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ideas and beliefs. No community still remains the same it was years ago. It is impossible for a civilization to remain intact, maintain prosperity and stability without going through some sort of change. In moments of insecurity, where guidance and comfort is sought, people find new ways to live life by forming new ideas. The beliefs of these people intertwine and from that occurrence, the civilization is transformed. Crises and periods of instability can and will lead to change – it’s not difficult to find such change in this world today. As times change, ideas and beliefs change along with people. Such a change in a civilization can create such a profound effect on other cultures, and influence the lifestyles of others as well. It is in the nature of man to change when something is not going efficiently. As our ancestors have shown, change is inevitable and is always prevalent in the world, regardless of the time period or civilization. It’s not when or where this change occurs that is important, but instead how it influences future lifestyles and cultures. There are many moments in history that has suggested a transformation, or change, in a community. One such civilization includes Europeans during the end of the Middle Ages, more specifically Italy. Another community that has encountered a need to change ideas is the African American community of the 1900s. The African Americans in America were not the only ones affected by this movement of change, but the entire worldwide community. Both of these movements are known as renaissances. Renaissance, meaning “rebirth”, is a period of time when a community or group of people are indulged to change. The people of that community produce new ideas and beliefs that lead to the “rebirth”, or transformation, of a new civilization. The Italian Renaissance and Harlem Renaissance occurred in completely different regions of the world, involved completely different people, occurred in completely different time periods, but are not that different from each other. They share similar causes, developed similarly, share common characteristics, leaders, and both had an insightful effect on future civilizations. Although the Italian Renaissance and Harlem Renaissance are separated by a 500 year time
range and involve completely different people and cultures, there are many similarities that bond the two movements together. Over 2500 years ago, a civilization emerged from the heart of the Italian Peninsula. This civilization would grow into a vast and powerful empire dominating the entire Mediterranean region and stretching nearly halfway to Africa and beyond. The emergence of this one civilization would impact the world so incredibly that it still would leave an imprint on modern society. For nearly one entire millennium, the Roman Empire thrived and prospered, although plagued by constant warfare and predicaments as all civilizations are. From Rome, in the 500s B.C., a society developed from the nomadic groups of people that had settled on the Italian Peninsula. They grew and expanded over the years, and through trade and conquest, they reached their maximum potential in A.D. 117, blanketing nearly all of Europe, the northern region of Africa, and small parts of Asia. Covering three continents, the Roman Empire proved to be grand and extraordinary; thought to be undefeatable. However, by the A.D. 500s, invading Germanic tribes, as well as the Huns and other nomadic people, along with national weaknesses, proved, in fact, that the empire, as magnificent and powerful as it was, was no match for the combined strength of such people. After 1000 years of maintaining stability, the Western Roman Empire collapsed and the once great nation lay in shambles. As proven, no civilization, despite its grandeur or splendor, can stand a chance against the most powerful aspect of life: change. As Europe began to recover from its fall, Germanic tribes ruled the empire for several centuries. Only until the start of the new millennium did Europe began rebuilding its own nations. Many nations emerged and formed their own governments and imperial administrations. One of these nations was Italy, but they were once again susceptible to crisis as disaster spread throughout all of Europe and parts of Asia. The main cause for change bringing about the Italian Renaissance was the constant crises and disasters that swept throughout Europe. As most land was already put into use, and population rapidly increased, food shortages and famine spread throughout Europe because farmers could not grow enough food. As the Little Ice Age began, weather changes had disastrous effects on agriculture. Rain washed away topsoil and rotted seedlings. Harvest failed and famine plagued the population. Furthermore, to add more disaster to the situation, the Black Death, or bubonic plague, swept throughout Europe. Transmitted by the fleas of infected rats, people began catching the disease by flea bites. Causing swollen lymph glands, fever, and painful blotches, death arrived shortly in a matter of days. To make the
