Italian Studies department broadens cultural horizons

By Casey Kramer '14
This article originally appeared in the Gettysburgian on February 3, 2011

The Italian Studies major is broadening the College's cultural horizons. While a minor has existed in the area of Italian studies since 2005, an option to major in the academic field was approved just last year. The variety of classes offered by the department is extensive if students should choose to pursue a major or minor - or simply seek to test out the waters. The Italian Studies department, said co-chairperson, Alan Perry, "[welcomes] students who are motivated to learn and put in the effort and have a take in what they are studying. We think that we can share our passion...in a way that uplifts you and gets you to go deeper."

"Many students wanted to deepen their understanding of Italian language and culture and we hope that this will respond to their needs," added Professor Stefano Boselli.

The faculty of Italian Studies, which operates alongside the Department of French, insists the study of the language is "an integral part of the liberal arts experience [that] enriches one's capacity to think, empowers one to write more effectively, and solidifies one's understanding of language systems," according to the departments' shared web page.

Through a series of twelve course requirements, the Italian Studies major enables students to establish and extend their knowledge and understanding of Italian culture, including its rich history and various art forms. The requirements of the program include Italian 201, Italian 202, five course at the 300 level, five courses at the 200, 300, or 400 level that are taught in English (these are the classes with an "Italian theme", but without language instruction). The minor, in contrast, requires a combined six core courses and elective courses. Specific details of various requirements and possible exemptions are available on the department's web page.

"The best element is our course offerings," said Perry. "I think we have courses in both English and Italian that are fascinating, from Italian Women Writers, to a film course on Luchino Visconti, from Italian American Culture to Italy During Fascism."

One of the most fundamental elements of the Italian Studies major and minor programs is the study abroad component that, according to Perry, proves "absolutely essential" in the understanding of the Italian culture and language. Students of the department are required to study in Italy with either of several affiliated universities, including Syracuse University in Florence and Arcadia University in Perugia. These, like other study abroad programs at the College, allow students to receive credit for courses completed abroad and offer opportunities for financial aid.

"We can lay the ground work here [in Gettysburg]; a student can learn language systems and culture. But to acquire any language, you need to have a lived experience of it," said Perry. "For Italian and Italy, when you go abroad, you really get an idea of how fascinating and frustrating Italians are at once."

"Going abroad means discovering different ‘states of being' from inside," said Boselli. "A different language actually perceives reality in a different way because of its different structures. It's quite fascinating and one can only understand this by comparing the familiar with the unfamiliar."
Ultimately, Perry said, first-hand experience and observation reveals the intricacies of the Italian culture.

"You don't learn these things. You live them," said Perry.

With its extensive depth in terms of the study of not only the Italian language, but also the richness of Italian culture, the new Italian Studies major contributes to the College's tenets of a liberal arts education.

"[The study of a foreign language] broadens your power to communicate," said Perry. "It helps you go deep to discover your own ability to express yourself and it helps you break out of your own culture."