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Italian at Oxford

Both past and present, Italy’s culture, in all its historical, literary and artistic richness, is amongst the most globally vibrant and exciting. Degree programmes in Italian at Oxford offers our students a unique opportunity to explore all that the peninsula has to offer. You will study intensively the culture of Italy in all its facets alongside an equally intense and enriching study of the Italian language. The Italian Sub-Faculty in Oxford is one of the largest departments of Italian in the English-speaking world. There are currently eight permanent members of staff, including the Agnelli-Serena Professor of Italian Studies, five Full Professors, one Senior Lecturer and one Lecturer of the Italian Language. A further Associate Professor or Professor of Italian will be appointed by 2024-25. In addition, the Sub-Faculty has a further dozen academic staff including College Lecturers, language teachers, and graduate tutors. Distinctive and indeed unique too are the unparalleled resources offered to our undergraduates and graduates by the Taylor Institute and the Bodleian Library.

 

Our students and our courses

There are usually around 180 students reading Italian in Oxford at any one time, nearly 20 of whom are graduate students. Undergraduate applications have shown strong growth in the last fifteen years, and Italian now admits an average of 40 undergraduate students a year, including a very successful beginners’ Italian cohort. All our undergraduate students can either combine Italian as one of two languages (together with French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian) or with Linguistics, Classics, English, History, Philosophy, and range of other languages including Arabic in Joint Honours Schools of Classics and Modern Languages, English and Modern Languages, Modern History and Modern Languages, Philosophy and Modern Languages, and European and Middle Eastern Languages. Some two-thirds of our current undergraduate intake are beginners in Italian, and they receive carefully tailored instruction, just as do those entering with more advanced competencies. Language teaching is constantly reviewed and provided by an expert team of colleagues led by our Senior Language Instructor.

 

Undergraduate curriculum

All staff in Italian are committed to ensuring that teaching is consistently of the very highest quality, and that it is closely informed by their research expertise. Such expertise covers every period of Italian literature and culture alongside other scholarly fields such as linguistics, cinema, artistic, intellectual and cultural history, and it also encompasses transnational and comparative literatures. In recent years, alongside a concern to continue to teach celebrated literary figures and periods, notable efforts have been made to broaden our curriculum to women, minority and migrant writers.

 

A concern to combine range and diversity informs our undergraduate curriculum both for Prelims (i.e. for first-year students) and Final Honours School (second-year and finalists). At Prelims, alongside intensive language study (50% of all assessment for the degree combinations in Italian are language-based), students take courses on Italian poetry and on Modern Italy, including film and contemporary migrant writers.  Students spend Year 3 abroad with guidance and support from both the Faculty and Sub-Faculty in making choices, and the Sub-Faculty currently offers some tailored teaching opportunities in Italy. At Final Honours School, once more alongside still more refined and challenging study of Italian language, the choice and intellectual and literary range is extended and enriched still further, allowing the opportunity to study Dante, medieval and Renaissance literature, the nineteenth and twentieth century and Italian cinema and a very wide range of specialist options on specific authors and themes. Notable too is the opportunity for you to write a dissertation on a topic of your choice in place of examinations.

 

On graduation, our undergraduates, both former beginners and non-beginners, will gain a command of grammatically precise and idiomatic spoken Italian, the ability to write accurately and idiomatically in Italian and to translate into and out of Italian with precision and sensitivity in a range of registers.

 

Future careers

A degree in Italian, like all degrees in Modern Languages at Oxford, is one that opens up a range of graduate opportunities. The knowledge and transferable skills of our graduates mean they are some of the most sought after in the UK and internationally. Among the careers successfully followed by students who have studied Italian are: journalism, management, law, teaching and lecturing, arts and administration, civil and diplomatic service, environmental and development work and many more.

 

Graduate programmes

At graduate level, Italian regularly admits students to its one-year Master of Studies programme (see https://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/graduate/mst-mphil-modern-languages) and it has one of the largest and liveliest doctoral populations in the UK, and indeed internationally outside Italy. Oxford Italian continues to recruit outstanding candidates globally (e.g. ones who are regularly awarded both Oxford’s Clarendon scholarships and UK government funding). The research culture is enhanced by a regular flow of visiting speakers and by Italian’s own Research Seminar series (running every term) and the events organized by Italian Studies at Oxford. The list of recently completed DPhils (i.e. doctorates) shows the range and variety of supervision on offer.

 

Recent DPhils completed

Marta Arnaldi, The Diasporic Canon: American Anthologies of Contemporary Italian Poetry, 1945-2015 (supervisor Nicola Gardini: 2018)

Adele Bardazzi, Shadows on the Edge: Eugenio Montale’s Afterlife (supervisor: Emanuela Tandello: 2017)

Alberica Bazzoni, Writing for Freedom: Body, Identity, and Power in Goliarda Sapienza’s Narrative (supervisor: Giuseppe Stellardi, 2014)

Roberto Binetti, Voices from a Minor Literature: Reading the Poetry of Elsa Morante, Amelia Rosselli, Patrizia Cavalli and Biancamaria Frabotta in Context (1968-1982) (supervisor: Emanuela Tandello: 2021)

Rebecca Bowen, Figures of Love: Amor from Antiquity to the Italian Middle Ages (supervisors: Elena Lombardi and Jàs Elsner: 2020)

Olmo Calzolari, Life and Disease in Leopardi and Svevo (supervisors: Emanuela Tandello and Giuseppe Stellardi: 2022)

