2024 Palazzo Strozzi High School Renaissance Award

Palazzostrozzi > 2024 Palazzo Strozzi High School Renaissance Award

Essay Topics and Readings

(Choose Question A, B or C)


Introduction to All Essay Topics

Modern industrial democracies have been mostly inspired by the Enlightenment and, through the Renaissance, by the political and cultural achievements of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Both, Renaissance Florence and the early United States, for example, turned to models of democracy established in times of antiquity. Florence, in the late Middle Ages, and the United States in the late 18th century, organized their governments as republican democracies. In the history of both societies, their representative governments have faced challenges that forced their people to re-examine the values and ideals of which they were founded. In light of the forthcoming, polarized presidential elections of 2024, of the current cultural and political climate here in the United States and abroad, people are again wondering what values are truly creating a viable democracy and in what ways the people are responsible for ensuring those values are upheld.

Mandatory Reading Assignments for all Essay Topics

  • Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Part 3 “The Revival of Antiquity, the Humanists,” trans. S.G.C. Middlemore, PDF 1-7
  • Gombrich, E.H. A Little History of the World. Chapter 26 “A New Age,” (pp.163-171) PDF 1-7    
  • Najemy, John. Italy in the Age of the Renaissance, 1350-1500, “Introduction,”(pp.1-17, 297-311) PDF 1-34
  • Obama, Barack. Remarks by President Obama to the People of Greece, speech, 16 November, 2016. PDF 1-10
  • Plumb, J.H., The Italian Renaissance, Ch.1 “Dawn of the Renaissance,” (pp.6-19) PDF 1-8

Topic I: Republican Democracy in the United States

Pericles explained, ‘our constitution favors the many instead of the few…this is why it is called a democracy.’ Athenians also knew that, however noble, ideas alone were not enough. To have meaning, principles must be enshrined in laws and protected by institutions, and advanced through civic participation…Now, at times, even today, those ideals are challenged. We’ve been told that these are Western ideals. We’ve been told that some cultures are not equipped for democratic governance and actually prefer authoritarian rule… what I … believe, after eight years, is that the basic longing to live with dignity, the fundamental desire to have control of our lives and our future, and to want to be a part of determining the course of our communities and our nations — these yearnings are universal. They burn in every human heart.

44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, Address to the People of Greece. In the late 1700s, the newly formed United States of America adopted the ideals of democracy by establishing itself a Democratic Republic. In the course of the country’s history, its democratic values have been tested and called into question in order to reassert the ideals the country’s government was designed to uphold. In this essay, investigate the origins, procedures and functions of a Democratic Republic that are practiced in the United States. Then, evaluate if the United States has met the democratic values upon which it was founded and whether the United States has a role in the global community to promote democratic values.

Mandatory Readings

  • Cartledge, Kevin. “The ancient Greeks Would Not Recognise Our Democracy, They Would See an Oligarchy,” The Conversation, 3 June, 2016. PDF 1-4.
  •  Przeworski, Adam, Susan C. Stokes, Bernard Manin, Democracy Accountability, and Representation, Ch. 1 “Election and Representation,” (pp.29-54)   PDF    1-15.
  •  Romeo, Nick. “What Modern Democracies Didn’t Copy From Ancient Greece,” National Geographic, 4 November, 2016. PDF 1-4.
  •  Staloff, Darren. Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and The American Founding, “Introduction,” (pp. 3-43) PDF 1-22

Topic II: The Florentine Republic

Cosimo sought and secured a controlling influence in the government. The forms of the republic were respected and adapted to his purpose… he had not identified his interests completely with those of the state and guided and guarded them wisely and well… it was in the art of politics that Cosimo shone. Studiously effacing himself and remaining in the background of government, he was recognized, nevertheless, both at home and abroad as the real Head of State — Capa della Repubblica”

-J.H. Plumb, The Italian Renaissance.

In the 1100s, the Italian city-state of Florence adopted the ideals of democracy by declaring itself a Republic. By definition and the established political structures, Florence in name was a representative government, however, in practice it can be debated if it truly met the principles of democracy.

In this essay, investigate the origins, procedures and functions of the Florentine Republic. Discuss how the principles of democracy influenced the political and cultural climate of Renaissance Florence and evaluate whether  the Florentine government truly represented those who lived in the city-state.


Mandatory Readings

  • Cesati, Franco. The Medici: Story of a European Dynasty, “Florence Before the Medici,” (pp.9-17) PDF 1-7
  • Plumb, J.H. The Italian Renaissance, “Lorenzo de’ Medici” (pp.206-221) PDF 1-7
  • Strathern, Paul. The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance, Ch.4-5 “Cosimo Rising,” and “The Moment of Truth,” (pp.45-67) PDF 1-14

Topic III: A Comparison of Civic Responsibilities in the Republics of Renaissance Florence and the United States

The claim connecting democracy and representation is that under democracy governments are representative because they are elected; if elections are freely contested, if participation is widespread, and if citizens enjoy political liberties, the governments will act in the best interest of the people…Yet… representation is an issues because politicians have goals, interests, and values of their own … once elected,* they may want to pursue their private goals or some public objectives that differ from those of citizens

Manin, Przeworski, Stokes, Democracy, Accountability, and Representation

In a Democratic Republic, civic participation is a necessity to ensure the government is one of the people. In both Renaissance Florence and the United States, groups and individual citizens have utilized their civic responsibilities as a tool to influence and shape society. (Please note, the Signoria of Renaissance Florence, was drawn rather than elected).In this essay, compare the political influence of guilds and/or a Florentine citizen who exerted influence over government functions and compare such to a group/union/business/lobby and/or American figure that has exerted much influence over the government and politics of the United States. Suggestions include, but ARE NOT LIMITED to:

  1. Comparing a Medici figure to an American figure, either historical or contemporary.
  2. Comparing the influence of guilds or the Medici Bank to power wielded by groups/union/businesses/lobby of the United States.

Mandatory Readings

  • Cesati, Franco. The Medici: Story of a European Dynasty, “Florence Before the Medici,” (pp.9-17) PDF 1-7
  • Ghosh, D.N. “Genesis of High Finance: Case of Medici Bank,” (pp.542-543) PDF 1-3
  • Staloff, Darren. The Politics of Enlightenment and The American Founding, “Introduction” (pp.3-43) PDF 1-22