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Rome as Palimpsest: Language, History, Culture

Instructor: Dr. Cristiana Filippini [see profile] and Italian staff [see profile]
Disciplines: Italian Studies, Art History, History

Rome is a city made of layers, a palimpsest. This team-taught course attempts to unravel the many layers of the city and of Italian culture through language instruction, a series of visits to Roman sites and monuments, and key texts and discussions devoted to Italian culture. Each class meeting and site visit will focus on a specific and essential aspect of Italian life and culture. Engagement with such a multi-layered culture enhances opportunities for intercultural competence; through critical self-reflection, the course also aims to foster greater awareness of how to be a global citizen.

The course will provide the opportunities to learn and use the necessary descriptive phrases as well as to understand the responses given in specific communicative situations.  Essential Italian hand gestures will also be presented. Class time includes role play activities that will be reinforced by the participation of native Italian speakers (our Italian university interns.) In addition, students will participate in five “language encounters” (incontri di conversazione) with our interns; each encounter lasts fifteen minutes and consists of a two-on-one meeting.

Class visits to Rome’s most important sites will provide the subtext of not just Roman but also Italian culture and identity. During these visits, an overview of Italian history will be presented, as an analysis of the transformations of the city will show us how they reflect the history of the country. The site visits will also treat the issue of Italy’s classical heritage. The rebirth of that heritage in the Italian Renaissance created a life model which shaped western civilization. The visit to Roman villas and palaces will clarify what this means and will also enlighten the related formation of great artistic collections that have made Rome and Italy a city and a country of museums. From capital of the papal state, Rome later became the capital of unified Italy: first capital of a kingdom, then, after Fascism, the capital of a modern republic; the city’s urbanism and architecture exemplify its history.


  • homework assignments
  • final oral presentation


  • final written exam