situation even worse, the pneumonic plague was spread through merchants from trade. Merchants carried the disease from trade routes in Asia into Europe. This disease originated in China and was spread by coughing and sneezing. Also, ongoing warfare between European nations, as well as civil conflicts, broke down peace and order. As such crises obliterated the population by 25-50%, society was forced to change or be destroyed. Like the Italian Renaissance, the Harlem Renaissance originated from the some form of disaster. African Americans suffered from discrimination and racism and were forced to live difficult lives. The 20th century was a difficult period because of the First World War and the Great Depression later on. It had only been half a century ago since African Americans had been abolished and freed from the shackles of slavery. Although they were no longer enslaved, they were not free. They had no rights, no voice, and most importantly, no identity. The cause for the Harlem Renaissance was similar to the cause for the Italian Renaissance since African Americans, like the Italians and other Europeans, were forced to change in order to achieve what they wanted. The Italians suffered from the disaster of the Black Death and environmental problems, while the African Americans suffered from racism and discrimination, and the fact that they had no rights. Each group had to change soon, or their civilization would fall apart and vanish. Another similarity was that they had both faced losses and were struggling to recover from such losses. African Americans lost their families and were often separated as slaves. The Italian population was nearly cut in half and devastated because of the 14th century collapse. Another aspect of the Renaissances is the development and progression of each. They did not begin overnight or in one day. It took time to bring about the spark that started the fire of each Renaissance. The Italian Renaissance had started by trade. However, the Black Death and other earlier disasters had just destroyed any system of trade. As people began to bounce back, the economy and commercial activity began to heal. Ironically, such a loss was necessary in order to stimulate the economic success of Italy. As the population was lower than ever, there was a surplus of wealth and the standard of living rose dramatically. People had more money to buy things with, so they could afford more products. Specialization was a technique in which different regions produced only a certain thing, which made agriculture more efficient. Manufacture was also specialized, creating an integrated economy and increased trade. New business practices also improved the economy and trade. These changes in commercial activity allowed the Renaissance to begin. As trade flourished, merchants brought in Greek scholars who
sought refugee from Turkish warriors. These Greeks brought ancient texts of Greek and Roman literature thought to be lost. This opened the gateway to a whole new movement, known as the Italian Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance emerged as African Americans desired social and cultural change. They strived for civic participation, political equality, and cultural acceptance. African Americans wanted to be recognized, and granted rights and opportunities. They wanted a voice and desired an identity for themselves. As World War I approached, many whites in the north left their jobs to fight in the war. Factories and businesses in the north were left with very few workers. These businesses needed cheap labor and African Americans needed money. The North offered business opportunities and more freedom for blacks. There was less discrimination and racism against African Americans, and many felt more comfortable in the North. As African Americans started migrating north, which became known as the Great Migration, they moved to cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and New York City. The most concentrated black community was in Harlem, New York City. This area became a sort of refuge for thousands of blacks where memories, experiences, ideas, beliefs, and cultures blended to form something more valuable than anything else: an identity. From the beliefs of all these different cultures, the New Negro was born from the midst of these ideas. The concentration of all these blacks from many different regions of the world all in one place at the same time allowed them to unite and create a movement to obtain freedom, known as the Harlem Renaissance. The direct development of the each Renaissance was similar in a couple of ways. The Italians were able to bounce back from their fall and save their society. They managed to restore trade and economic businesses. Similarly, the African Americans were able to recover from their depressive state, and instead of moping around doing nothing, they took action. They spread their ideas and customs and created a movement that would allow them to be recognized. They did not want to imitate what whites did and what whites had; they wanted their own identity. Both groups of people were able to take action to ensure their future. Gradually, as these changes were taken in effect, society began to change and the Renaissance began. Italians began to realize that their previous methods were not effective, and the African American community realized that if they wanted equality, they would have to take action. A third aspect of each Renaissance was the characteristics and features of each. The start of the Italian Renaissance also brought about a new philosophy in Italy that completely changed
