S1702 Italian Contemporary History in Films (Italy core)

Pes Luca

Course Description

The course is an introduction to modern Italian politics, society and culture in a historical and comparative perspective. Lectures will revolve around six major Italian movies, which will be the object of collective discussion: Il Gattopardo by Luchino Visconti, Amarcord by Federico Fellini, La Notte di San Lorenzo by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Don Camillo by Julien Duvivier, Mimì metallurgico ferito nell’onore by Lina Wertmueller and Il Caimano by Nanni Moretti. The idea is that films can be useful as a starting point for historical discussion, as documents of the time in which they were made, as historiographical texts on the period in which they are set and as historical agents, as they are constantly reinterpreted and can influence culture in different successive moments. They can also be useful because they talk about individuals, daily life, family and personal relations; they involve a “mise-en-scène” which bring history much closer to life, and oblige us to discuss events and phenomena also at a micro level, bringing in themes related to gender, family, and collective psychology.

The period covered by the course runs from 1796 to 2016, i.e. from the process of Nation-Building to the Present. Similarly to Germany and unlike Spain, Italy is a new nation-state. The beginning of the process of unification can be traced back to the Napoleonic Age, which saw the diffusion of ideals of Liberalism, Democracy and Nationalism. The foundation of the new Kingdom (1861) was followed by attempts to forge a common identity in the context of a liberal but conservative State, which formed the basis of the first industrialization. After the Great War, the peninsula saw the rise of the first Fascist Regime in Europe, as a result of an alliance between Mussolini, the Monarchy and the Catholic Church. Military defeat and the 1943-45 Civil War, paved the way for a Republic, characterized by a blocked political system with the Catholic Party in power and the largest Communist Party in the West on the opposition. In 1992-94 the judicial investigation and arrests of corrupt politicians contributed to a revolution in the party system, which laid the foundations of the present political landscape. The course will also deal with issues like Church-State relations and the influence of Catholicism, origins and development of the Mafia, the North-South divide, social transformations, emigration and immigration, the 1968 movements, the economic miracle and development of the 'Made in Italy' concept, and controversies involving Berlusconi. The general focus will be on the relationship between politics and society.

A set of readings downloadable from the course e-learning platform provides further insight, including articles by the leading scholars published in English, such as John Davis, Adrian Lyttelton, Paul Corner, Gianfranco Pasquino, Percy Allum and Perry Anderson.


Students are expected to attend classes, watch all the movies and actively participate to group discussions; form a team with other mates and introduce one of the movies to the rest of the class; submit a final research paper at the end of the semester. It is particularly important students are present to the discussions of films, as that will qualitatively affect final evaluation.