Culture Courses

A different selection of the following courses is offered each term based on student enrollments and is confirmed at the time of registration.


  • History and Culture of Food in Italy

    ANTH 111 / ITAL 111 / HIST 111
    Peter Fischer

    This is a challenging course on one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of food. We will trace the historical evolution of Italian food culture in the geographical and cultural context of the Mediterranean from the times of the classical civilizations until today. The focus will be on understanding the extraordinary significance of food for the definition of “Italianness”. Pasta, pizza and cappuccino have become some of the most recognizable signs for Italian identity and they contribute to the creation of a coherent, unified image of Italy. To fully explore the evolution of this fascinating relationship between “Italianness” and food, a cornucopia of historical, cross-cultural and theoretical views is offered, drawing from history, anthropology, sociology, as well as from geography. Lectures and class discussions will be supplemented by special food workshops in which we will explore the history, culture and taste of some Italian key products: bread, wine and olive oil as well as coffee. Emphasis will be placed on developing a methodological and structured approach towards how to taste these food items, covering all of the essential elements of the subject, from the physiology and experience of the senses to tasting techniques, tasting vocabulary, and quality assessment.

  • Italian Foodscapes: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Food and Culture.

    ANTH 124 / GEOG 124 / ITAL 124
    Davide Papotti

    Italy, a country characterized by a strong tradition of food culture, plays a central role in the world imagery about food. Food is an important component of the country “brand” and Italian restaurants can be found on every corner of the planet. Italian society itself is no exception in this growing interest in the ways of preparing, commercializing, and consuming foods. The course provides a theoretical approach to the field of food studies, giving examples of the complexity of issues and approaches to this topic. After the construction of a theoretical disciplinary framework, we will concentrate on the specific characteristics of the Italian context, especially through the use of direct observation of contemporary urban landscapes during fieldtrips in the downtown of Florence. An extended fieldtrip outside of Florence will also allow a direct observation of agricultural and rural landscapes. We will use a spatial approach to interpret the distribution of regional and local food cultures in Italy, adopting concepts and methodologies mostly developed in the field of geographical studies. Special attention will be devoted to the analysis of contemporary Italian foodscapes (the visibility of food production, distribution and consumption in contemporary urban and rural landscapes), which are rapidly changing under the influence of globalization processes and immigration flows. The case studies of the Italian regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, and specifically of the town of Florence, will provide useful territorial contexts to understand the complexity and the importance of the cultural processes related to food.

  • Art and Culture in Renaissance Florence*

    ARTHS 113 / ITAL 113
    Cecilia Martelli

    This course is designed for students interested in an in-depth exploration of the artistic production of Italy from the 14th to the 16th centuries, with a special focus on Florence and its social, political and devotional context. Starting with the Gothic, the course will follow the development of different forms of art – painting, sculpture and architecture – up to the middle of the 16th century, thus covering the period known as the Renaissance. This time underwent an extraordinary renewal in all fields of human knowledge, from literature and philosophy to the visual arts, the latter being considered a fundamental instrument for the investigation of nature and of human experience. The course analyzes how the recovery and study of ancient sources and the work of contemporary humanists inspired and stimulated painters, sculptors, and architects. For the analysis of the Early Renaissance, special emphasis is placed on such figures as Giotto, Ghiberti, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Masaccio, and Fra Angelico. Moving on to the High Renaissance in the second part of the course, the works of Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, the young Raphael and Giorgio Vasari are considered in the light of the Medici family political rule and artistic patronage. Through lectures, class discussions, and frequent site visits, the course aims at training students to study works of art in their original context, to recognize iconographic features and subjects and distinguish the different styles and techniques used by the artists.
    * Not offered in Summer

  • Art in the Republic of Florence

    ARTHS 123 / ITAL 123 / HIST 123
    Stefano Casu

    The course follows the evolution of art in Florence from 1293 to 1494. During these two centuries Florence underwent dramatic transformations: it boomed into one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Europe, faced the destruction of Black Death, gave itself a republican government and defended it against tyrants and powerful enemies, and in the end saw the Republic overthrown by an oligarchy first and by the Medici family later. This time truly represents one of the most fascinating periods in the history of Western culture and witnessed the creation of masterpieces by great artists, from Arnolfo di Cambio to Leon Battista Alberti, from Andrea Pisano to Verrocchio, from Giotto to Botticelli. In analyzing the artistic production of the period we will privilege a political periodization rather than a “stylistic” or “cultural” one, allowing students a fresh approach to artistic monuments and avoiding preconceptions or traditional definitions of the passage from “Gothic” to “Renaissance” art. The course will use a strong interdisciplinary approach to the study of Florentine art, focusing on the connections between society, economy and cultural life. On-site lectures and discussions, with a hands-on approach to art history, are an essential part of the course.

