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IT6: Topics in Modern Italian Culture

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

This paper allows you to study a wide range of different texts and topics from within Italian culture of the modern era, broadly stretching from the unification of Italy to the present day. It focuses on texts of different kinds (novels, poetry, drama, short stories), works in different media (written texts, film, visual arts), and different modes of cultural enquiry (literary criticism and theory, intellectual and cultural history, cultural sociology and philosophy), to give you a rich sense of the variety and complexity of modern Italian culture and history. There are no compulsory texts or topics: you will select four or five of the topics on offer in any one year and study each in a combination of lectures / seminars and supervision.



Topics for 2022-23 are as follows:

  • Topic 1: Italian Industrial Literature and Film
  • Topic 2: Transnational Italy
  • Topic 3: Italian Photo-Texts After 1945
  • Topic 4: Rome in Italian Cinema
  • Topic 5: Fascism and Culture


Topic 1: Italian Industrial Literature and Film

The first article of the Italian Constitution states that ‘L’Italia è una Repubblica democratica, fondata sul lavoro’. This tells something of the centrality of questions of labour in Italian politics and culture in the second half of the twentieth century. This topic looks at cultural representations of a specific type of labour – industrial labour – from the 1950s to the present. It considers how writers and film directors came to terms, directly or indirectly, with industrialisation and its consequences throughout the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, across different genres and poetics and through the use of different structures, techniques and tropes.

See Moodle for reading and viewing list.


Topic 2: Transnational Italy

This topic examines modern Italian culture from a transnational perspective. Throughout the twentieth century, Italian culture has increasingly come into contact with other cultures through the mobility of people, texts and ideas. The modes of these contacts have been smooth in some cases, violent in others. Reading Italian culture from a transnational perspective means reflecting on the impact of intercultural exchanges on the construction of a national culture. It also implies acknowledging the importance of the mobility of people and ideas in the shaping of cultural practices. This topic explores the transnational dimension of modern Italian culture by focusing on cultural representations of two clusters of interrelated phenomena: Italian colonialism and anticolonialism; migrations to and from Italy. It does so through the analysis of literary, artistic and cinematic works and practices that share a transnational dimension.

See Moodle for reading and viewing list.


Topic 3: Italian Photo-texts After 1945

One of the most impactful cultural and artistic phenomena of modernity has been the invention of photography. This topic explores experimental interactions between literature and photography in the form of the photo-text. The debated notion of photo-text – a combination of textual material and photographic images – has been the subject of several studies in recent years, which have shed light onto the complex and multi-faceted relationship between literature and photography. Over the course of this module, the artistic status of the photo-text and the different kinds of interactions between photographs and literary texts will be discussed, with reference in particular to two representative cases in the Italian context: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s rewriting of the first cantos of Dante’s Commedia, La divina mimesis (1975); and Lalla Romano’s partly autobiographic Nuovo romanzo di figure (1997).

See Moodle for reading list.


Topic 4: Rome in Italian Cinema

This topic will examine some of the most important films in Italian cinema from the perspective of the representation of the city of Rome, as the site of cinema, of modernity and migration, of socio-political protest, of Italian national identity or simply as autobiography. Films studied will include: R. Rossellini, Roma città aperta (1945); V. De Sica, Ladri di biciclette (1948); Steno, Un americano a Roma (1954); F. Fellini, La dolce vita (1960), Roma (1970); P. P. Pasolini, Accattone (1961), Mamma Roma (1962); M. Antonioni, L’eclisse (1963); N. Moretti, Caro diario (1993); G. Rosi, Sacro GRA (2013)

See Moodle for reading and viewing list.


Topic 5: Fascism and Culture

This topic will examine the web of relations between the Fascist regime in Italy, through its two decades and more of rule in Italy (1922-1943/5), and the fields of culture, from literature, cinema, theatre and art to the ‘public’ culture of architecture and the institutions of cultural promotion and control. Study will include Fascist culture in mainland Italy and Italian colonial and occupied territories. Emphasis will be on the two-way traffic between state and culture (and individual artists), rather than on simplistic models of state control. We will work through a combination of study of historical material and of cultural texts and artefacts.

See Moodle for reading list.

Preparatory reading: 


In addition to familiarising yourself with the primary texts for each topic you are interested in, you should consult the following for general background:

  • P. Bondanella, ed., The Italian Cinema Book (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
  • C. Burdett and L. Polezzi, eds, Transnational Italian Studies (Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2020)
  • C. Duggan, A Concise History of Italy, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014)
  • D. Forgacs and R. Lumley, eds, Italian Cultural Studies: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996)
  • P. Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics, 1943–1988 (London: Penguin, 1990)
  • R. Gordon, Introduction to 20th-Century Italian Literature. A Difficult Modernity (London: Duckworth, 2005)
  • P. Hainsworth and D. Robey, eds, Oxford Companion to Italian Literature (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002)
  • C. Lombardi-Diop and C. Romeo, eds, Postcolonial Italy: Challenging National Homogeneity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • S. Patriarca, Italian Vices: Nation and Character from the Risorgimento to the Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010)
Teaching and learning: 

Each topic will be taught in a series of 4 lectures / seminars and 2 supervisions during MT and LT. You are expected to study at least four topics. There will be revision teaching in ET.

For the It.6 Moodle site, please see here


The paper will be assessed either by a written exam in Easter Term or by Optional Dissertation.

Written exam in Easter Term

The format of the written examination has changed over the past few years as a consequence of the pandemic (from in-person to take-home exam) and for the current academic year (2022-2023) it will be in the take-home format. Candidates will have two working days to complete it (see last year's exam paper for reference, but please note the reduced time window for completion). Candidates will be asked to either answer three questions on three different topics and, for each answer, write no more than 1,500 words; or answer one question selected from those which on the exam paper are marked with an asterisk (*) in no more than 4,500 words.

Candidates for this paper may not draw substantially on material from their dissertations or material which they have used or intend to use in another scheduled paper. Candidates may not draw substantially on the same material in more than one question on the same paper.

Optional Dissertation

Candidates who are considering taking the exam by Optional Dissertation are invited to contact Course Contacts in MT to discuss topic and supervisions arrangements. Please note that topics of ODs are not restricted to the topics on IT6.

Course Contacts: 
Professor Robert Gordon
Professor Pierpaolo Antonello