About this Program

About this Program

Heliads, Detail from The Four Elements by the Afro-Hispanic painter Juan Correa, Mexico 1600sHeliads, Detail from The Four Elements by the Afro-Hispanic painter Juan Correa, Mexico 1600s

The name of the program, Renaissance and Early Modern Studies reflects current re-thinking, across several disciplines, of the period long known as the Renaissance, which laid the social, intellectual and political foundations for our own time.  

The term ‘Renaissance’ originally referred to attempts of humanist scholars in Europe to preserve and revive classical culture, much of which had long been overshadowed by the medieval church. Such diverse figures as Petrarch in the 1300s, Thomas More and Erasmus in the 1500s, and Francis Bacon in the 1600s put classical models to use for the distinctly new purpose of serving centralized royal courts and emergent nation states which were served by renowned artists from Michelangelo to Holbein. Literatures developing in modern languages struggled to establish a native eloquence at the same time as they looked to classical authors for influences and models. Whilst urbanization led to new political ideologies, including republicanism and utopianism, Protestantism and other movements led to a heightened sense of individual agency, countering the corporate sense of self and community that had characterized the Middle Ages. New technologies – including advances in medicine, weaponry and the printing press, and new cultural creations such as the novel, journalism, opera and even forms of ‘world music’ also characterized this period, inaugurating the modern era. At the same time, the creations of empires and colonialism in wake of the exploration, exploitation and conquest in Africa, Asia and the Americas generated new forms of knowledge and cultural exchange, which are only now coming to be understood in the wake of contemporary ‘decolonisation’. 

To rename this era “Early Modern” is to examine it from a more open and flexible vantage point as laying the foundations for the strengths and weaknesses and the justices and injustices of today’s globalised world. The Renaissance and Early Modern Studies Program (REMS) thus pursues a cross-disciplinary and distinctly multicultural approach to this complex epoch. In Brown, our concentration is no longer anchored in Europe and is moving towards adopting a radically cosmopolitan perspective. 

REMS encourages students to use the generous chronological span of this specialism to take courses in different departments and benefit from the wide range of pre-Modern expertise in Brown, and to sustain and respond to curiosity about the languages, literatures, histories, sciences, arts, and philosophies which constitute the Early Modern World.