  • The Lure of Italy: From the Grand Tour to Mass Tourism

    ARTHS 120 / HIST 120 / SOC 120
    Nicoletta Leonardi

    The course examines the social and cultural history of travel in Italy from the Grand Tour in the 17th and 18th centuries to the emergence of mass tourism in the 19th century. Particular emphasis will be given to travelers’ accounts and representations of Florence, and how the image of the city was created and perpetuated through the medium of travel. We will go through a wide range of materials and objects, from travel writings and guidebooks to paintings and sculptures, scientific instruments and collections, prints and engravings, gems and cameos, souvenir copies of sorts, photographs and photographic albums. Through readings and site visits we will study the relationship between travel and material culture; the construction and performance of gender and national identities through the Grand Tour; the relationship between scientific empiricism and travel to Italy in the 17th century; the taste for the antique and the art market connected to grand tourism in the 18th century; the stereotypes of Italy as a timeless picturesque Arcadia; the evolution of travel writing from topographic descriptions to sentimental narratives; the rising interest in Medieval and Renaissance Florence at the turn of the 19th century; the relationship among tourist guidebooks, travel companies and the railway; photography and the tourist industry in Italy the 19th century; American artists and writers in Italy in the 19th century between high art and popular culture.

  • Michelangelo: Art, Persona, and Politics in Renaissance Italy

    ARTHS 126 / ITAL 126
    Sheila Barker / Alessio Assonitis

    The course examines the life and creative production—sculpture, painting, and architecture—of one of the great protagonists of the Renaissance, Michelangelo Buonarroti. The course explores the tensions that colored Michelangelo’s interactions with his patrons, rival artists, the Medici rulers of Florence, and the Catholic Church. We’ll consider how social and political conditions may have fostered or hindered his creativity, and how Michelangelo’s “creativity” and “genius” were understood both in the Renaissance as well as in recent historiography. In addition to familiarizing students with all of Michelangelo’s major works, the course is designed to enhance the skills and abilities in historiographic analysis, stimulate independent critical thought, and sharpen argumentation skills.

  • Telling Stories in Medieval and Renaissance Italian Art

    ARTHS 117 / ITAL 117
    Sheila Barker

    Since ancient times, artists have sought to depict stories in art, addressing the challenge presented by the inherent fixity and silence of images. This course examines the use and characteristics of visual narrative in Italian art over several centuries. In Late Antiquity, the Christian suspicion of images was overcome by arguments for the utility of visual representations of the saints’ lives. Following the implementation of narrative art by the Church, we witness the proliferation and codification of religious storytelling in Medieval art. Art’s persuasive powers were then honed through exchanges with dramatic and literary forms, and in the 15th century, secular and Humanist values left their imprint on both the form and content of visual narratives. In the 16th century, art was used to tell stories that were open-ended, and whose only purpose was pleasure. Finally, placement of sculptures in a garden like Bomarzo allowed for viewers to walk about in fantastic settings and dream up their own stories. Throughout this course, we will explore broader hermeneutical questions about the relation of word to image. Class meetings will often be held in museums and at monuments. Artists to be studied include Giotto, Nicola Pisano, Donatello, Ghiberti, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Giorgione, and Titian.

  • Florence in Italian and International Cinema

    FILM 128 / ITAL 128
    Cristina Villa

    This course examines Florence and its presence in Italian and international cinema from the period immediately after World War II to the present. It presents a survey of films, movements, and genres in Italian cinema as well as the image of Florence in British and American cinema. The films are analyzed as aesthetic objects as well as in relation to the political, economic, social, and cultural environments. The course is designed to broaden students’ knowledge of Florentine and Italian culture, society, history, economy, politics, literature, and cinema, as they learn how to critically analyze films and to recognize different film genres.

  • ‘What's Love Got to Do with It?’ The Social History of Quattrocento Florence

    HIST 128 / SOC 128
    Lisa Kaborycha

    Why were babies in fifteenth-century Florence sent away from their mothers soon after birth? Why were women in their teens married to men who were a decade or more older? How was it that in a culture that produced Petrarch's passionate sonnets to Laura and Botticelli's Primavera, love was not considered a requisite for marriage? This course will explore attitudes toward love, marriage, and the family across the spectrum of society of Renaissance Florence, mainly through primary sources: letters, diaries, legal documents, criminal reports, tax records, as well as stories, poems, art, and household items of fifteenth-century Florentines. In his Decameron, written on the threshold of the Renaissance, Boccaccio portrays a vibrant world of men and women: merchants, craftsmen, monks, nuns, city-dwellers and villagers. It is also a society in flux where long-held values and social divisions were being challenged. In reading the records of a mid-fifteenth-century trial in which a woman of low social standing sues a patrician for abandonment, we will observe some of those changes. We will study the writings of a leading humanist describing marriage and family among the upper echelon of society and read the actual letters written by a woman who belonged to that group, to determine what, if any were the differences between contemporary perceptions of gender roles and reality of the everyday lives of men and women of the Quattrocento. Along with the historical evidence, we will read essays by foremost social historians of the twentieth century in order to acquire the tools for understanding the practices, rituals, and beliefs that characterized the daily lives of the people who lived in this city 600 years ago.

  • Pre-ILP Practicum*

    ITAL 110
    Mariarosa Mettifogo

    The aim of the pre-ILP Practicum is to strengthen the language and intercultural skills of students enrolled in EAP immersion programs at Italian universities and to help them succeed in the Italian academic environment. Students learn about the organization and structures of Italian universities and the main differences between the American and Italian university system. They train to study effectively in Italian and to prepare for written and oral exams. They practice communicating appropriately with Italian students and professors and managing other practical aspects of their life in Italy, such as looking for accommodation, locating university facilities and resources, navigating websites, using libraries, and more.
    * Offered only in Summer