Villa Le Balze’s semester undergraduate program offers students long-term exposure to contemporary life in Italy, through a carefully designed balance of academic coursework, co-curricular programming, and independent exploration and experience-building, underpinned by opportunities for continuous reflection.
Students may choose from a selection of English-taught courses, grounded in liberal arts disciplines and thematically linked around topics in Italian history, culture, and politics. At least one course per semester is taught by a visiting Main Campus faculty member in residence. As part of the Villa’s focus on cultural immersion and engagement with contemporary Italian society, students are required to take Italian language while enrolled at the Villa.
Courses offered at Villa Le Balze during the semester are Georgetown courses, and are taught to the same rigorous standard as any course offered on the Main Campus. Students planning to study at Villa Le Balze should come prepared with appropriate expectations and commitment to the academic obligations expected of them at Villa Le Balze.
All credits and grades earned at Villa Le Balze are automatically recorded on a student’s transcript and are factored into the student’s Georgetown GPA. Non-Georgetown participants are issued a GU transcript with grades and a semester GPA.
Each semester the Villa organizes several academic field trips that align with the curriculum being taught that semester. Participation in these trips is mandatory. Additionally, many courses (most notably the Art History and Italian Language courses) feature visits to local museums, monuments, markets and other nearby sites of interest. Field trips and on-site lectures are an integral part of the Villa experience and may include travel to points of interest in and around Florence, as well as to other cities in Italy.
Current Course Descriptions
The course is designed to complement the history course which covers a similar period and will begin with an introduction to classical and medieval art and architecture, followed by a focus on the innovations of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano in sculpture, and Giotto and Duccio in painting. These are the artists of the Proto-Renaissance, a renaissance before The Renaissance of the 15th century. As the 14th century moves in to the 15th century, we look at International Gothic, the style of the Italian and European courts. This style forms a contrast to that of Masaccio, creator of the new Renaissance style in painting.
We trace developments from 1401, the art historical date for the beginning of the Renaissance, and focus on the sculpture of Ghiberti and Donatello, and the architecture of Brunelleschi, creators of the new style in their respective fields. The 1430s sees the emergence of the so-called Second Renaissance style as exemplified by the art of Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, which is then followed by the lyrical work of Botticelli. The course concludes with a focus on developments in the later 15th century.
The course is designed to complement the history course which covers a similar time period and will begin by looking at artistic developments in later 15th century Florence as a prelude to the High Renaissance, the founding father of which is considered to be Leonardo da Vinci. Early Renaissance Florence was the “cradle” of the Renaissance, but the 16th century sees an artistic shift to Rome where the High Renaissance achievements of Michelangelo, Bramante and Raphael will be examined, as well as the situation in Florence with the work of Andrea del Sarto and in Parma with the work of Correggio.
The High Renaissance in Venice represents a separate development represented by the Venetian artists’ fascination with colour. The focus will be on Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and the architect, Palladio. The phenomenon of Mannerism will be examined which leads on to developments in Baroque art in Rome in the 17th century as exemplified by Carracci, Caravaggio, Bernini and Borromini. An inter-connecting theme will be patronage and the course will also show how artistic developments are affected by social, political and religious factors.
The course introduces the student to the world of Italian Cinema. In the first part the class will be analyzing Neorealism, a cinematic phenomenon that deeply influenced the ideological and aesthetic rules of film art. In the second part we will concentrate on the films that mark the decline of Neorealism and the talent of “new” auteurs such as Fellini and Antonioni. The last part of the course will be devoted to cinema from the 1970’s to the present in order to pay attention to the latest developments of the Italian industry.
The course is a general analysis of post-war cinema and a parallel social history of this period using films as “decoded historical evidence”. Together with masterpieces such as “Open City” and “The Bicycle Thief” screenings will include films of the Italian directors of the “cinema d’autore” such as “The Conformist”, “Life is Beautiful” and the 2004 candidate for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, “I am not scared”. The class will also analyse the different aspects of “Film Making” both in Italian and the U.S. industry where I had the pleasure to work for many years in the Editing Department on Films such as “The Dead Poet Society” and “The Godfather Part 3”. Films in VHS or DVD format are dubbed in English or sub-titled.
