The study of Italian at Sarah Lawrence College offers both 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 appropriate for each student and may include interdisciplinary work in the Italian language.

As in other disciplines, the resources of New York City enhance the 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 2023-2024 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 the group conferences, 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 the possibility of experiencing Italian cuisine firsthand 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

Prerequisite: one year of college-level Italian or equivalent

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.


The Paths of the World: Italian Renaissance Art and the Beginning of Globalization (15th and 16th Centuries)

Open, Lecture—Fall

The Renaissance was possibly the first true global movement of ideas resonating across different continents, with exciting new paths traveled by both men and objects. At a time of new geographical discoveries and new trade routes, artistic and cultural exchanges between distant cultures were becoming increasingly frequent. This course is an exploration of Renaissance art in Italy through a selection of places (Florence, Venice, and Rome but also other minor centers) and objects analyzed in the context of the so-called “early-modern globalization.” Focusing primarily on painting and sculpture—but with occasional forays into architecture, printmaking, and collecting—this course emphasizes episodes of exchange, encounter, and cross-cultural influences and looks at art objects as symptoms of cultural “cross-fertilization” that embody influences from both near and far.


Concepts of the Mind: How Language and Culture Challenge Cognitive Science

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

How does the human mind represent the world? And how do these representations vary across people? Could knowing a different language change how we experience time or even how we see color? Even seemingly simple concepts like “in” vs. “on” mean different things in different cultures, and words like “one” and “two” may not be linguistically universal. Indeed, the very course description that you are reading makes culturally-specific assumptions about psychology and implicitly assumes objectivity. At the same time, humans seem to share certain core experiences, such as perceiving events, creating categories, and recalling the past. Which aspects are shared, and which are unique? In this course, we will draw on research from psycholinguistics, cognitive development, and cultural psychology to learn cognitive science in a larger context. Critically, we will consider how each of those fields have been severely constrained by an emphasis on white, Western, industrialized experiences. We will investigate the broader social and ethical consequences of these assumptions and explore insights and challenges that emerge when we step out of this limited perspective. We’ll draw on primary and secondary sources, including research articles, literature, videos, raw experimental data, and audio recordings. Students will develop projects in conference work that combine their interests with the course content, such as designing an experiment to test cross-linguistic differences in visual attention, analyzing vocabulary from languages other than English, or replicating and reinterpreting an existing experiment using culturally-responsive practices.


Creative Nonfiction

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This is a course for creative writers who are interested in exploring nonfiction as an art form. We will focus on reading and interpreting outside work—essays, articles, and journalism by some of our best writers—in order to understand what good nonfiction is and how it is created. During the first part of the semester, writing will be comprised mostly of exercises and short pieces aimed at putting into practice what is being illuminated in the readings; in the second half of the semester, students will create longer, formal essays to be presented in workshop.