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Course tutor: Dr Carlotta Paltrinieri (Lecturer in Early Modern Italian Studies and Director of Italian Studies in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Royal Holloway, University of London)

The history of journalism has its roots in the early modern world. In their workshops, copyists would spend hours gathering, selecting, and handwriting pieces of information arriving from all over the known world: the avvisi.

Over the course of five online sessions, we will explore a specific aspect of information gathering and dissemination in the avvisi: the degrees and ways of communicating beliefs, hopes, and opinions, and how these relate to the ‘factual truth’ of historical events as we know them. By tracing the word on the street on paper, students will be able to see how, to early modern readers, the truth and the perception of truth were equally valuable: what people believed would happen had the same, if not a greater, impact on their existence as what truly happened.  

The course will be taught across five 2hrs classes (3.00-5.00pm) online via the Zoom platform. Each of the five sessions will have a practical, interactive component based on group work and active discussion around the primary sources. Reading lists and digitized sources will be made available to registered students.

A reading knowledge of Italian is encouraged, although not required. 



  • Standard £120
  • Warburg Staff & Fellows / external students / unwaged £110
  • SAS & LAHP-funded students £95
  • Warburg Students £60


Weds 30 Aug, 3.00-5.00pm: Introduction to the Avvisi: How Pre-Moderns Understood their World. 
During this session students will explore the world of the avvisi, understanding how they were gathered and compiled, distributed, read, and ultimately stored. During the first half of the session, we will focus on the stylistic, linguistic, and formal features of this unique typology of archival documents. After a short break, students will be divided into small groups to analyse and share ideas on a preselected set of avvisi. A class discussion will follow, highlighting how avvisi are used and can be used by scholars: for fact-checking, close and distant reading, reconstructing spaces and practices, or simply, prying into the everyday life of premodern people. 

Thurs 31 Aug, 3.00-5.00pm: Research Pathway 1: Fact-Checking 
During this session students will be introduced to one of the key approaches to the avvisi: fact-checking. Scholars have focussed on this practice in order to verify historical truths, and uncover and debunk the predecessors of “fake news”. After a short break, students will be divided into small groups to work on a preselected set of avvisi, focussing on issues of  transparency, veracity, and reliability of the information that reached all major European courts through the avvisi, and will be invited to discuss  the meaning of “truth” in premodern times.

Fri 1 Sept, 3.00-5.00pm: Research Pathway 2: Close and Distant Reading 

During this session, students will be offered the opportunity of applying both close and distant reading to the study of avvisi: the close reading will rely on the analysis of a single historical episode (e.g. the supposed  marriages of Queen Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I Tudor); while the distant reading will take into account the bigger picture, comparing information from different geographical areas and chronological periods. In the first half of the session, the instructor will model both close and a distant reading approaches, inviting students to apply the same approaches on a preselected set of avvisi during the second half of the session. 

Mon 4 Sept, 3.00-5.00pm: Research Pathway 3: Reconstructing Spaces and Practices

During this session, students will explore how the avvisi can be studied to reconstruct the spaces and cultural practices of premodern society. In the first half of the session, they will learn how the avvisi contain an astounding amount of information concerning tangible and intangible heritage: from descriptions of performances and celebrations to the circulation of books, artworks, and other cultural objects. In the second half, students will have the opportunity, as groups, to choose a case study from a preselected set of avvisi and broaden the research on that particular event or object. A mini class presentation will follow, in which students will be able to share their findings with their peers. 

Tues 5 Sept, 3.00-5.00pm: Research Pathway 4: The Everyday Life of Premodern People
This session will focus on a less conventional use of the avvisi: reading these newsletters to understand more about customs, cultural behaviours, and (ordinary and extraordinary) aspects of life in premodern society. During the first half of the session, we will analyse and discuss a set of avvisi, identifying how frequently (or infrequently) these pieces of information are reported, and what they tell us about premodern people. Special attention will be given to the different status and type of people who made the news. In this final session, we will also identify new potential research pathways, and look into current projects advancing the research on the avvisi.