the beliefs of previous society. As Greek scholars introduced literature of the classical world, mainly Greece and Rome, the Italians rediscovered the beauty of their learning. The study of classical education of the Greek and Romans influenced scholars to lead a virtuous and educated life. Education was now based upon the study of the classics: rhetoric, grammar, poetry, history, and most importantly, Latin and Greek. Those who studied such subjects were known as humanists, and this new widespread movement became known as humanism. Humanism also introduced a whole entire new conception of the nature of human beings and their role in the world. Humanism emphasized the worth and creativity and human beings. Although this went against the church, it appealed to many Italians. Most Italian cities became urbanized and sophisticated. Because of the warfare between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, Italy was split into two parts. The Guelphs supported the pope, while the Ghibellines sided with the State. As families and city-states were forced to choose sides, bloodshed and chaos swept throughout all of Italy. Only when strong rulers emerged to regain order did things began to settle down a bit. However, the struggle still continued as city-states hoped to dominate others in order to expand. By the 1450s, five major powers in Italy remained: Florence, Milan, Venice, Naples, and the Papal States. As rulers began to grow tired of senseless fighting, diplomacy emerged as ambassadors were created and a balance of power emerged. Civic humanism was another form of humanism which had the same ideas, except was applied towards the society as a whole. The arts were extremely important as humanism affected all of society. The key of observation was revived as painters focused on the human form and what could plainly be observed. Sculptors valued the human body as well, as works of art emphasized the creativity and beauty of humans. Science and architecture improved as it was applied practically to benefit life. Literature focused on one aspect alone: society. Whether it was politics, the arts, or science, most works of literature was reflected upon the new society. There was also an explosion of musical activity as people began to appreciate such parts of life. Another characteristic of the Italian Renaissance is the religious movement known as the Reformation in which individuals and nations challenged the practices if the Catholic church. By the 1900s, African Americans had found rejoice at Harlem, New York City. It was a place of gathering where ideas and cultures were blended to form inspiration and motivation for the black community. The Harlem Renaissance was mainly a literary movement and a development in the arts. For the first time, many groups of people from the African American
community began to express themselves. They used literature, music, art, and oratory to release their ideas and beliefs. Flourishing with such literary production, the rest of the American community were exposed to African Americans’ ideas and felt their pain. By putting their experiences into words, a new culture of blacks was formed. The New Negro emerged as a sophisticated and intellectual man. The production of literature, art, and music challenged racism and would serve to uplift the race. Blacks began to own businesses and began the patronage and publication of African American writings. Art and literature acted as a way to prove their humanity and demand equality. No longer were African Americans treated below and ignored. By utilizing their advantage to express their culture through literature, they finally reached American society and forged an identity. The characteristics of each Renaissance were similar since both Italian cities and black cities became urbanized and sophisticated regions. New York City became a black community, as thousands of African Americans migrated north for better business opportunities. As the gathering of such a large community emerged in one central area, sophistication and urbanization resulted, as large communities emerged. Another similarity was that both Renaissances of Italy and Harlem were mainly literary movements. The Italians focused on the writings of reeks and Romans, who influenced their own literature. Literature came to affect all other aspects of society: religion, government, business, art, and science and architecture. Although the Italian Renaissance focused on a great number of things, the main aspect of it was literature, for it influenced all other parts of Italian society. The same applies for the Harlem Renaissance. As black writers emerged from the concentration of the new black community, a literary movement was started. Mass production of art and literature added to black culture, and also acted as a cry for equality and justice. The literature produced proved that blacks were capable of the same things that the white community was. A last similarity between the two was the increase in education. As Italians obtained more wealth, the rich were not the only people who could afford a higher degree of education. More universities and institutions of learning were built. The percentage of illiteracy decreased, as more and more people began to learn how to read. The Harlem Renaissance inspired the black community to pick up an education and pursue knowledge. As literacy rose, the Italian and Harlem Renaissances gave birth to a more intellectual and educated community.
