Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

LITR 161 Introduction to Italian Culture and Contexts

Summer 2015 - Session I

LITR 161 Introduction to Italian Culture and Contexts

Summer 2015

Prof. Antonio Romano aromano1@luc.edu 


Course content 

The course will provide an overview of the long cultural history of Italy from ancient times to the present.  In the context of that overview, we will study the key elements of Italian cultural identity: traditional elements such story-telling, music and theater, cuisine and wine-making as well as contemporary cultural phenomena such as fashion, the culture of the coffee shop and of moto-scooters in a crowded urban setting.

In our historical overview, we will study the emergence in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance of a distinctly Italian culture reflected in the new Italian language and examine key texts by Dante and Machiavelli and artworks of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.   We will also study later Italian political and cultural identity in the 19th century when Italy became a unified nation and new attempts were made to create a modern national Italian culture.  Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio will be a central text in our examination of this new Italy and the problems it faced.

As we study various cultural phenomena, including the Italian Renaissance and its art, we will be interested in reflecting on how Italian art, literature and philosophy have transcended the strict confines of their political and historical origin to become a  source of universal inspiration.  In studying Italian music and theater, and cuisine and wine making, and fashion, we will attempt to identify distinctly Italian aspects as we also study common behaviors which are also recognizable in other cultural contexts.       

Learning outcomes:

1. Student will learn to understand the historical dimensions of Italian cultural phenomena and the importance of Italian culture history in determining contemporary Italian culture.

2. Students will understand that Italy can be studied as both a unified culture and also as a collection of regions with differing traditions and cultural perspectives.

3. Students will enhance their reading skill at analyzing complex literary texts

 Students will develop their skills at analyzing visual phenomena (works of art, design etc) in relation to Italian culture.

            •           Students will learn to study that the differences between the Italian culture and American culture

            •           Students will consider the question of how to design a map of life’s universal themes as they reflect on universal cultural phenomena.



Core Program Writing Skills Outcomes

1)      Write clearly and effectively through description, analysis, informal journals and discussion-point papers. This will include in-class writing essays or responses to specific reading questions.

2)      Discuss and criticize the works studied and other students’ responses thereto.

3)      Write clearly and honestly all the time, complying with academic criteria of integrity laid down in the syllabus.


Course Format

The Course will comprise lectures, close textual analysis, discussion of student’s writings and general class discussion.


Reading Assignments:

Students are expected to read the assignments contained in the syllabus and to come to class prepared as the grade for the course largely depends on attendance and participation. 


Book I

 Sprezzatura: 50 ways Italian Genius Shaped the World. Anchor Books ISBN -978 -0385720199

Book II

Machiavelli, The Prince,Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199535699

 These books can be purchased at the Loyola Book store beginning April 16 (or online at the bookstore website, www.luc-lsc.bkstr.com) 

Book III

Killinger, Charles L. Culture and customs of Italy. Westport, CT:Greenwood Press 2005 ISBN-978-0313324895


Additional material will be presented in class

Grading Criteria:

            •           Participation in the class is vital in determining student’s performance

            •           The student can see the instructor by appointment when additional help is needed

            •           Students are encouraged to prepare all the readings before discussion in class.

            •           Topics must be discussed with instructor before writing



Attendance: 25 %

Classroom participation:  20%

Midterm exam: 20%

Final paper 20%

Quiz 15%



Explanation of Requirements

Students are asked to write a 4-5 page paper on a topic related to the course as their midterm exam and a final 6-8 page paper on any topics pertaining to the course.

Students will also write a weekly journal about topics discussed in class or any other subject related to their experience in Italy


Class attendance is required. Students are allowed only one unexcused absence. Failure to take an exam or turning papers after the due date, unless justified by real necessity (I.e.: illness) will result in a failing grade. 

 Students should account for 100 euro extra for activities required during the course of class.

Statement of Academic Honesty:

Each student must strive for absolute integrity in academic work and in exams rely exclusively on his knowledge. Failure to comply with such guidelines will result in failing grade.

Schedule of classes:

First Week: May 18 

Introduction: The Roman Empire;  decline and transition into the Dark Ages  

Patriarchy and the erosion of the father figure: Augustus and Marc Antony, two worlds colliding. 

Dante and the Medieval World, Dante and the universal values of the  Divina Commedia: Dante’s theory of courtly love then and its transformation in contemporary Italy.

Courtly love : myth or reality? When love becomes an addiction.



Coffee and espresso: a globalized trend

Starbucks: explosive entrepreneurial ingenuity? The history of the coffee houses and the consolidation of the coffee tradition world-wide. ( Lecture and visit to coffee shop)





 Cuisine in the Middle Ages:

Gastronomic transitions from the ancient times to the Italian contemporary culinary tradition; synthesis versus analysis and the separation of tastes as a  further attempt to promote individualism and identity versus communal  and convivial values of the middle ages

How the Italian culinary tradition has changed the world.          


Second Week : May 25

 Humanism and  Renaissance- -

Florence and the Renaissance- from Humanism to Renaissance, Lorenzo dei Medici, Machiavelli and il “Principe”: Italian politics today and the teachings of Machiavelli’.

Introduction to the Italian political scene, common-places and stereotypes about Italian politics and pop culture.

The Age of Exploration: Cristoforo Colombo, Amerigo Vespucci and the discovery of the Americas. Thoughts and reflections on transitional issues from conqueror to immigrant.  

             (Movies – excerpts from “New World “)


Third Week: June 1 

Wine as culture;

The culture of wines: when drinking becomes a cultural experience. 

Tuscany and its oenological supremacy.    

“ Drinking” as misguided spirituality

(Guided wine tasting  )


Culinary icons of Italy:

Buffalo Mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano

History and reflections on many internationally renowned D.OP. products.

 (Possible visit to a Buffalo Mozzarella factory near Rome).




Forth Week : June 8


National Unity and the  independence of Italy, and the Southern question              

 Italian Tales, Pinocchio. Universal typology and pedagogy: from Lorenzetti to Disney –  lecture

 The rising of Fascism and Nationalism : The war and the Jewish Experience in Italy – ( selected readings Killinger 142-147)

  The Italian mafia and the organized crime overseas.

The Italian cuisine in  America and the Italian American cuisine. Reflections on cultural transitions into the “New World”

History of the Italian pizza (visit at an Italian pizza parlor and tasting)   


Fifth Week June 15 :




Final exam June 17th

John Felice Rome Center · Sullivan Center for Student Services· 6339 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago, IL 60660
Mailing Address: 1032 W. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60660
              800.344.ROMA        · rome@luc.edu