The Ph.D. program in Italian Studies at Harvard University is committed to providing an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to Italian studies, with special emphasis on innovative research in the fields of Medieval and Renaissance studies, 19th- and 20th-century literature and society, contemporary Italy, cinema and media, the history of design, cultural economics and analytics. We believe that the building of solid historical and philological foundations should be accompanied by extensive critical practice, profound interaction with current cultural trends and new and emerging forms of scholarship, and a hands-on familiarity with new media and technologies. For this reason all graduate students in residence during the spring attend the Italian Studies Colloquium, which consists of weekly meetings with the authors of newly published books. The “Espresso Talks”—informal meetings in which students and faculty discuss recent novels, movies, and cultural events over a cup of coffee—serve the same purpose. Students are also invited to contribute articles, reviews, interviews, and documentary videos to the online magazine Romance Sphere. Many students are also involved in such secondary field programs as Critical Media Practice and in metaLAB (at) Harvard, a hands-on research lab and design studio dedicated to exploring and expanding the frontiers of networked culture in the arts and humanities.
Our faculty teach courses and seminars either in Italian or in English. Recent topics include The Cosmos of the Comedy (Schnapp), Boccaccio and/on Authority (Latin to Vernacular, Vernacular to Latin (Schnapp), Petrarca and the Divided Self (Pertile), Renaissance Epic (Erspamer), Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance – A Curatorial Experiment (Schnapp), Cultural History and Nation-Making, 1870-1920 (Lolla), Making Italians: Poetry and Novel in the 19th Century (Erspamer), The Modern Image: Intersections of Photography, Cinema and Literature (Minghelli), The Last Ten Years: Italian Fiction and Film (Erspamer), Deconstructing Rome (Pedriali), Ethics and Aesthetics (Erspamer and Sommer), Gadda Goes to War: Provocations around the State-Stage (Pedriali), and Questions of Theory (Schnapp and Hamilton). To help students develop their writing and research skills we have instituted a student-organized dissertation writers group convened by faculty on a rotating basis.
Over the past decade visiting professors to the program have include Giorgio Agamben (philosophy), Daniele Archibugi (political science), Piero Boitani (comparative literature), Adriana Cavarero (political philosophy and gender studies), Paolo Galluzzi (history of science), Carlo Ginzburg (history), Ara Merjian (art history), Federica Pedriali (literature and theory), Gabriele Pedullà (literature and history), Pier Luigi Sacco (cultural economics), and Sergio Zatti (literature and psychoanalsis). Many of them were invited under the aegis of the Lauro De Bosis Committee, established at Harvard seventy years ago in memory of Lauro de Bosis, a poet and intellectual who had given his life fighting Fascism.
Harvard professors who offer courses cross-listed with Italian Studies or of interest to our students include Katherine Park (History of Science), Giuliana Bruno (Visual and Environmental Studies), Katharina Piechocki (Comparative Literature), Gennaro Chierchia (Linguistics), Kathleen Coleman (Classics), Alina Payne (History of Art and Architecture), James Hankins and Charles Maier (History), and Thomas Kelly (Music).
Because the program’s emphasis is on innovative approaches to Italian cultural and literary studies, we encourage students to embark on a highly individualized course of study that often includes enrollment in other courses within the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, as well as in other disciplines, including history, philosophy, women and gender studies, cinema, art and architecture, music, classics, religious studies, anthropology, social studies.
An agreement with Brown University allows students to take courses offered by the Italian department there. Information about cross registering is available on the “Course Search” page of MyHarvard under “Other Resources”. Graduate students of the two universities organize annually a joint conference in Italian Studies (“Chiasmi”), held alternatively at Harvard and Brown.
In addition to forming capable and creative scholars, the program promotes their effective teaching at all levels. Beginning in their third year students teach language classes; once they have completed their general exams they may teach sections of courses in Italian literature or culture.
Graduate students at Harvard University discover an unusual wealth of research resources. Among them is the library system, which includes Widener Library, the largest university library in the world; Houghton Library, with its collection of manuscripts, ancient books, and papers of major Italian authors and intellectuals such as Pirandello and Salvemini; and the Harvard Film Archive, which contains a magnificent collection of world cinema. These repositories supplement a number of research centers related to Italian studies, including the Mahindra Humanities Center, the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, the Film Study Center, and the Villa I Tatti Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.
The qualifying examination, which normally takes place at the end of spring semester of the first year or the beginning of the second year of study, tests the student’s overall knowledge of Italian literature. The exam is based on a standard reading list covering major works from all periods of Italian literature, from the Middle Ages to today.
The exam is typically split 50/50 between English and Italian, and consists in two parts:
1. A 20-minute presentation by the candidate on a topic to be determined by the student. This presentation should engage, in a succinct and synthetic manner, an issue or set of issues of broad relevance to Italian literary history. The presentation must be given from notes.
2. A 70-minute question and answer period in which the examining committee follows up on the candidate’s presentation and discusses the reading list with the student. The student is expected to demonstrate a solid knowledge of the texts on the reading list and of the basic issues which they raise, as well as a broader sense of the cultural/literary context into which they fit.
The examination committee for the qualifying examination is made up of all members of the Italian faculty.
Two weeks before the exam, the student must also submit a graduate seminar paper which he or she considers representative of the quality of his or her graduate work at Harvard.
On the basis of this paper, the results of the qualifying examination, and an evaluation of the student’s overall progress and language skills, the members of the committee will vote for or against continuing towards the Ph.D. The terminal master’s degree may be awarded to students who have completed the required courses but whose work is judged insufficient for continuing towards the Ph.D. If the overall case for or against promotion to candidacy is deemed uncertain, students may be asked either to retake the first-year exam, to submit a new paper, or may be allowed to continue on a probationary basis. Irrespective of any prior degrees that they may hold, no students are exempted from the Qualifying Exam requirement.
To see our program requirements, see the GSAS Policies.