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Renaissance Research Papers

Research papers on the Renaissance explore the many aspects of this era tha influenced the future of the world. Art, science, education, religion and philosophy all changed drastically during the Renaissance era.

Renaissance research papers begin by stating that the term Renaissance is French for rebirth. This term describes the intellectual and economic changes that occurred in Europe during the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries. Immediately following the Middle Ages, this time marked a period of financial growth as well as the change in political, scientific, social and artistic thought.

RenaissanceWhen Europe began to return to prosperity after the Black Plague, the new middle class demanded more than just what it took to “get by”. The invention of the printing press opened avenues for new forms of educational enrichment, and people began to demand access to books printed in their own language. Aside from purely educational works, books of poetry, chivalry romances and travel became important. These books were also instrumental in spreading the growing new philosophy of Early Renaissance scholars known as humanists. These humanists studied the writings of the ancient civilizations concerning government, philosophy, and art, and a new focus of attention on man, his intellect, and the meaning of his life on earth emerged.

At the close of the Middle Ages, economic, political, religious and cultural forces gave birth to the Renaissance. These forces were the result of gradual changes in medieval thinking that questioned traditional paradigms and groped for new ways to view the world.  Between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries, they reshaped Europe, laying the foundation for the modern era.

In the late medieval period commerce expanded, giving rise to a prosperous middle class. Both sea borne and overland trade connected the major cities of Europe, creating a higher degree of economic interdependence. This led to an increase in travel and a freer exchange of ideas.  In addition, the increased prosperity enabled the development of a leisure class, which had an interest in using its wealth to sponsor the arts and science. The newfound wealth of the merchants also allowed them to become an influence in politics, which previously had been the sole preserve of the hereditary nobility.

As commerce and communication increased, the loose political connections of medieval feudalism no longer provided adequate local stability.  People of similar language and culture began to coalesce into nations. These nations retained the outward form of a government by feudal nobility owing fealty to a monarch, but authority became more centralized in the monarch. This gave rise to a non-noble bureaucracy, enabling the middle class to participate to some degree in the government of their nations. It also opened new avenues of social mobility as monarchs often raised commoners to noble status for extraordinary service to the nation. As a result, the loyalties of individuals began to shift away from their local feudal lord to the ideal of the nation as a whole.

The religious changes initiated by the Renaissance were violent and bitter. The freer exchange of ideas led many people to question the doctrine and practices of the Catholic Church, which had dominated medieval Europe. This gave rise to the Protestant Reformation and the development of a large number of Christian doctrinal variations.  Europe became split religiously between the two factions:

  1. France, Austria, Spain, Poland and Italy remaining largely Catholic
  2. Germany, England and the Scandinavian countries largely adopted Protestantism. 

Within each country, however, there were sizeable minorities who did not practice the dominant form of the faith. The result was war between nations and internal persecutions carried out with equal vigor by both Protestants and Catholics.

The Renaissance is believed to have started in earnest in Italy where Renaissance architects studied the ruins of ancient buildings and then copied their proportion and symmetry into new buildings that incorporated the philosophy of beauty. The Italian city of Florence was the hub around which all other Renaissance activity flourished. This city was home to twelve artist guilds, whose members were usually wealthy and held positions in government or were otherwise active in politics and society.

At the same time that religious conflicts were growing in intensity, culture was flowering. Advances in science and technology led to inventions such as the astrolabe that aided navigation and exploration. The printing press made the written word more accessible, hastening the spread of ideas and limiting their suppression. The increase in wealth allowed more artists to find support from patrons and work full time at painting and music. These accomplishments helped to lay the cultural foundation of modern Europe.

While all the forces that helped to create and foster the Renaissance are intertwined, perhaps the most significant to influence the period was the religious changes. Prior to the Renaissance, the Catholic Church controlled not only religious practice, but also the spread of ideas that were not necessarily directly tied to religion. If the clergy deemed an idea dangerous to its doctrine, it was suppressed. The Protestant challenge to this traditional way of thinking was based on freedom of conscience, emphasizing personal choice. In practice, however, the Protestants of the Renaissance were intolerant of Catholics, denying that their personal choice was correct. The conflict both physical and philosophical that followed was a dominant aspect of the Renaissance period.  Its ardor did not wane until the early eighteenth century, when it was overshadowed by the politics of nations.  The forces that created and shaped the Renaissance may have been an inevitable outcome of the closed society of medieval times. The paradigms that had served the people of the Middle Ages could no longer adequately explain the observations and events of a changing human experience. The result was a profound shift in the way people viewed themselves and the world around them.

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