The topic of this course project is “comparison of society during the early Renaissance in Europe to contemporary society.” This topic was chosen because of the strong belief that the reflections about the past and continuous paralleling of the previous experiences with the modern ones are the way to a deeper understanding of today’s world foundation. From medieval times, European society has changed its mindset in multiple spheres many times up until now, but the current project will focus on the difference in views on money, wealth, and power.
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This intricate subject seems to dominate the modern world obsessed with material values. If society’s goals are found to be similar, then the roots of these desires need to be uncovered and examined. If different, then, perhaps, there is something to learn from our ancestors. The project goal is to understand what has and what has not changed in the modern people’s perception of money, wealth, and power as compared to the early Renaissance European society.
There has been some research in this particular area, however, with little comparison to modern times. The works are mostly written for purely historic review and in-depth source analysis. Richard Goldthwaite (2015), for example, delves into the study of financial records and family documents of wealthy families of Florence to ascertain the daily lifestyle of the Renaissance society. The limitation of this study relating to the current project might be that the authors’ observations are mostly broad and uncertain. However, the book can be useful as it presents fragments of original documents used in the study.
Gene Brucker (2015) shed some light on the European Renaissance society in the context of civic interconnections and stratification. His work is of particular interest to the current project as it contains valuable information on society’s inner organization and politics. The limitation of this book may be in the lack of attention towards common people’s position.
Paul Strathern (2016) focused his study on the personality of a Renaissance person and his or her realization of self as an individual. The key aspect of his work that can be helpful to this study is a detailed analysis and speculation of a professional historian on how the mind of a medieval person worked. He supports his thoughts with evidence from contemporary documents and literature.
The concept of money has also been shaped slightly, even though significant similarities can be identified between the representation thereof in Medieval art and the contemporary culture. For instance, Huber (2016) claims that in the picture The Death of a Miser, the act of giving money to the demon embodies the spiritual fall of humankind:
The angel’s encouragements go unheeded as the miser, surrounded by demons, has fallen prey to that “sinkhole of Hell,” avarice. The priest who should be looking out for the dying man’s spiritual welfare is instead distributing money to a demon in the miser’s chest. (Huber, 2016, para. 46)
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Therefore, while the idea about possible usage of money for the wrongdoing persists in the description, the idea that the money can be used as a means of encouraging artists and contributing to the further development of art can also be traced in some of the interpretations of the artist’s intent in the case in point (Huber, 2016). Therefore, it can be assumed that money was viewed only as a means to an end and a possible way of encouraging artists to create (Huber, 2016).
Similarly, the issue of wealth was viewed slightly differently in Medieval times in the context of art as opposed to the contemporary interpretation thereof. The materialistic culture of the time and people’s attachment to their possessions seem to have defined the development of the culture of consumerism in contemporary society. It should be noted that, with the advent of the Black Death, the propensity toward linking the secular life and the spiritual growth could be observed: “shopkeepers and even artisans could aspire to construct such objects (even if on a more modest scale) to memorialize their bones and assist the future journey of their souls” (Cohn, 2012, p. 989).
That being said, the tendency to view money and wealth as objects of aspiration was quite common. Thus, it can be assumed that the identified attitude created the premises for the hollow consumerist behaviors in contemporary society. While the latter seems to be deprived of the spiritual aspect and the idea of encouraging artistic development in their attempt to mindlessly consume the modern popular culture and its products, the general trend toward encouraging consumerism seems to have been left intact.
The concept of power, in its turn, has also undergone significant changes since medieval times, leaving a comparatively small mark on the modern interpretation of the idea. For instance, the idea of humility as the basis of power seems to be somewhat alien to the contemporary culture, yet it was preached quite often at the identified time slot (Salvatore, 2013). The inappropriateness of open acquisition of power, which Salvatore (2013) addresses in his paper, in turn, seems to have been abandoned as a concept in modern times.
Furthermore, power in the Early Renaissance era could be described as extremely fragile and being in a very delicate balance that any force could easily disrupt. As a result, mass unrests were a consistent threat in the Early Renaissance epoch (Salvatore, 2013). The identified characteristic of the Early Renaissance stands in striking contrast to the modern times when power remains a comparatively stable concept. However, the fact that the balance of powers could be easily changed after a rebellion can also be paralleled with the contemporary political and social realities, where a rapid shift in the balance of power because of a revolution may also occur.
The primary method of collecting data about the perception of concepts of money wealth and power in the early Renaissance society would be literature analysis. The choice of works will be based on the presence of information about the medieval people’s perception of the said notions, data on their daily life, or general society organization. The objective here would be to crystallize the significance of these concepts. To gather the data on modern perception of the mentioned concepts a series of short interviews might be needed. The data on modern and Renaissance concepts’ perception will be then compared.
Therefore, the choice of qualitative research seems reasonable. Furthermore, seeing that the nature of the perceptions among the Early Renaissance people needs to be studied, phenomenology should be considered the research design. Thus, an in-depth analysis of the problem will be carried out.
The essential data required for the study will be gathered from the existing records and literature. Therefore, an all-embracive literature review will be utilized as the method of data collection. Peer-reviewed articles and other reliable academic sources will be chosen as the primary source of the essential data so that the research outcomes could remain credible.
The project is planned in three stages: data collection from literature sources on the early Renaissance, short interviews with modern people on the topic of money, wealth, and power, analysis and comparison of the data.
Results and Implications
The desired results will include similarities and differences in perception of money, wealth, and power. This project could help better understand the transformation of the concepts’ meaning and the extent of their influence on modern people’s lives. Perhaps, it would give an insight into the direction of the development of modern society.
Brucker, G. A. (2015) The civic world of Early Renaissance Florence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Burke, P., Clossey, L., & Fernández-Armesto, F. (2017). The global Renaissance. Journal of World History, 28(1), 1-30.
Cohn, J. S. (2012). Renaissance attachment to things: Material culture in last wills and testaments. Economic History Review, 65(3), 984-1004.
Huber, R. (2016). Oh death: Death, dying, and the culture of the macabre in the late Middle Ages. Web.
Huey-ling, L. (2015). The social meaning of money in Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Comparative Drama, 49(3), 335-366.
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Petrocchi, A. (2017). Mercantile arithmetic in Renaissance Italy: A translation and study of a vernacular Tabacco work. Ceræ: An Australasian Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 3, 1-30.
Salvatore, C. (2013). “God, power and money:” Did Cosimo de Medici deceive Renaissance Florence? Intercedes, 14(29), 180.
Strathern, P. (2016). The Medici: Power, money, and ambition in the Italian Renaissance. New York, NY: Pegasus Books.