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.

Italian 2021-2022 Courses

Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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 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 conferences (held once a week) aim at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate. This will be achieved by 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 relevant exhibits in New York City, as well as offering the possibility of experiencing Italian cuisine first-hand as a group. The course is for a full year, by the end of which students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.


Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This 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 City area, centered on Italian language and culture.


Sursum Corda: Art and Architecture from Michelangelo to the Dawn of the Enlightenment, 1550-1700

Open, Lecture—Year

In Annibale Carracci’s painting of St. Margaret (1609), an Early Christian martyr, an altar is inscribed: Sursum Corda (Lift Up Your Hearts). This course explores what that meant in the 17th century—for the arts to be a vehicle of uplift and salvation, a challenge to the supremacy of nature, an analysis of history, and a site of contention, paradox, and pride for artists and architects. Using PowerPoint presentations, class discussion, and papers focusing on works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the course will cover the art of 16th-century Italy—as that art frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects pursued throughout Europe in the 17th century, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included will be studies of major movements in religion, politics, and society (Catholic reform and the founding of the Jesuits Order, the evolution of academic art, the creation of papal Rome, the importance of private patronage); issues in aesthetics and art theory (the transformation of classical models, theories of the reception of nature, the links to poetry, and the dynamics of style); the emergence of the varying national traditions (the sweet style and Bel Composto in Italy, Calvinist naturalism and the power of light in The Netherlands, and high classicism and Bon Gout in France). Focus will also be on careers of artists like Titian and the erotics of the brush; Michelangelo and transcendent form; Caravaggio and naturalism as the death of painting; Artemisia Gentileschi, biography and exemplum; Bernini and the beautiful whole; Rubens and the multiple ways of transforming; Rembrandt and the rough style; Vermeer and the discipline and technique of light; and Poussin and the modes of expression, among others. Group conferences in the first semester will focus on the art of Michelangelo as practice and problem and theories of the Baroque; in second semester, theories and problems in 17th-century architecture.


Being Totalitarian: Making Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Soviet Union

Open, Seminar—Fall

The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, in power from 1922 until 1945, famously declared that he wanted to create “the fascist man.” Adolf Hitler in Germany and Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union had similar aspirations to reshape not only the political structure of their states but also to alter the very being of their citizens. In different ways and to different degrees, class, age, race, and gender—Mussolini did not accidentally speak of the “fascist man”—were crucial to this new kind of being. In this course, we will look into the ideologies and practices that formed the basis of “being totalitarian,” as well as the resistance to them. Bigger and smaller acts of resistance to those regimes’ claims on their citizens meant that their totalitarian aspirations were never quite achieved. In light of the increased frequency with which the terms “fascist” and “totalitarian” are being used in today’s political debates, the course—in its comparative approach and focus on the construction and practice of totalitarianism—will offer students tools to approach these terms in all of their complexity. The course will provide new perspectives on both the past and the present. Together, we will read political programs and speeches, diaries, letters, and memoirs. We will look at school books and propaganda posters and watch movies. We will also engage with the long historiography on these three regimes. Scholarly debates on the nature of fascism and totalitarianism have their own history and politics, which have shaped our use of the two terms as much as the history of the three states themselves. Being Totalitarian will thus be a simultaneous study of both history and historiography.


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

Open, Seminar—Fall

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 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, the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo”—until the recent contribution of migration literature to the Italian literary canon. Among the authors and intellectuals, we will explore 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 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.