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More in this section The Italian Academies

Italian Academies 1525-1700: The first intellectual networks of early modern Europe


Learned Academies represent a vital and characteristic dimension of early modern culture.  There were approximately 600 Academies in Italy in the period 1525-1700. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Italian Academics were responsible for promoting debate and discussion in a range of disciplines from language and literature, through the visual and performing arts to science, technology, medicine and astronomy. 

Varying models of Academies

This wide range of interests was matched by an array of different concepts and models of an Academy. Some were formally constituted, with published rules and lists of members, while others were much looser groupings of like-minded individuals, often young men with common interests. Some Academies pursued research on particular topics, others ranged across the whole spectrum of arts and sciences; some enjoyed the patronage and participation of the political authorities and others were more private and even clandestine. Scientific experimentation, political debates, recitations of poetry and performances of drama are all to be found among the activities of Academies. 

Their function

The Academies functioned as alternative institutions to the universities and courts, and numbered among their members pioneering scientists, writers, artists, political thinkers and representatives of both sexes and all social classes.

They also had a more playful aspect, devising for the Academy and for each member amusing names, which were often represented visually in punning illustrations and devices. International membership, and in correspondence with scholars across Europe, they were fundamental to the development of the intellectual networks later defined as République des Lettres, and to the dissemination of ideas in early modern Europe. The range of interests and the very large number of Academies and their publications makes these institutions central to the study of early modern European culture.

The research project


This four-year research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK (2010-14), builds upon and enhances research undertaken as an AHRC-funded Resource Enhancement Project (2006-09). This project involves a collaboration, led by Professor Jane Everson of the SMLLC, between Royal Holloway, the University of Reading and the British Library. 

One of the major outcomes of the project is a comprehensive database of information on Academies from across the Italian peninsula, detailing their membership and publications. This is publicly accessible through the British Library online catalogue. 

Check out the full project website for more information about publications, events and activities.


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