ITC 3411 - Florence and the Art of Collecting: Five Hundred Years of Studying the World

Course Type: Lecture / workshop
Instruction Language: English
Examination Method: Tests, onsite reports, self-guided reports
Contact Hours: 49 h
Independent Study: 56 h
Special Project/ Activities: 8 h
Total Work: 113 h
*150 AEF Academic Hours [ 1AEF Academic Hour = 45 minutes ]
Time: Monday through Friday 11:00-13:30, or as indicated in the daily schedule on Moodle
AEF building, via Cavour 37, Firenze


Objects tell stories and things have a social life, none more so than those that are assembled into collections and put on display. Florence has been a center for the collection and display of important objects since the 1500s, from the private scientific collections of the Medici and other important families, through the world’s first public museum of science in the 1700s, to the world-famous assemblages of art and artifacts that today attract visitors from across the globe. In this class, we will take a deep dive into how we learn from objects and the stories that they can tell us by investigating the role of material objects in the generation of knowledge about the natural world, human cultures, and different societies.
This interdisciplinary course traces Florence’s role at the center of the historical development of both the natural and social sciences from the 16th century to the present, with a special focus on the important role of individual and institutional collectors and collections. Students will develop a critical perspective on the scientific endeavor by focusing on the role of material objects in the generation of knowledge, and how that history corresponds to the historical development of modern science. The course will explore different theories and practices of representation, the politics of cultural patrimony, and the history and ethics of collecting. Students will interrogate the concept of authenticity, the social and political trends underlying the movement to bring high culture to the masses (with its attendant issues of class and economics) from the Medici centuries ago to today’s art historical museums and contemporary art galleries, all in the global political context of colonial legacies. Recent attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion, has prompted museums to confront problematic aspects of their legacy of collecting and representation, and we will address the most recent developments in Europe and the United States regarding these trends.
Florence is home to some of Europe’s most valued and impressive public and private museums, including the Uffizi Gallery, the Specola, the Palazzo Strozzi and Strozzina, Galleria Tornabuoni, and the Florence Museum of Ethnology. The museums of Florence provide students with opportunities for onsite research, which will be carried out as a class through onsite lectures and structured activities, as well as individually for class assignments.