For each Renaissance, there were always a selected few individuals who inspired the rest of the community and brought about change. The Italian Renaissance had several key leaders. One such person was Humanist Francesco Petrarch, a scholar who introduced the philosophy of humanism. Petrarch was inspired by the classical commitment to lead a virtuous, well-rounded life. The ancient Greek and Roman writers provided a guide to morality that was nonexistent in the church. Petrarch inspired the future generation of scholars to study the classics, which included rhetoric, grammar, poetry, history, and Latin and Greek, also known as humanities. Humanists following Petrarch’s examples emphasized the worth and creativity of individual human beings. Although this went against the church’s doctrine of original sin, humanist ideas were very influential. Baldassare Castiglione, a civic humanist, also followed Petrarch but emphasized slightly different views. He created the image of the perfect Renaissance gentlemen and their behavior. The most famous and influential of all civic humanists was Niccolo Machiavelli, who created a guide for political rulers which called for a ruthless and realistic attitude toward politics. The Renaissance artist, Giotto, revived the Roman belief that observation was the key to creativity. He created realistic paintings of people as he observed them. Donatello, a famous sculptor, focused also on the human form with great accuracy and realism. Isabella d’Este was a patron of the arts and encouraged all artists and their talents. Leonardo da Vinci, a painter famous for his Mona Lisa, was the ideal Renaissance man being a sculptor, architect, inventor, and engineer. Michelangelo Buonarroti was famous for his painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which portrayed God extending his finger to touch Adam’s with the spark of life. The Harlem Renaissance also held many key people and leaders. Most of these African Americans created works of literature, art, music, or other forms of expression. Although there were many people involved, some well-known people include Langston Hughes, Louis Armstrong, and Eugene O’Neill. Langston Hughes is possibly the most well-known black writer. He wrote novels, stories, poetry, and essays. His works are famous for their realistic tone and real-life situations. He was one of the most influential of all Renaissance participants, and is still very famous today. Louis Armstrong set off a whole new trend of music, as he excelled past all other musicians – regardless of their race – in the country. He was known for his unique style and tone, and originality. He starred in movies, musicals, and plays. His music is still wellknown today. Eugene O’Neill was a playwright who was involved in writing plays that focused
on black experiences and culture. One Renaissance artist that was very influential in the production of future art is William H. Johnson. He is known for art that represented black culture and society. There are hundreds of other participants in this event, although these four are the most influential from each aspect of society: literature, music, drama, and art. Similarities in leaders include the fact that they all represented some form of society. Either they were writers, philosophers (Humanists), artists, musicians, playwrights, or other supporters of the Renaissance; they all were associated with the arts or literature in some way. These leaders were similar in the way that they inspired and influenced future generations to follow in their footsteps and continue the spirit of the Renaissance. These leaders were just normal people of the community who emerged from the crowd to provide guidance and support, as well as encouragement and influence. These leaders all had a common goal: to improve society and life for future generations. The final feature of these Renaissances is the cultural impact and future influence that the movement had on society as a whole. The Italian Renaissance revived the classical teachings of Greek and Roman writers and discovered the splendor of their literature. It also reintroduced Greek and Roman ideas, as well as artistic techniques. This advancement and improvement in the literature and the arts allow a more culturally diverse community in Italy. A sophisticated and urbanized environment was produced throughout Italy. Science and architecture found practical ways to improve life as new conveniences were introduced and society became more modernized. The introduction and changing of many beliefs created a new Italian society, which would influence the way Italy progressed in the future. As the Italian Renaissance faded, its ideas did not vanish. It spread to northern parts of Europe, such as England, where it was transformed and adopted. The Italian Renaissance also led to the Reformation, which was a religious movement, set off by Martin Luther, that challenged the practices of the church. During this period of time, the church’s doctrines of faith were reformed and practices were changed. The Italian Renaissance not only benefited future Italian society, but also the future of many other nations. Italian culture blended with other nations giving Europe a great diversity of culture and ideas. The influence of Harlem Renaissance changed forever the dynamics of African American art and literature around the world. African American culture quickly spread through literature, which was transformed into new media and screenplay. As these ideas spread, the white