Italo Calvino is arguably the most widely read and translated author of modern Italian literature. The work of Calvino spans through crucial decades of contemporary Italy, from the post-war period, through the economic boom, until the hedonistic post-modern Italian society of the 80s. Calvino’s books often provide an hilarious satirical look at those times, but first and foremost they constitute a diverse and extremely enjoyable approach, translated into fiction, to the some of most consequential ideas of the twentieth century. His storytelling interacts with movements and disciplines such as Neo-realism, Anthropology, Structuralism, Experimentalism, OuLiPo, Post-modernity.
The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 represents a crucial watershed in the history of European civilization. Nevertheless, the patrimony of ideas of pagan antiquity survives and continues to inspire political and religious beliefs. The course starts with a brief survey of the principals’ events which shaped this complex period in order to introduce some of the key lines of cultural history of the Middle Ages. A great transformation was later represented by the phenomenon of the re-birth of cities. In fact, around the eleventh century, demographic and economic factors produced a real urban revolution in some areas of Europe, and this turning point actually represents the transition from the feudal system to the late medieval civilization. The course analyzes the society, the politics and the culture of medieval Italy, focusing mainly on cities from the eleventh to the fifteenth century. The structure of the city-state republic, the family, the daily life, the economy, the religious beliefs and practices, the world of the marginal and the mentality of the people will all be discussed in the effort of reconstructing the features of medieval urban civilization. Particular emphasis will be given to the city of Florence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The complex city universe expresses itself through a peculiar art and architecture (cathedrals, fresco cycles, city walls and gates, public palaces, altar-pieces, market squares and monasteries) which will be studied in order to reconstruct the material environment and the ideological aspects of late Medieval and early Renaissance Italian civilization.
The course is conceived as an historical and anthropological survey of the main events and issues that characterized Early Modern Italy. This period, which starts with the Black Death (1348) and goes until the Enlightenment (ca. 1700), will be considered as a consistent and unitary section of history in which the merging of classical heritage and religious creed produced many of the elements which shaped European Civilization. Attention will be broadly focused on culture, politics, and religion in order to grasp the elements of specificity of the Old Regime. Special emphasis will be put on the princely court, and on ideas, manners and art forms that were codified by this aristocratic environment, as one of the most relevant contribution of Renaissance and Baroque Italy to Western behavioral and cultural codes. Attention will also be put on the analysis of the lower ranks of Italian society, studying how the lower sectors of the Italian population (servants, prostitutes, and desperately poor) were excluded from political power. In this regard, the course will examine Italian mentality in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and how minorities were commonly persecuted in trial in which judges and courts were commonly legitimized by biased political forces.
This course will provide an introductory survey of European history from late Imperial Rome to the eighteenth century. The main focus will be on social and cultural developments, but political, economic, religious, intellectual, and artistic themes will also be addressed. Within these general themes, we will in particular look at the family as a social institution in which individuals, both men and women, were legally subordinated in different ways to their father’s authority, and their social behaviors were strictly controlled. The aim is to introduce students to a cultural, social, and historical approach to an intriguing topic from different but interrelated points of view. The course also aims to help students think historically and understand the process of historical reasoning and analysis.
This required, one-credit course provides structured engagement for students at Villa Le Balze with their host city, Florence. The history of the city from the Roman foundation is presented in synopsis. Discussion is included of life in the city today and the problems that its community faces. Students do much of the learning in this course onsite and will also be given an opportunity to explore the community further through an independent project. The overall goal of the course is to give students an intellectual framework for talking about Florence’s past and present, thereby helping students to see connections between their other courses at Villa Le Balze, their academic work as a whole, and their extracurricular experiences during their semester at Florence.
