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Italian in the Year Abroad

Italy proves (almost invariably) to be a particularly happy destination on the year abroad. It is also noticeable that those especially who have begun Italian at Cambridge achieve fullest fluency and the fullest benefit from their course here by choosing to spend their year abroad in Italy. 

General points (the faculty perspective)

Faculty Year Abroad Office

The Year Abroad is a Faculty requirement, and there is a Faculty Year Abroad Office in the Raised Faculty Building (tel: 335008; e-mail:, and it is the Year Abroad Office you should ask for leaflets and detailed up-to-date information, 'visiting' the office either in person or on the web

Besides offering general advice and help, the Year Abroad Office disburses University money, organises a briefing day for language assistants and passes on some information about jobs. 

If you have been selected for an Erasmus study period or work placement you are eligible to apply for a place on an Erasmus intensive language course. The courses last between two and six weeks as preparation for an Erasmus year. Further details can be found here.

Year Abroad Work

N.B. You are encouraged to check the Year Abroad page for a fuller explanation of the Year Abroad and the compulsory and optional Dissertations as well as Translation projects.

The year abroad is an integral part of the Modern Languages course at Cambridge, and one component of the Part II course is a piece of assessed work to be completed during that year and submitted at the beginning of the Michaelmas term of your final year. This work may take the form either of a dissertation or a translation project. Although this is not compulsory, it will normally relate to the culture of the country in which you have chosen to spend your year abroad.

The dissertation

This is a study of a particular aspect of Italian literature, history, language, or culture. It should be an original piece of work (i.e. based on your own research and thinking), presented to a finished standard, and between 7000 and 8000 words long. To give you an idea of what is required, examples of dissertations presented in previous years will be available for consultation in the MML Library from this year. A selection of dissertation topics chosen by students in Italian over the past few years is given below as an appendix.

The translation project

This consists of a translation into English of a passage or series of passages from an Italian text or texts, along with a short introduction, giving details of the text chosen and discussing the principles and strategies adopted in the translation. The text/s chosen for translation may be literary or non-literary and may date from any period of Italian culture. They may be works with a rich existing translation history or recently-published texts which have never been translated. The normal word-length for the extracts chosen will be c. 2000-3000 words, although in the case of particularly difficult texts, shorter extracts will be acceptable. The whole project should be between 6000 and 7000 words long.

Deciding on your year abroad work

You should begin thinking about your year abroad work from around the end of the Lent Term of your second year. If you are intending to offer a dissertation in Italian you should begin discussing your plans by the beginning of the Easter term with your supervisors or with the member of the Italian Department specialising in the area in which you are interested in working. If you are interested in the translation project, you should contact Dr Ledgeway. Your College Director of Studies will also be able to offer guidance, and Faculty and Departmental meetings relating to year abroad work will be held at the beginning of the Easter Term.

If you are planning to offer a dissertation as your year abroad work, you will be expected to submit a form to the Faculty by the end of the teaching period of the Easter Term (Week 4), indicating the topic you have chosen. This must be signed by your Director of Studies and your dissertation supervisor, with whom you will already have discussed your plans. If you are planning to submit a translation project, all that is required at this point is an indication of your decision and the name of a supervisor for the project. Details of the text/s chosen for translation are not required until the December of your year abroad.

Supervision arrangements

As you will note from the above, it is envisaged that you will establish contact with your dissertation/translation project supervisor in the Easter term of your second year. This is vitally important, in fact, especially if you are intending to offer a dissertation. While it will be possible to have contact with your supervisor during your year abroad — the equivalent of four hour's supervision is permitted, whether conducted in person or 'virtually', by post or e-mail — it obviously makes sense to take advantage of the final term of your second year in Cambridge to ask your supervisor for bibliographical guidance and to run your initial ideas for your argument past him or her, so that you have a fairly clear idea of the direction you want to pursue by the time you leave for your year abroad.

In general, when planning your work for your dissertation, you should bear in mind that the deadline for submission for year abroad work is the beginning of the Michaelmas Term of your final year, and that you cannot expect supervisors to be available to read your work over the long vacation, as this is a period they will be devoting to their own research. You should aim ideally, therefore, to have a first draft of your dissertation ready to send to your supervisor for comment by around Christmas of your year abroad, and a more finished draft by around Easter, or May/June at the latest. Supervisors are not permitted to read or comment on the final version of your dissertation.

