Sarah Lawrence courses consist of small seminars supplemented by individual tutorials. Through discussions and research projects, students acquire a deep understanding of key aspects of Italian history and culture while increasing their facility with the Italian language. The curriculum is further enhanced by visiting scholars who conduct lectures and workshops. Below is a brief introduction to the academic seminars offered in Florence.
Italian Language and Culture
This course is designed for students who are studying the Italian language for the first time. It covers the essential grammatical structures, reinforcing them through a variety of exercises. It also aims to prepare students to express themselves and to understand basic situations of Italian life so as to facilitate their immersion into Italian culture. Maximum exposure to contemporary language and culture comes through the extensive use of authentic materials: non-fiction prose, fiction, and poetry as well as articles, songs, films and other media. Classes will be conducted in Italian from the beginning, with particular emphasis on comprehension. At the end of the course students will be communicating effectively in Italian and will have acquired a basic competence in all aspects of the language as well as literacy in many facets of the culture.
This course is geared to strengthen the formal knowledge of Italian language previously acquired and to reach a high level proficiency. The course examines primary texts in Italian (newspapers, magazines, literary works, conversations, radio programs, songs, films) for both written and oral material, studying them for linguistic structures and literary and cultural communication. The texts studied range from fairy tales and fables (Calvino and Rodari) to Sicilian fiction (Pirandello, Lampedusa and Sciascia) to neo-realism and contemporary fiction, along with film adaptations.
For those students who have previous study and a strong command of the language this course will offer more advanced grammar, a historical background of the Italian language in the context of the history of Italy and readings in contemporary Italian literature. Particular attention will be paid to post-World War II authors (Vittorini, Pavese, Bassani, Calvino, Moravia and Pasolini). These and other similar texts will serve to offer students a linguistic, historical, and cultural understanding of modern and contemporary Italy.
Italy in the Time of Giotto (Fall Semester)
Students will be introduced to the transformations that occurred in Italy and Europe by the end of the Roman Empire, during the “melting pot” period preceding the Age of Italian Comuni. The course will then analyze the work of 13th century artists such as Nicola Pisano, Arnolfo da Cambio, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto, who created an autonomous "Italian artistic language" that detached itself both from the typical Byzantine icon-culture and also from the elegant French Gothic style.
In order to explain the social, economic, and political transformations that occurred in Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries, students will be introduced to the mendicant orders, their importance in medieval society and their relation with the new trading bourgeoisie, which led to the flourishing of private/secular patronage. The 14th century especially saw the development of relations between visual artists and intellectuals like Dante and Petrarca, in a period of huge political and socio-economic turmoil (and the consequent rise of iconography in painting).
Italy in the Time of Michelangelo (Spring Semester)
During the second semester, the Art History course will focus on Renaissance Italian Art. Students will study the great Italian artists of the Early and High Renaissance. Works of art will be analyzed in order to understand the laws of composition that were being discussed by intellectuals and artists for the first time. The art works will be considered and interpreted within their social and cultural context with special attention to patronage and the political propaganda conveyed through religious subjects and pagan mythological stories. Students will be given a comprehensive idea of 15th century Italian (especially Florentine) art, taking into consideration specific issues such as the patronage of the Medici oligarchy and the rediscovery of Ancient and Classical myths as new means of intricate intellectual symbolism.
The course will consider the legacy left by Renaissance Art and its theories. In fact, although very distant chronologically, a fine thread connects together works of art and artists so that it is possible to analyze how Leonardo and Michelangelo’s style and ideas played a fundamental role for Baroque artists, such as Caravaggio and Bernini.