- ITAL-011 Basic Intensive Italian
- ITAL-032 Intensive Intermediate Italian
- ITAL-111 Intensive Advanced Italian I
- ITAL-112 Intensive Advanced Italian II
- ITAL-233 Writing & Culture
This course provides an introduction to the comparative study of politics. It aims to familiarize students with core political science concepts such as government, state, nation, democracy, democratization and authoritarianism, and with the key tenets of comparative political analysis. By focusing on the Mediterranean region this course will aim to answer the overarching question: does the (Western) discipline of political science provide an adequate framework through which to understand politics and society in other geographical contexts?
The course will explore key issues in the field of EU environmental policy. The first part of the course will be dedicated to the analysis of how the EU works in the environmental field: EU environmental principles, legislative instruments, and the role of EU institutions in environmental policy-making. The second part of the course will look in detail at the different policy sectors of the EU environmental policy: sustainable development, water, air, noise, biodiversity and nature, soil and GMOs and waste. Particular attention will be devoted to the recent EU decisions on energy and climate change, namely, the European Energy Union and the 2030 Climate Change Targets in order to compare EU strategies with American and Chinese strategies. Finally, we will study EU Environmental Policy in a global context and how things may change under U.S. President Donald Trump.
In this course students will examine economic theories on the determinants and impacts of international and internal migration. They will explore these issues from the view of an origin country and of a destination country, with an emphasis on the political economy implications of emigration and immigration.
The course investigates what is clearly one of the most disturbing and inexplicable occurrences in human history. Unlike the Holocaust, to which the witch hunts are frequently compared, the persecution of witches cannot be viewed as a relatively brief and unusually violent historical anomaly, since it continued over several hundred years; they cannot be explained in the context of national specificity since they spanned almost the entire European continent and migrated to early America; nor can these events be blamed on any single “madman”. As such then, witch persecution defies simplistic explanations and thus lends itself particularly well to the kinds of investigation this course intends.
This course explores the unique attraction that Italy has held for those hailing from lands north of the Alps over the past centuries. In particular, the course focuses on how this “spell of Italy” is reflected in travel writing by German, British, and French writers, with an emphasis on the German tradition. Travel literature, in this context, is understood broadly to encompass a variety of genres from letters, travel accounts, and guidebooks to fictional works such as novels, novellas, and poems. Given that travel writing is inherently transcultural and transnational, the course lends itself to comparative analyses of such central issues as national identity, cultural practices, gender, and class in European travel literature.
Check back for the course description.
Past Course Descriptions
As anyone familiar with Shakespeare knows, Italy has long occupied a privileged place in the work of Anglophone writers. This course will examine the particular cultural fascination with Italy—a fascination that has, at once, aesthetic, religious/spiritual, erotic, and political dimensions—during the last two centuries. As many have noted, with the rise of the Grand Tour as coming-of-age ritual for wealthy British and American travelers, and especially with the emergence of Romanticism, Italy came to figure in a number of important works by British and American writers as resonant setting and as site of aesthetic, emotional, spiritual, and/or erotic “awakening” and transformation. In particular, for Anglo-American writers from largely Protestant and increasingly urban, industrial societies, Italy came to be associated with a number of qualities—“unspoiled” natural beauty and the pastoral ideal, aesthetic grandeur and experience, aristocratic leisure, emotional warmth and romantic passion, unrestrained sensuality and eroticism—that were understood as threatened and/or proscribed due to the dictates of economic and historical “progress.” For these writers, Italy was especially evocative as literary setting because of the existence of physical sites and landmarks–ruins, monuments, churches, as well as aesthetic artifacts–from the Classical era to the Renaissance and beyond; it was seen to preserve, both architecturally and culturally, the presence of the past. At the same time, and for some Anglo-American writers in particular, Italy evoked specific political aspirations, fantasies, and fears: about republicanism, empire (and the possibility of imperial decline), and (especially during and after the Risorgimento) revolution.