Examples of dissertation topics in Italian


  • Dante's concept of pietà
  • Sacred and secular in late-medieval civic art in Tuscany and Umbria
  • A comparative study of Franciscan influence in the works of Dante and Giotto
  • Franciscan attitudes to poverty in their social context
  • Dante and the papacy: Boniface and Beatrice in context
  • Dante and the classical poets
  • Boccaccio's Corbaccio
  • Byzantine art in Sicily


  • Michelangelo's Vatican Pietà and Florence Pietà : finito or non-finito?
  • The representation of the Judith and Holofernes theme in Italian art, 1550-1650
  • 'Difesa delle donne': a study of feminist writings in early modern Venice, with particular reference to the works of Arcangela Tarabotti
  • The propagandistic use of art in the political context of the Renaissance courts of Italy, focussing on Milan (fifteenth to sixteenth centuries)
  • Italian epic with particular reference to the Orlando Innamorato of Boiardo
  • Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and its reflections in the visual arts


  • The treatment of history in the novels of three twentieth-century Italian women writers
  • Silent communication: the physical texts of Dacia Maraini and Oriana Fallaci
  • Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio, and the early 'ritorno all'ordine'
  • Ideals of reality in the literature and history of the Italian Risorgimento
  • Calvino and his use of the image of the labyrinth between 1957 and 1985
  • The cultural and social formation of an anti-hero in the novels of Italo Svevo
  • The representation of women in post-war Italian film and literature
  • Futurism in Italy based on works of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876—1944)
  • Modern Sicilian Literature
  • The Enlightenment in national and local context: Enlightenment ideas and their development between Paris and Milan.


  • Investigation into morphosyntax of Italian songs
  • Interjections and their use throughout the Italian peninsula
  • A study of the dialect of Venice
  • The language of Italian pop music
  • The influence of German on Rhaeto-Romance dialects
  • The language of Italian advertising
  • A sociolinguistic study of the use of Italian and dialect in Emilia-Romagna

Practical Help (the departmental perspective)

Naturally enough, the Department will be hoping that you choose Italy for your Year Abroad and an Italian subject for your Dissertation or Translation Project; and it will do its best to ensure that the whole experience is as enjoyable and rewarding as possible if you do make the wise choice.

The Departmental Year Abroad Adviser

There is a Departmental Year Abroad Officer in the person of Dr Natali who will be glad to meet you by arrangement at any time in the year. He will give you advice about all aspects of living, studying and working in Italy during your third year and he will put all his contacts at your disposal. 

Michaelmas term: Introductory Social Evening

The Department will organise a social evening in the fifth or sixth week of the Michaelmas term (details will be circulated by e-mail) in which Dr Natali will speak very briefly about spending the Year Abroad in Italy before introducing some of the current fourth-years and postgraduates who will share their recent experiences with you. There will be plenty of time to put questions to the speakers and to talk informally with them and other members of the Department.

Other arrangements

From time to time, the Department is able to make other arrangements in Italy, for example, under Erasmus agreements with a number of Italian universtities, through personal contacts, particularly in Rome, or through private agreements between individual colleges in Cambridge and Pisa or Pavia. Sometimes a student who has found good employment, or good accommodation, is asked to recommend a successor. Ask Dr Natali or Dr Ledgeway about what may be on offer in the current year.

Studying at Italian Universities

If you are thinking of following a course (a corso singolo) at an Italian university however vague your intention may be you will have to submit three passport photos, each signed on the front a photocopy of your passport to the Year Abroad Office by the beginning of the 7th week of Lent term so that she can forward them together with a letter of confirmation of your studies issued by the Department to the Italian Consulate General for authentication. A detailed information letter will be e-mailed to you closer to the time. This is an essential preliminary which saves an immense amount of time and nervous energy. You are encouraged to equip yourself with the above-mentioned authenticated documents even you are not initially thinking of following a course at an Italian University during your Year Abroad there, just in case you change your mind at a later stage.

At the beginning of the Easter term you will go to the Year Abroad Office to collect the documents and a standardised application form which you will fill out and send to the university of your choice (together with the authenticated ocuments).

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