Italian

The study of Italian at Sarah Lawrence College offers the rigors of language study and the joys of immersion in one of the richest cultures of the West. The course of study consists of classroom, conference, and conversational components, all enhanced by the flexible academic structure of the College and its proximity to New York City. In the classroom, students learn Italian grammar, syntax, and phonology, using sources of everyday communication and literary texts. In conference sessions—especially helpful in customizing study to each student’s level of fluency—students pursue reading and writing related to topics that compel them. And in conversation meetings, students simply talk with native Italians about anything of common interest. Individual conference projects may be as creative and diverse as is appropriate for each student and can include interdisciplinary work in the Italian language.

As in other disciplines, the resources of New York City enhance student experience. Opera performances at the Metropolitan Opera (after preparatory readings from libretti), film series and lectures, museums, and internships related to conference work all offer ways to bring Italian to life. And for bringing students to Italy, Sarah Lawrence’s study program in Florence maintains the small scale and individual attention that is the mark of the College, providing an exceptional opportunity to combine a yearlong academic experience with the cultural immersion of a homestay living arrangement. Advanced students have the opportunity to spend the second semester of their year abroad studying at the University of Catania in Sicily.

The Italian program periodically offers literature courses in Italian or in translation as part of the literature curriculum. Among these courses are: Images of Heaven and Hell; The Three Crowns: Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio; and Fascism, World War II, and the Resistance in 20th-Century Italian Narrative and Cinema.

2020-2021 Courses

Italian

Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

This course, for students with no previous knowledge of Italian, aims at giving the student a complete foundation in the Italian language with particular attention to oral and written communication and to all aspects of Italian culture. The course will be conducted in Italian after the first month and will involve the study of all basic structures of the language—phonological, grammatical, and syntactical—with practice in conversation, reading, composition, and translation. In addition to material covering basic Italian grammar, students will be exposed to fiction, poetry, songs, articles, recipe books, and films. Group conference (held once a week) aims at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate, which will be achieved through readings that deal with current events and topics relative to today’s Italian culture. Activities in pairs or groups, along with short written assignments, will be part of the group conference. In addition to class and group conference, the course has a conversation component in regular workshops with the language assistant. Conversation classes are held twice a week (in small groups) and will center on the concept of viaggio in Italia, a journey through the regions of Italy through cuisine, cinema, art, opera, and dialects. The Italian program organizes trips to the Metropolitan Opera and to relevant exhibits in New York, as well as offering the possibility to experience firsthand Italian cuisine as a group. By the end of this yearlong course, students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This intermediate-level course aims at improving and perfecting the students’ speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, as well as their knowledge of Italy’s contemporary culture and literature. In order to acquire the necessary knowledge of Italian grammar, idiomatic expressions, and vocabulary, a review of all grammar will be carried out throughout the year. As an introduction to modern Italian culture and literature, students will be introduced to a selection of short stories, poems, and passages from novels, as well as specific newspaper articles, music, and films in the original language. Some of the literary works will include selections from Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Gianni Rodari, Marcello D’Orta, Clara Sereni, Dino Buzzati, Stefano Benni, Antonio Tabucchi, Alberto Moravia, Achille Campanile, and Elena Ferrante. In order to address the students’ writing skills, written compositions will be required as an integral part of the course. All material is accessible on MySLC. Conferences are held on a biweekly basis; topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, film, or any other aspect of Italian society and culture that might be of interest to the student. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant, during which students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York area centered on Italian language and culture.