In tracing these complex meanings, we will examine representations of Italy and Italians in a variety of poems, novels, travel narratives, autobiographical texts, and films; we will supplement those works with selected critical and historical essays by important scholars in order to help us identify the different aspects of what scholars have called the “Italy myth.” We will conclude by contrasting Anglo-American representations of Italy with depictions of Italian-Americans in the early-20th-C (during the great wave of Italian immigration to the U. S.) and a discussion of an Italian-American immigrant text, a kind of reverse-migration narrative that will enrich students’ understanding of both “Italy” and “travel” during the period in question.
In this course, we will investigate how language shapes and is shaped by society. We will range over many levels of social organization (from nation to neighborhood to individual) as well as many levels of language organization (from pronunciations to conversations to entire languages). We will also consider how sociolinguistic knowledge can be applied to areas such as language policy and planning (including issues pertaining to societal bi- and multilingualism and language endangerment), languages and dialects in education (e.g. the use of students’ home dialects in the classroom), and language and the law (e.g. conducting forensic linguistic analysis of language evidence such as ransom notes, threatening emails and text messages). Throughout the course, we will discuss sociolinguistic issues that are relevant in the Italian context, for example, language and dialect variation (and homogenization), ethnicity based language use (including code-switching), and the interrelation between linguistic and cultural identity.
The purpose of this course is to provide an introduction to some of the fundamental, cultural, moral, and theological issues that gave rise to the Protestant Reformation and, in particular, the concerns that were central to the reforming thought of Martin Luther. The course begins with an examination of the cultural factors that shaped the Reformation movement, including the impact of Renaissance humanism, and individualism, the nationalistic fervor that was moving across Europe, the moral and spiritual corruption of the Roman Catholic Church which was well chronicled by friend and foe alike, the rise in education and the use of print to promulgate dissent, and the theological misgivings that arose with the respect to the practice of indulgences, the efficacy of the Sacraments, the breakdown of Thomas Aquinas’s medieval synthesis, and the widespread desire to “restore” the Church.
Next the course turns to the reforming work of Martin Luther. It explores his early trials of faith and his objections to the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church that ultimately resulted in his excommunication. The Church’s response to Luther is also analyzed in detail, highlighting its objections to his insistence on sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura, which represented the foundations of his theological reform.
Looking at cross-cultural examples, Food and Culture focuses on the link between culture and food–the practices, beliefs, and mythologies that surround the production, exchange and consumption of food now and in the past. The first part centers on what we eat, how we eat, and with whom we eat. The course examines the social and symbolic uses of food and introduces key anthropological concepts such as the meal; regional, national and haute cuisine; and the circulation, sharing, and refusal of food. We study the connection of food to class structures and social reproduction as well as the political economy of food in global markets. The second part of the course focuses on the history of food in Italy and Tuscany from the Renaissance to the present and chronicles the emergence of distinctively “Italian” foods such as pasta, olive oil, and pizza. The third part centers on regional food styles and links changes in family structures and gender relations to evolving food practices in Tuscany. It considers current food markets, consumer movements, and the politics of cultural heritage. Assigned readings include three books and a number of articles. Class readings are supplemented with a Renaissance meal in Florence, a visit to a Florentine chocolatier, a day trip to Perugia, and a guest lecture on the slow food movement in Italy and France.
Italian actors and actresses: art, profession and migration. From the 16th to the 18th century many Italian actors and actresses (both theater and opera performers) traveled, or migrated to different European countries (and royal courts). This is an important phenomenon, not very well known or studied, of migration for work and cultural cross-pollination that will provide our students a deeper understanding of the migration phenomenon. The course will also focus on an historic and sociological overview of many European countries and royal courts of the time.
