Dante (Philadelphia, 2005).
Goldwhaite, Richard A. , The Economy of Renaissance Florentine (Baltimore, 2009).
Green, Louis, ‘Florence’ in David Abulafia, ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol.5, 1198-1300 (Cambridge, 1999).
Goy, Richard J, Florence. The city and its architecture (London, 2006).
Najemy, John M., A History of Florence , 1200, 1575 (Oxford, 2008).