community gained an insight on how blacks were forced to live and what they had to face. The influence of the Harlem Renaissance was not limited within the United States only. As African Americans gained the chance and freedom to travel to other places, such as Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean, their ideas spread around the globe. For thousands of blacks around the world, the Harlem Renaissance was proof that whites did not hold a monopoly on literature and culture, and that the white community was not the only group that could hold power. From the struggle of racism and discrimination for political equality and social justice, African Americans created a new identity: “the “New Negro”. African Americans became recognized as their accomplishments affected the rest of American society. Whites began to view them differently as blacks transformed from a rural, uneducated peasant people to a culturally diverse and sophisticated, intellectual cosmopolitan community. Similarities in the cultural impact and influence created by the Renaissance included that each Renaissance’s ideas were not confined to their area of origin. Italian ideas spread to England and northern Europe, as other nations established their own Renaissance based on Italian beliefs and ideas. The Italian Renaissance set off a trend of changes that shaped the future of Europe. The Harlem Renaissance also spread beyond the community of Harlem in New York City. It first traveled throughout the country, and then spread to other nations and continents. Another similarity in their impact is that they both molded a new identity of people. A new identity emerged from each community. Italians became more sophisticated, just as blacks did. A transformation occurred in culture and society as a new identity was created. Similarly, the Harlem Renaissance created a sophisticated community, as the Italians also produced a culturally sophisticated community. Both groups were forever transformed. Although the Italian and Harlem Renaissance may now appear similar in a countless number of ways, there are also some differences between them. After all, they are not completely identical. The Italian Renaissance occurred because of economic collapse and disaster. Natural environmental causes and disease led to the development of the Renaissance. However, the Harlem Renaissance did not occur because of an economic crisis or disaster. Nor was it environmental change that brought it about. It occurred because of the flocking of thousands of blacks into one central region. It had nothing to do with collapse or disaster in politics or business. The Harlem Renaissance resulted from social disaster since the abolishment of slavery
had led to racism and discrimination. The Italians had lost their population from disease and natural causes, whereas the African Americans lost their brothers from the cruel hands of slavery. Another field of difference is in the development of each Renaissance. As Greek scholars came into contact with Italians, the Italian Renaissance began as the revival of literature sparked society. The Harlem Renaissance started because the North needed workers as whites had left for the war. Because so many Africans needed jobs, they all headed north, where the herded in large groups to combine ideas and bring about change. The Italians were determined to bring about change because they wanted to restore the population that the crises had taken a large toll on. The African Americans had a different motive. They wanted to achieve political equality and obtain a voice in government, as well as be treated properly. Both communities had different motives for starting their Renaissance. Additionally, another comparison is the difference in characteristics. The most obvious comparison between the two would be that they occurred in completely different time periods and regions. The Italian Renaissance, obviously, occurred in Italy and the Harlem Renaissance occurred in Harlem, New York City. The Italian Renaissance took place starting from the mid-1300s to the late 1500s, a period of over 200 years. The Harlem Renaissance lasted from early 1900s to the 1930s, a shorter period of barely 30 years. While both were a social movement affecting society, the Italian Renaissance involved literature, poetry, philosophy, science, architecture, sculpture, painting, music, drama, and politics. However, the Harlem Renaissance involved fewer aspects of society. It only included literature and poetry, sculpture, painting, drama, and music. Science, architecture, politics, and philosophy were not implicated within the Harlem Renaissance. Furthermore, the Harlem Renaissance differed because it did involve a religious movement or reformation. Further differences involve leaders and key people of each Renaissance. In the Italian Renaissance, there were a whole variety of people of different fields. Architects, scientists, engineers, poets, writers, artists, sculptors, inventors, political leaders, and musicians all flourished in Italy, while the Harlem Renaissance was a bit smaller, including only writers and poets, artists, sculptors, and musicians. The Italian leaders wanted to enrich Italian culture and strove towards that goal, while Harlem leaders strove to achieve political freedom and social justice. Differences in the cultural impact and overall influence on society differed because the Italian Renaissance improved intellect and society. The Harlem Renaissance did that, in addition to uplifting the black community in their struggle for equality. It helped them gain something that
they did not have before. The Italians did not have to worry about discrimination or racism to achieve equality. The Italian Renaissance improved business and trade, whereas the Harlem Renaissance did not. Black society and culture became accepted into American tradition, while the Italian Renaissance did not involve such a matter of cultural acceptance. The Italian Renaissance forever changed European society and leaves a heavy trace on Europe even today. The characteristics and participants of the Renaissance are recognized and honored for their contributions towards Italian society. What makes this movement so influential to modern European society? The mix of so many different ideas, beliefs, and cultures that created a culturally diverse and sophisticated community is what makes the Renaissance so important. Because all of these people produced ideas and stimulated change, a new society was formed. The same applies towards the Harlem Renaissance. An entire African American community, from all corners of the globe, joined together to create a global blending of experiences, memories, ideas, beliefs, and customs. From this giant blender, an identity was forged. What makes these Renaissances so important and well-known today is the effect that they have on us. They molded a character and identity that is known today. Although both the Italian Renaissance and Harlem Renaissance seem completely distant from each other, they are nearly indistinguishable, for they impacted all of future society in ways unimaginable and left a heavy trace on us even today.
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