Fanny Clemente, The Ecstatic Dis-Order: A Cultural and Literary Investigation of Post-Unification Italy (1861-1915) (supervisors: Emanuela Tandello and Giuseppe Stellardi: 2023)

Marzia D’Amico, Figlie di Omero: verso un’epica femminile (supervisor: Emanuela Tandello: 2018)

Adir de Oliveira Fonseca junior, Allegory of the Self: Boccaccio’s ‘Buccolicum Carmen’ (supervisors: Stephen Harrison and Simon Gilson: 2021)

Emily Di Dodo, 'Las Cient Novelas de Juan Bocaccio': A Critical Edition of the Medieval Castilian Translation of Boccaccio’s 'Decameron' (supervisors: Juan-Carlos Conde and Simon Gilson: 2023)

Caroline Dormor, Retrospection and Re-orientation in Dante’s Ante-Purgatory (supervisors: Simon Gilson and Francesca Southerden: 2022)

Francesco Feriozzi, The Reception of Troubadour Poetry in Sixteenth-Century Italy, from the ‘Questione della lingua’ to Giammaria Barbieri’s ‘Arte del rimare’ (supervisor: Simon Gilson: 2023)

Teresa Franco, Maschera delle maschere: Le traduzioni dall’Anglo-Americano di Giuseppe Giudici (anni 1950-1960) (supervisor: Nicola Gardini: 2013)

Giada Guassardo, Ludovico Ariosto's Lyric Poetry in the Literary Context of his Time (supervisor: Marco Dorigatti: 2020)

Alice Gussoni, Gaetano Salvemini’s Exile in Great Britain and the Construction of a Transnational Anti-Fascist Newtork (1925-1934) (supervisor: Guido Bonsaver: 2020)

Lachlan Hughes, Vernacular Song in Dante’s Florence (supervisors: Francesca Southerden and Elizabeth Leach: 2023)

Luca Mazzocchi, ‘Un abisso di bellezza e di scandolo’: A Study of Carlo Emilio Gadda’s L’‘Aldagisa’ (supervisor: Giuseppe Stellardi, 2023)

Hannah McIntyre, Leonora Carrington and Goliarda Sapienza: Anarchic Bodies (supervisors: Giuseppe Stellardi, Laura Marcus, Matthew Reynolds: 2022)

Cecilia Piantanida, Classical lyricism in Italian and North American Twentieth-Century Poetry (supervisor: Nicola Gardini, 2013)

Valentina Tibaldo, The Knowledge of Afterthought: A Comparative Reading of the Poetry of Caproni and Sereni (supervisor: Emanuela Tandello: 2022)

 

Research

The research interests of staff at the Italian Sub-Faculty range from medieval literary studies to Renaissance studies, from contemporary Italian cinema to comparative literature and migrant writing. We therefore welcome applications from students with a wide variety of interests. Before you apply, we suggest you familiarise yourself with the taught and research-based opportunities within the Faculty and look at the individual research profiles of colleagues in the Sub-Faculty, particularly if you are thinking of doctoral research and therefore will need to be supervised by a specialist in your field of studies.

 

How do I prepare for the first year at Oxford?

It is quite possible for an interested student, with some experience of language-learning, to acquire a good level of oral and written Italian before starting the course here.

Any courses you can attend beforehand (either in Britain or in Italy) will be beneficial, but the main burden of learning the language will rest with you and your own capacity for independent study. 
 

Both for pre-university work and during your time here you will need a good grammar-book. You should choose one of the most useful recent grammars, all of which have copious exercises for you to work on each grammatical point:-

  • A.L. Lepschy and G. Lepschy, The Italian Language Today (especially Part II)
  • A. Proudfoot & F. Cardo, Modern Italian Grammar
  • M. Mezzardi, Essential Italian Grammar Practice + Answer Keys
  • G. Lazzarino & A. Moneti, Da capo (3rd ed)

For Advanced students (and for subsequent years):

  • M. Maiden and Cecilia Robustelli, A Reference Grammar of Modern Italian (2nd ed)

Once you have worked about half-way through the grammar of Italian, you should be able to start reading. You should start with some short stories - recent writers in this area are Buzzati, Calvino, Ginzburg, Moravia, Pavese.

The titles you will be reading in your first-year course are currently:-

  • Primo Levi, Se questo è un uomo (1947)
  • Natalia Ginzburg, Lessico famigliare (1963)
  • Italo Calvino, Il cavaliere inesistente (1959)
  • Igiaba Scego, La mia casa è dove sono (2010)

Try to read at least the first two by October; if you are a beginner, you may use translations in the first instance (If this is a Man, Family Sayings). You will also study the film I cento passi (2000; available on DVD) directed by Marco Tullio Giordana. Finally, your first-year course will have a poetry component: you will be required to study a number of Italian sonnets from Dante to the present day (we will provide you with an anthology when you arrive), plus one collection of contemporary poetry:-

  • G. Ungaretti, Vita di un uomo (106 poesie) (Mondadori Oscar) - ONLY the sections 'Allegria' and 'Sentimento del tempo' (read in advance at least 'L'Allegria')

It is not essential to go to Italy before coming here, though it will help. But you can also benefit from reading Italian newspapers (the best dailies are La Repubblica, Il corriere della sera and La Stampa) or magazines (L'Espresso, Panorama, etc.), or seeing Italian films with subtitles. The dailies and magazines also have well-maintained websites: www.repubblica.it, www.corriere.it, www.lastampa.it, etc.

Buon lavoro!