During the Renaissance, there was a new emphasis on individual achievement. Indeed, the Renaissance ideal was a person with talents and skills in many fields.

A Spirit of Adventure and Curiosity

The Renaissance supported a spirit of adventure and curiosity that led people to explore new worlds or to reexamine old ones. Columbus, who sailed to the Americas in 1492, represented that spirit. So, too, did the scientists who looked at the universe in new ways.

An Italian thinker, Pico della Mirandola, captured this spirit of adventure and confidence in human abilities when he wrote: “To [man] it is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills.”

Illustration of a man in workman’s attire standing at the base of a sculpture in progress, amidst paintings and tools. Two men in papal robes and jewelry approach the artist, one in a red cape and cap.

The Church was an important patron of Renaissance art, commissioning paintings and sculptures. Here, the pope meets with artist Michelangelo.

Renaissance Humanism

At the heart of the Italian Renaissance was an intellectual movement known as humanism. Humanist scholars studied classical Greek and Roman cultures, hoping to use the wisdom of the ancients to increase their understanding of their own times. Though most humanists were pious Christians, they focused on worldly, or secular, subjects rather than on the religious issues that had occupied medieval thinkers.

Humanists believed that education should stimulate the individual's creative powers. They emphasized the humanities—subjects such as grammar, rhetoric (the study of using language effectively), poetry, and history—that had been taught in ancient Greek and Roman schools.

Francesco Petrarch (PEE trahrk), who lived in Florence, a city in north Italy in the 1300s, was an early Renaissance humanist. From monasteries and churches, he hunted down and assembled a library of Greek and Roman manuscripts. Through his efforts, and those who followed his example, the speeches of Cicero, the poems of Homer and Virgil, and Livvy's History of Rome again became known to Western Europeans.

Petrarch also wrote poetry. His Sonnets to Laura are love poems, inspired by a woman he knew only at a distance, but their style greatly influenced writers of his time. Petrarch wrote in the vernacular, or everyday language of ordinary people, as well as in Latin.

Sketch of a man in a robe and head covering, including a crown of laurels, holding a book.

Francesco Petrarch, an Italian Renaissance scholar, poet, and humanist.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments