Renaissance Studies form a connecting link between medieval studies and modern history, just as the Renaissance is often referred to as the "early modern" period between the Middle Ages and modernity. The familiar labels attached to the Renaissance since its first historical construction by Jacob Burckhardt, such as "the birth of the individual," "the rise of rationalism and the scientific revolution," "the human-centered universe," etc. all indicate that the Renaissance was not only one of the historical periods but a specific epoch which bears direct importance for the self-definition of our present age, too. It is not by chance that some important post-structuralist trends of cultural theory (New Historicism, e.g.) evolved from a theoretical-methodological revolution in Renaissance Studies in the 1980s and have become paradigmatic modes of critical discourse.
After having looked at the medieval antecedents (the Carolingian Renaissance, the rise of medieval Italy and the important role of medieval urbanization), this survey course introduces the Renaissance as an important transitory period of great epistemological (from an organic to a mechanistic world view), ideological (individualism, "man-centeredness"), social-psychological (the Reformation) and artistic (from emblematic to a representational style with perspective) paradigm shifts. Special attention is given to new or radically reformed socio-cultural institutions (courts, universities, academies, art collections, patronage, etc.).