Italy in the time of Dante (Fall Semester)
During the eleventh century, demographic and economic factors produced a real urban revolution in some areas of Europe. In many cases cities that already existed started to grow, while in other cases new cities were founded near a castle or monastery or at the crossroads of commercial routes. As a consequence of the rebirth of cities a new social group emerged, the burghers. This term first referred to the people living in the burgh or commercial and craft neighborhoods, and later to the inhabitants of a city. The Italian city-states were strikingly unusual features of the social landscape of medieval Europe, distinguished by the sophistication of their economic activities, by the forms of government they adopted, by the richness of their cultural life and by their singular social structure. The course analyzes Italian city-states, the family, daily life, the economy, the religious beliefs and above all people’s mentality in an effort to reconstruct the features of medieval urban civilization. This complex universe, expressed through a peculiar architecture—such as city walls and gates, towers, public palaces, market squares, workshops, cathedrals and monasteries—allows us to reconstruct the environment of late medieval civilization. Special emphasis will be given to the age of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), a time in which Florence was one of the largest and most powerful cities in Europe.
Italy in the Time of Machiavelli (Spring Semester)
This course will focus on the analysis of different urban political concepts, that of the Signoria and that of the Republic. By the end of the communal era, city-republics of Northern and Central Italy were transformed by these two different political systems that used identical political strategies. Signorie and Republics started to dominate their territory and to absorb within their dominions a large number of formerly independent communes as well as rural territories. The phenomenon of territorial expansion had important and lasting consequences for the political and economic history of Italy in the time of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527).
The course will analyze Renaissance Courts as centers of power and as mirrors of individual behavior, and as sources of prosperity giving the Italian peninsula predominance within Europe. We will move through the age of Baroque and Rococo with Italian history a ‘crucial ingredient’ of the European identity. The Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation, as well as the study of religious and political developments which originated in the Italian peninsula, will enlighten the study of social groups as well as their representation. This includes special attention to the forms of popular culture and their relationship to that of the elites, all to be explored through primary sources, visits to monuments and class discussions.
Italy Europe and the European Union: The Making of EU (Fall Semester)
This course explores various aspects of contemporary Europe, both on the nation-state level (with a special emphasis on Italy) and the newly emerging supra-national level of the European Union. In the first semester, students start by familiarizing with the diversity of European national and sub-national cultures. We will critically approach the main issues of the post-national constellation: nation building, regional identities, linguistic minorities and introduce the issue of supranational democracy and the public sphere. We will have a look at the institutions, the players and the main policy areas of the European Union—its identity, composition and powers—in order to identify the main aspects of national European history developed after World War II. The bumpy history of European Integration will be analyzed, reviewing the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Yugoslavian conflict and the economic crisis in the European Union.
Italy Europe and the European Union: Debating European Integration (Spring Semester)
In the second semester, students are requested to take a more active role by reviewing and proposing current issues to be discussed in class. We will examine general features of Italian and European democratic history; this will also include a discussion on the future of democracy in Europe (and the US). Special attention will be given to the vast cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity of the EU, and the complications of establishing unity while maintaining national identities, which will be a recurrent theme throughout the course. The role of gender in the different member states, especially in Italian culture, will also be debated, along with the more philosophical implications of the European Union and its role in the world today and in the future. Students will also read the most recent highly debated books on European contemporary history and compare the development of Europe with the US.
Gender issues, family and society in classic European cinema, 1945-1970 (Fall Semester)
The first semester will focus on some of the masterpieces of classic European cinema: Rosellini’s Roma città aperta, Fellini’s La dolce vita, Godard’s À bout de soufflé, Buñel’s Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie, Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, and many others. Students will acquire an in-depth knowledge of major European directors and will learn more about the sociological issues at stake in the years 1945-1970, which were crucial for the shaping of modern European society.
Gender issues, family and society in classic European cinema, 1970-present (Spring Semester)
In the second semester the course will focus on contemporary European filmmakers such as Nanni Moretti, Paolo Sorrentino, Matteo Garrone, Pedro Almodavar, Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Jacques Audiard, Lars von Trier and others. The final section of the course will be dedicated to female directors such as the Italians Alina Marazzi and Alice Rohrwacher, the Spanish Isabel Coixet and Iciar Bollain, the French Agnes Varda, the Danish Susanne Bier and the German Margarethe Von Trotta.