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Power and Politics in Early Modern Italy

A country divided, degenerate and in cultural decline? Robert Oresko examines the changing views historians are developing of Italy between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries and finds a society far more vibrant and complex than tradition suggests.

All English-speaking historians of Italy during the early modern period, roughly from the beginning of the sixteenth to the close of the eighteenth century, stand deeply indebted to the work of Eric Cochrane. In 1973, Cochrane published Florence in the Forgotten Centuries, 1527-1800 (University of Chicago Press), which, rather than providing a narrative account of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany under its Medici and Lorraine princes, grouped together a sequence of separate essays. Each essay focused on an individual selected by Cochrane as an emblem of his epoch. Some were as well known as Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, for the 1540s or Galileo, for the 1630s, while others had attracted only a limited amount of research, at least in English, until Cochrane dragged them into the scholarly light. Some were attached to the political life of Florence, others to the worlds of natural science or to what we would now consider cultural history.

But Cochrane's achievement in this book was greater than the sum of its individual parts. A meticulous and original scholar, Eric Cochrane was also an iconoclast of deep scepticism and a polemicist. Florence in the Forgotten Centuries has a political purpose enshrined in its very title, for Cochrane was troubled, at times positively angry, about the notion of 'forgotten time' and the assumptions and ideology which spawned and encouraged the neglect of three centuries of Tuscan history.

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