Introduction to the course
Course descriptionThe residents of the Italian peninsula and its nearest large islands have been among the most migratory of people on earth (1) […] Looking for an Italian diaspora brings the global and circulatory character of migration from Italy into sharp focus. It also forces us to ask what difference Italy’s connections to the wider world have made to the national history of Italy and to the national histories of receiving countries. Would either Italy or the countries where Italians settled be the same had this migration not occurred?
Donna Gabaccia, Italy’s Many Diasporas, 2000, p. 9.
This course adopts an interdisciplinary, comparative, and transnational approach to the study of the making of Italians through the experience of migration. It uses literature, film, music, and popular culture, and focuses on the cultural history of Italians in Italy and abroad from Italian Unification (1861) to the present. As noted by historian Donna Gabaccia, Italy’s extraordinary emigrant past reaches the four corners of the globe, while it was also a significant phenomenon within the country itself, with a movement South to North which contributed to shape the so called “Southern Question.” Today such rich history is intersecting with the nation’s peculiar status as a country of immigration from everywhere in the world, an aspect which makes contemporary Italy a veritable “ethnic and cultural puzzle” of unprecedented proportions. This course investigates both migratory phenomena – inbound and outbound flows – from the point of view of the travel of culture, people and ideas. We will discuss cultural texts in different media and genres from novels and short stories to digital archives, interviews, songs, and films.
Particular relevance will be given to the study of cultural representations of Italians in the U.S. We will examine the role of literary and popular images of Italian Americans in the construction of Italian and Italian American identities. Some of the topics discussed will include the important, albeit sometime neglected, contributions of Italian Americans to American culture and their contradictory desire to assimilate despite abuse, exclusion, and discrimination. Such themes will be analyzed within a theoretical transnational framework attentive to race, ethnicity, national formations, sexual and gender relations. All along we will be asking how definitions of Italians and Americans change when we place the experience of migrants, not on the margins, but at the center of national identity formations. Finally, we will study how migrants in Italy, particularly, from the Global South, the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia and Latin America, are changing the face of the nation and Italian culture. Questions of race, class, gender, sexuality, colonialism and citizenship and their creative transfigurations will remain at the center of our discussion throughout the course.