Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)

Module ITAL3151: From the Middle Ages to Modernity: The World of Petrarch

Department: Modern Languages and Cultures (Italian)

ITAL3151: From the Middle Ages to Modernity: The World of Petrarch

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap 30 Location Durham


  • Italian Language 2B (ITAL2031) OR Italian Language 2A (ITAL2111) or an equivalent qualification to the satisfaction of the Chairman/woman of the Board of Studies of MLAC or his/her representative.


  • Modern Languages, Combined Honours and all Joint and 'with' Progammes: Italian Language 4 (ITAL3021). Others: see Chairman/woman of the Board of Studies of MLAC or his/her representative

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the question of the transition from medieval to modern culture
  • To introduce students to Petrarch’s Canzoniere, the most influential book of poems in Italian and European late medieval and early modern culture, and other related texts
  • To examine Petrarch's achievement as a poet, intellectual, traveller and scholar in the context of the Italian and European culture of his time
  • To highlight the continued relevance of his legacy in Italian and European literature through an analysis of the phenomenon of Petrarchism
  • The course is designed for students with advanced knowledge of Italian language and advanced reading skills in Italian. Set-texts and sources will be both in Italian and English.


  • The transition from the Middle Ages to modernity saw Italy become one of the prominent cultural centres of the Western world. Most of the significance of this process can be said to be encapsulated in one of the key-figures of world culture, Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch, 1304-1374). By approaching world-renowned works such as his Canzoniere, which constituted for centuries the blueprint for love discourse through the Italian and European phenomenon of Petrarchism, students will acquire a sense of what an extraordinarily influential work can achieve on the minds and hearts of readers of different nations and across the centuries. Petrarch once claimed that he felt he was living ‘on the watershed between two different epochs, looking both forward and backward’ – thereby posing with unprecedented clarity and urgency the problem of the relationship between past and future. Conventions and habits of thought and expression, cultural prejudices and their overcoming or perpetuation, ethical and artistic problems and their solutions will be examined in their progressive change as reflected in Petrarch’s works. The transition from medieval to modern culture will also be explored through the reading of a variety of other texts, both by Petrarch and others (among them Petrarch’s best friend, Boccaccio), which will encourage students to develop personal lines of enquiry.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • •Students should:
  • gain a sense of the broader cultural context in which Petrarch operated, and the way in which his ideas became some of the leading trends of modern Italian and European culture
  • become familiar with the notion of love lyric, of its broader significance for the development of Italian and European literature, of the influence it exercised not just on literary culture but also on behavioral habits and customs and on the codification of gender interaction
  • understand the complexities of one of the most fascinating personalities of world literature.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students should develop reading and interpretative skills that will enable them to read, understand and appreciate texts of diverse nature – love lyrics, letters, short stories and dialogues amongst others
  • Students should be able to identify and understand complex linguistic and cultural nuances in the work of on outstanding personality of the intellectual world
Key Skills:
  • Students should be able to work both independently and collaboratively to prepare and complete written works of varying length to a deadline

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module will be taught over Term I and Term II
  • Weekly lectures will deliver key information about the module
  • A weekly seminar with smaller groups will allow for individual presentations and active discussions
  • This format responds to student feedback gained in SSCC and NSS responses

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture 20 Weekly 1 hour 20
Seminar 10 Fortnightly 1 hour 10
Student preparation and reading time 170
Total SLAT hours 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Research Proposal Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Research Proposal 1,500 words 100% No
Component: Final Project Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Final Project 3,500 words 100% No

Formative Assessment:

Seminars will involve students' presentations and discussion. Students will be encouraged to participate in class discussion, to contribute with seminar presentations and to work in close relationship with their peers.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University