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The Italian Renaissance Still Matters: A Compilation of Recent Studies (September 2022): Primary Source Accessibility

By Brian Jeffrey Maxson

Primary Source Accessibility

Readers interested in the Italian Renaissance have historically been unable to consult even major texts from the period, because many were published before 1700 and certainly never translated from Latin or Italian into English. In recent years, digitization projects, new editions, and new translations have started to address this challenge. Google Books, for example, has brought early modern editions of Renaissance books to anyone with access to the internet—be they teachers, researchers, or readers—and dedicated projects have expanded access to primary sources through new editions and translations. In one example, “The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe” series from the University of Toronto’s Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies publishes new editions and translations of or about well-known and forgotten women writers from the 1300s to the 1700s. The series is now in its third decade, and recent highlights from the Italian peninsula include well-known writer Vittoria Colonna’s Poems of Widowhood and Convent Paradise by the less-known Arcangela Tarabotti. Another example is Harvard’s “I Tatti Renaissance Library” series, which regularly publishes Latin literature from the period. Most recently, the series published the first English translation of the two-volume foundational text Miscellanies by Angelo Poliziano. These series are but two prominent examples, but many more exist. 

Digital humanities projects have also furthered efforts to make the Italian Renaissance accessible to a new generation of readers. Decima, hosted by the University of Toronto, combines a 16th-century map, extensive archival data, and even sensory cues to provide a full and informative experience for specialists and nonspecialists alike. Hosted by Stanford University, Mapping the Republic of Letters unravels early modern networks through extant letters. The Rulers of Venice project offers a searchable database of officeholders in power between the mid-1300s and 1524, and The Medici Archive Project in Florence seeks to increase the accessibility of and scholarship on the period of Florentine and Medici history after about 1530. In sum, digital repositories are opening access to collections all over the world. DigiVatLib, the digital Vatican Library, is undoubtedly leading the way, but other libraries that used to be open only to researchers on site are now open to anyone anywhere in the world with a computer.