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Unit information: Italian Identities in the Nineteenth Century in 2018/19

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Unit name Italian Identities in the Nineteenth Century
Unit code ITAL20040
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Rhiannon Daniels
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will be taught by Dr Paul Howard

This unit will introduce students to the multiple Italian identities of the people in nineteenth-century Italy and to the creation of a new literature capable of examining rapidly changing social realities. In the wake of the Risorgimento, Italy’s movement towards Unification in 1861, sweeping socio-political changes took place during the nineteenth century, which would have lasting effects on all aspects of Italian life, including culture and identity. One of Italy’s earliest statesmen, Massimo D’Azeglio, is said to have remarked that after Italy had been created, Italians had to be created next.

On this unit students will discuss: Who were the ‘people’? What language did they speak? How did they feel towards the new nation state? Particular case studies will include Rome (the eventual capital of the united Italy), Sicily and Naples (both of which had been part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the largest state prior to l’Unità d’Italia). We will use Giuseppe Gioachino Belli’s Sonetti romaneschi (sonnets championing the Roman plebs under the domination of the papacy), Giovanni Verga’s I Malavoglia (a novel featuring the struggles of Sicilian fishermen) and Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation, and Matilde Serao’s Il ventre di Napoli (snippets of reportage charting the lives of the Neapolitan poor).

These texts all deal with the profound sociological upheavals foisted on the masses by wider political change; a people rooted in their immediate locales, with their individual collective identities, but who are nonetheless already, or shortly to become, the new citizens of the Italian state. In strikingly original ways, these writers all tackle the problem of credible voice and how this is tied to language and form, in turn relating to local, national and wider preoccupations of identity.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a pivotal period in Italian history and culture, with particular reference to the fragmentary nature of the Italian peninsula pre- and post-Unification
  2. Make sophisticated comparisons between written texts and film adaptations of the same source, as appropriate to Level I
  3. Analyse primary texts in a variety of genres and situate these within their socio-historical contexts
  4. Engage with and apply the work of critics, as appropriate to level I
  5. Communicate findings effectively, both orally and in writing, and at an appropriate level of complexity

Teaching details

2 hours weekly

Assessment Details

One written assignment of 1500 words (25%)

One written assignment of 3000 words (75%)

The shorter written assignment will be an exercise in detailed close analysis of a literary text and/or film (ILOs 1, 2, 3, 5).

The final essay will be a wider enquiry into a chosen topic, using some critics as well as primary sources (ILOs 1-5).

Reading and References

Primary texts:

Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, Sonetti romaneschi, ed. by Giorgio Vigolo and Pietro Gibellini (Milan: Mondadori, 1978)

Giovanni Verga, I Malavoglia. Any edition.

Matilde Serao, Il ventre di Napoli. Recommended edition by Antonio Pascale (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2012)


La terra trema (1948), dir. by Luchino Visconti.

Indicative secondary reading:

Paul Howard, ‘In sti tempi d'abbissi e rribbejjone: G G Belli’s silent revolution’ in The Politics of Poetics: Poetry and Social Activism in Early-Modern through Contemporary Italy, ed. by Federica Santini and Giovanna Summerfield (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), pp. 29-62.

Giovanni Carsaniga, ‘Literary realism in Italy: Verga, Capuana, and verismo’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Novel, ed. by Peter Bondanella and Andrea Ciccarelli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 61-74.

Jonathan White, Italian Cultural Lineages (London: University of Toronto Press, 2007), chapter 7.

Christopher Duggan, A Concise History of Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), chapters 4, 5, 6.