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A Talent for Every Noble Thing: Art, Architecture in Italy, 1300–1600

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course involves an in-depth survey of the major monuments of Italian art and architecture from 1300 to 1600. Equal emphasis will be given to the histories and societies of major city-states such as Pisa, Siena, Florence, Venice, and Rome; the canon of artworks by artists such as Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo; readings of major critics and historians of Italian art; and the broader intellectual trends, social realities, and movements that provide a context for our understanding of the artists’ and, to a lesser extent, the critics’ creations. Thus, unified Italian church designs will be juxtaposed with gender-segregated social practice, theories of genius with concepts of handicraft, pagan ideals with Christian rituals, creative expression with religious orthodoxy, and popes with monks, dukes, financiers, and “humanist” intellectuals. The course will focus on a close reading of texts surrounding the first polemical “humanist” pamphlets about art in early modern history—Alberti’s On Painting and On Architecture—and will include works by Erwin Panofsky, Ernst Gombrich, and Michael Baxandall. We will also engage the development of the “High” Renaissance and the intellectual and aesthetic debates surrounding Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael as philosophers, naturalists, geniuses, models, and marginalized outcasts. Class papers will deal with developing a vocabulary for compositional analysis, critical issues in Italian intellectual and social history (particularly, gender studies), and varied interpretive strategies applied to works of visual art and culture. Conference projects may involve selected topics in religion, history, and philosophy of the Italian Renaissance and art and architecture in Europe and the “New World” from 1300 to the present.

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First-Year Studies: The Urban Century: How Cities Shaped and Were Shaped by Modern European History

Open, FYS—Year

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, life in cities, including European ones, has changed dramatically. For weeks, almost all of urban life came to a halt. As European cities, both small and large, slowly emerge from the lockdown, the pandemic effects on urban life are difficult to predict. While the current moment is certainly historic, it is not without precedent. Urban life from its outset was also a history of pandemics and illness. Even the period of rapid urbanization on which this course will focus has been shaped by disease, from cholera outbreaks in the 19th century, to the “Spanish” flu in the wake of World War I, to the coronavirus today. And yet, amidst those diseases, Europe became increasingly more urban and its cities produced, adopted, and promoted many of the things, both positive and negative, that we consider hallmarks of modernity. In the middle of the 20th century, only 16 percent of Europeans lived in cities. On the eve of World War I, that number had roughly doubled. In Western Europe, already half of the population was urban. Though many of the cities were small, with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the European metropoles grew, too. In Germany, for example, by 1910, 21 percent lived in cities over the size of 100,000 inhabitants—up from only five percent in 1871. Berlin, Paris, London, St. Petersburg, and Vienna all had several million citizens. This urbanization shaped, and was shaped by, European history. Industrialization and advances in agriculture, sanitation, and transportation played a vital role in that process. Wars and Europe’s changing borders shaped cities’ fate. Much of what we today think of as modern originated in cities, which often set political and cultural trends. The “Roaring 20s” or the student movements of 1968 were fundamentally urban phenomena. Yet, precisely for that reason, cities also inspired vitriol and opposition—from nationalist back-to-nature advocates afraid of the negative consequences of their “cosmopolitan nature” to health care professionals worried by the detrimental effects on their inhabitants’ health. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, railed against “Jewish Berlin.” To this day, conservative French politicians extol “la France profonde,” the true France to be found in its provincial towns rather than in Paris, Lyon, or Marseille. Through the lens of the city, this course investigates major developments in modern European history: from the birth of mass politics and the modern welfare state that included sanitation and public health, across the effects of World War I and World War II, to the emergence of modernist art and environmentalism. Students will not only be introduced to European history but also to the historian’s craft. Making use of online archives and tools, we will work with a variety of primary sources—from government documents to literature, from movies to propaganda speeches, from city maps to diary entries. We will tour cities virtually and model urban landscapes. In addition, students will learn to read secondary sources and analyze historiographical arguments. During the fall semester, students will have an individual conference every other week and a group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills; but we will also, on occasion, use the time for movie screenings related to the course or other shared and, if need be, virtual activities.

