Academic Seminars

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 Literature

Beginners Course
Elisa Terrazzi, Anna K. Manetti

The course is designed for students who, living in Italy, approach the study of the Italian language for the first time and it covers the essential structures of the Italian grammar consolidating them through a variety of exercises. Particular attention will be given to each student’s personal style.

At first, the aim of the course is to prepare students to express themselves and to understand basic situations of the Italian life, not only for the language, but also for the culture, so that students feel comfortable in the new country and in the new culture. Classes will be conducted in Italian since the first days. The approach is comprehension-based. Students are not expected to understand each word that the instructor says but are guided to discover that comprehension is not a passive activity and requires a great deal of mental effort.

In order to expose students to contemporary language and culture, all throughout the course there will be an extensive use of authentic materials, such as texts from Italian literature (prose fiction by authors like Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, Niccolò Ammaniti and Stefano Benni among others, as well as poetry by S. Francesco d’Assisi, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Umberto Saba, and Alda Merini) and journalism, songs, ads, brochures, and also films.

At the end of the course students should be able to communicate effectively in Italian. They in fact should have acquired a basic competence in all aspects of the language as well as in many aspects of the culture.

Intermediate Course
Edoardo Tacchi

The main aim of the course is to strengthen the formal knowledge of the Italian language previously acquired and most of all to improve the linguistic abilities in order to reach a fair expressive autonomy in this second language: to read and write in Italian, speak it and understand it. Only authentic Italian texts will be used both for the written material (newspapers, magazines, literary excerpts) and the oral one (spontaneous conversations, radio programs, songs, films). The course utilizes a perspective based on actual texts, such that after considering the linguistic aspects of a descriptive text, the student is lead to work on the narrative text which will become the focus of the course.

The analysis of the linguistic structures is carried out with readings from the Italian literary tradition which privileges two paths: one centered on fairy tales, which are confronted with fables from the Italian tradition mostly gathered by Italo Calvino, then elaborated by Gianni Rodari; the other one analyzes post-unitarian (after 1861) Sicilian fiction with readings from Luigi Pirandello, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and Leonardo Sciascia together with films originated from their works.

This course also aims to motivate the student so much to take advantage of all the linguistic opportunities which are offered during daily life in Florence.

Advanced Course
Lorenzo Pubblici

For those students who already know how to read and write in Italian, this course aims to develop a strong knowledge of the Italian language and culture.

Classes will be structured in three parts: a first one which will build up a historical background of the Italian language in the history of Italy; a second one which will consider the more advanced grammar and a third one dedicated to Italian contemporary literature. Many authors, especially the ones who wrote after World War II will be taken into account: Elio Vittorini, Cesare Pavese, Giorgio Bassani, Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia and most of all Pier Paolo Pasolini. The literary aspect of this course will be fundamental in order to offer students a thorough picture of the country with its most complex developments and reveal how the cultural and linguistic aspects are strictly linked together and cannot be analyzed separately.

Art History

Art in Florence and Northern Central Italy: A survey from the 13th to the 16th Century
Maria Antonia Rinaldi

The course will focus on Florentine and Tuscan Art between the 13th and 16th centuries (from early Christian Art to Michelangelo) including a survey on the origins and early medieval development. Particular attention will be dedicated to examining and understanding images and style of the different artists, which can be considered the "syntax" of a visual language. Throughout the year we will be focusing on the sociological and philosophical values of these images in Western society starting from Byzantine icons until the late Renaissance -- a period that we will cover in the second semester.

The course will include discussions on the use of different techniques, iconography and patronage; it will also involve visits to churches and museums, which will allow direct viewing of many of the important works discussed in class. There will be special lectures on Medieval, Renaissance as well as Modem Italian art.

Peggy Guggenheim Internship
A qualified student particularly interested in Art and Art History will be awarded a four-week summer internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

History and Anthropology

Italian Civilization from the end of the 5th century to the beginning of the 14th century
Fabrizio Ricciardelli

The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 represents a crucial watershed in the history of European civilization. Nevertheless, the patrimony of ideas of pagan antiquity survives and continues to inspire political and religious beliefs. The course starts with a brief survey of the principle events that shaped this complex period and introduces some of the key lines of cultural history from the Middle Ages.

A great transformation was later represented by the phenomenon of the re-birth of cities. In fact, around the 11 century, demographic and economic factors produced a real urban revolution in some areas of Europe, and this turning point actually represents the transition from the feudal system to the late medieval civilization. The city-republics, the family, the daily life, the economy, the religious beliefs and above all the mentality of the people will all be discussed in the effort of reconstructing the features of medieval urban civilization. This complex universe, expressed through a particular architecture (such as city walls and gates, towers, public palaces, market squares, workshops, cathedrals and monasteries) permits one to reconstruct the environment of late medieval civilization. Particular emphasis will be given to the age of Dante, a period in which Central and Northern Italian cities were at their apogee and of which Florence was one of the largest and most powerful.

Italy, Europe and the European Union:
An introductory course on the EU Union and on Contemporary Italy
Davide Lombardo

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.

We will first look at the main aspects of national European history after World War II, focusing on current developments. We will then 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). In the second semester, we will have a look at the history, the institutions, the players, and the main policy areas of the European Union. We will also read the most recent highly debated books on European contemporary history and compare the development of Europe with the US.

History of Italian Cinema:
From the postwar period to the economic miracle: Italian Cinema from Neorealism to the Sixties
Chiara Tognolotti

The first part of the course is dedicated to the masters of Neorealism, mainly Rossellini, Visconti and De Sica, whose different styles contributed to a new aesthetic of cinema. Some of these celebrated pictures deeply influenced generations of filmmakers, in Italy and abroad, and their legacy is still visible in recent productions. This is the reason why, together with an analysis of the socio-political trends in the Italian culture of the time, we will also consider those films particularly informed by Neorealist principles (the films are in VHS format or DVD and are either dubbed in English or subtitled). The course will provide students with the basic tools for the critical reading of a visual text, including some basic film terminology and syntax and also, through the analysis of scenes and shots from selected clips. Moreover, you will be asked to expand your background in Italian history and to actively participate in class discussion, developing both oral and written skills in film criticism.

What Is a Tutorial?

Tutorials are scheduled individual meetings between a professor and a student. In Sarah Lawrence seminars, the tutorials take place strictly on a one-on-one basis every other week for at least one half-hour. In the University of Florence course, tutorials may be with one or two other students.

Tutorials enhance a student's understanding of each course, as well as the ways Italian education differs from what they are used to at home. Professors can be sure that material is understood, and can guide the students in research necessary for class work and provide them with information on constructing arguments, organizing thoughts, and presenting material in both written and spoken form.

Tutorials often encourage independent research similar to a conference at Sarah Lawrence College. This can constitute the equivalent of another small course, related in subject matter to the seminar, or can help to illuminate and deepen the subject matter of the course itself. In the University of Florence program, many students use the tutorial component to develop material from the course. Students who are already familiar with a tutorial system in their home institutions should not underestimate the impact of the linguistic element, and should expect the difference to be proportional to their level of Italian.