I used the same essay questions last semester, and of them all, I thought the answers to this question the most lacking considering its depth. I think that the problem with the question and my expectations of the answer is that the book doesn’t cover it in enough detail. The question is “Explain the concept of civic humanism. What were its origins and what were its effects?”
Sometimes civic humanism is referred to as “classical humanism” because it was the revival of Greco-Roman culture (a very secular / non-church move away from the middle ages). The concept of civic humanism dates back to Cicero. Cicero argued that a well-rounded citizen must be one who understood philosophy, public speaking (oratory), and the art of persuasion (which he called rhetoric). An educated person was no good unless he (and Cicero did mean he for the most part) could publicly express his ideas and persuade others to believe / follow. It was a matter of style, or as the younger students might say of “swag.”
By 1450, this idea of civic humanism spread through schools and universities, and with its emphasis on language and the presentation of language, the idea relied heavily on books (a possibility opened up with the invention of the printing press). Learning and scholarship were very important. However, education was mostly confined to men at the time. In fact, women were encouraged NOT to study geometry, arithmetic, and rhetoric because, according to Leonardo Bruni, “if a woman throws her arms around while speaking, or if she increases the volume of her speech with greater forcefulness, she will appear threateningly insane.” (If you are interested in women orators of the period, though, you should certainly check out Christine de Pizan or Isotta Nogarola.)
As mentioned above, Renaissance Humanists actively studied ancient Greco-Roman texts and culture; in fact, they have been called “cultural archeologists” for their active recovery and translations of ancient texts and theories. They pursued “studia humanitatis”—the study of humanities (specifically grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy). Each person was considered to have unique talents and an obligation to develop and use them. However, all men were supposed to have certain traits to be this well-rounded citizen, a humanist.
Castiglione wrote about this well-rounded person in The Book of the Courtier. The ideal man, according to Castiglione, is one who masters the skills of a medieval warrior and athlete but also knows classical languages, has read great literature, is able to compose prose and verse proficiently, and has developed artistic talent in drawing and playing a musical instrument.
Entire books have been written on this subject, so I could go on, but I think this is sufficient for this unit. Please let me know if you have any question.