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Europe’s Civil War: 1914–1945

Open, Lecture—Fall

In 1909 Norman Angell wrote The Great Illusion, a book that went on to become a bestseller. Its premise: Industrialized countries had become so interconnected that war between them did not make sense and would not happen anymore. Five years later, Europe’s industrialized countries were at war with each other. The Great War, as it was called then, lasted from 1914 until 1918 and would change the course of the 20th century. But Angell was not entirely wrong. Precisely because European economies were so interconnected, the war and its aftermath were particularly devastating. After 1918, they were entangled through an additional layer of massive loss of life, devastation, and the resulting resentment and hostility from which Europe struggled to extricate itself until 1945. This period now is sometimes called “Europe’s civil war.” Not all of this, however, was war. Beyond earnest struggles for a new peacetime order, much of what we consider modern, from entertainment to consumption but also new modes of politics, has its origins in this period. The course will investigate the cultural, social, economic, and military causes and reverberations of the conflict, from the war itself to the revolutions that followed it, the enfranchisement of women and expansion of democratic government, but also the rise of Communism and Fascism and ultimately war again from 1939 to 1945. The impact of these developments was not contained to Europe alone but, rather, extended to the rest of the world—not least, the United States. In this course, we will look, on occasion, beyond the continent’s border. Through a variety of sources to be read and discussed in the group conferences, students will also be introduced to the craft of history. Making use of the rich online collections created in the wake of the centennial of World War I and 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II, we will read diary entries and private letters, government documents and poetry. We will watch movies and investigate (pop)cultural memory of the period. We will discuss the importance of smell and sound, of technology and medicine, for shaping and advancing history. In order to have sufficient time for discussions, the course meets for weekly 90-minute lectures, which will include a Q&A session following the lecture itself and weekly 90-minute group conferences.

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Literature in Translation: 20th-Century Italian Literature and Culture

Open, Seminar—Year

The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important intellectuals, works, and movements that helped shape it and their connection with the arts, cinema, and society at large. Italy had become a unified nation by 1860, and its literature addressed issues such as (national and personal) identity, tradition, innovation and modernity, the role of literature and of the writer, and the changing role of women in Italian society. We will also explore the interrelation between Italian literature and crucial historical events such as the Great War, the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, the Resistance, the birth of the republic, the postwar economic boom, the students’ and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, and the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo.” Among the authors and intellectuals we will explore are: Sibilla Aleramo for her literary treatment of the issue of female emancipation at the beginning of the century; Luigi Pirandello and his work as a novelist and playwright; Gabriele D’Annunzio as a poet, playwright, and novelist but also a war hero and politician; F. T. Marinetti, whose futurist manifestos and literary works reflected his desire to renew Italian art, literature, and culture in general; B. Mussolini’s fascist regime, its dictates, and their influence on propaganda literature and cinema; Ignazio Silone’s novels on the fascist era; Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist cinema; Italo Calvino’s, Beppe Fenoglio’s, and Elio Vittorini’s literature of the Resistance; Primo Levi’s depiction of the Holocaust; and influential women writers such as Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Dacia Maraini. Readings will be supplemented by secondary source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which these authors lived and wrote, as well as provide a relevant critical framework for the study of their works. On occasion, we will watch films that are relevant to the topics and period in question. No previous knowledge of Italian is required. Students proficient in Italian may opt to read sources in the original language and write their conference projects in Italian. Conference topics may include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that might be of interest to the student.

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Dante’s Encyclopedia: The Comedy and Intertextuality

Open, Seminar—Fall

Dante’s Divine Comedy is, perhaps, the most creative encyclopedic work of the Middle Ages. Presenting the story of a unique religious pilgrimage through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, this epic poem envelops readers in a comprehensive education on everything from philosophy and theology to astronomy and geometry. The work teems with information on virtue and vice, as a reader of medieval spiritual texts might expect, but also surprises with debates on secular and sacred love, political theory, local and universal histories, and inquiries of ethics, epistemology, and ontology. This course will explore Dante’s “circle of knowledge” as it emerges through the aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual dimensions of his poem. The study of intertextual figures will help to illuminate the subtle ways in which Dante promotes his understanding of the world. Works—including not only the three canticles of Dante’s Comedy but also excerpts from his New Life (Vita Nuova), Monarchy (De Monarchia), On Eloquence in the Vernacular (De Vulgari eloquentia), and The Banquet (Convivio)—will be read in translation.

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