An examination of the role of travel in our lives and culture will thus provide yet another critical frame for the understanding of the complexity of experience in the early modern period. This part of the course will be supported by images of maps, routes, postal services etc. of Renaissance and the Baroque Europe. The development of modern ways of communication is one of the keys to understand the cultural movements in Europe between the 16th and the 18th century. A collateral benefit will be that our students, who will themselves be “travelers” to and in Italy, will be able to examine and critique their own travel experience during the course of the semester.
The course will also explore how these professional skills migrated into texts, and how texts, in the absence of films or recordings, represent sometimes the only source we have to rediscover the professional skills of the early modern performers. The course will include the travel books written by several travelers on the so called Grand Tour.
This course covers Dante’s works from his early Rime and Vita Nuova to the Divine Comedy. Dante wrote his youthful lyrics in Florence, dialoguing with other local poets such as Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianni, Dino Frescobaldi and Cino da Pistoia, while he composed his masterpiece during his exile from his native city of Florence. In his poetry he discusses topics of love, philosophy and politics within a Florentine, Italian and European scope. This course will devote special attention to the history, art and politics of Florence and Tuscany in its medieval European context.
A journey of self-discovery, Dante’s Divine Comedy offers a remarkable panorama of the late Middle Ages through one man’s poetic vision of the afterlife. However, we continue to read and study the poem not only to learn about the thought and culture of medieval and early modern Europe but also because many of the philosophical and moral issues confronting Dante and his age are no less important to individuals and societies today. Personal and civic responsibilities, governmental accountability, church-state relations, economics and social justice, literary and artistic influences, benefits and limitations of interdisciplinarity ‐‐ these are some of the themes that will frame our discussion of the Divine Comedy. This course, specifically refashioned for the students at Villa Le Balze, represents a unique opportunity for a study of Dante’s poetry in and around the places where it was set.
Our world is becoming one: we are all aware of this. Globalization processes have questioned the traditional structures and concepts of Modern Politics: in this framework, the European Union represents the most advanced example of post-national polity. This course seeks to provide students with a basic knowledge of the EU of its transformation, and of its role in global governance.
The Europe that emerged from the Treaty of Rome in 1957 was merely a “European Economic Community”; yet, its founders had a very clear, and ambitious, political vision: the United States of Europe. After 50 years the European Union is a full fledged political actor, capable of a distinctive action on the global scenario. After the Treaty of Lisbon, the Union is now operating with a new constitutional arrangement. In spite of that the EU is still struggling with issues of legitimacy and identity.
Part I of the course aims at providing students with the basic conceptual tools to tackle the question of “political identity” and the main features of the impact of globalization on politics.
Part II will provide students with a basic introduction to the history and functioning of the European Union, from the Treaty of Rome to the Laeken Declaration of 2000 which marked a new phase in European Union history, as it made evident the need to engage in a quest for a specifically political identity. A process was thus set in motion which led to the European Convention, the drafting of the European Constitution and, finally, the Treaty of Lisbon. Week 5 and 6 will highlight the emergence of identity as a political problem in the history of European integration in connection with a search for political legitimacy.
Part III proceeds to analyzing “European identity at work”: it will focus on some key policy areas (work and welfare, environment, foreign policy, development aid) highlighting how values and principles that represent the core of European identity are – or are not – reflected in European policy-making.
The change from medieval to modern methods in the art of war is closely related to the general transformation of European civilization during the Renaissance. The revival of interest in ancient history and literature had a distinct effect on military theory and practice. This course focuses on the events, trends, and personalities of the Italian Wars (such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Cesare Borgia, Caterina Sforza) to illustrate the broader theoretical and conceptual approaches designed to understand war in all of its manifestations. Utilized as an extended case study, the Italian Wars will be examined through an interdisciplinary prism. A recurrent point of discussion will be the extent to which these Renaissance wars provide insight into contemporary conflicts and issues.
The course will focus on five plays by Shakespeare set in Italy. While it will consider the degree to which the setting in Italy (or Rome) impacts our understanding of the play, it will also acknowledge that these plays were written not to portray the history and culture of Italy, but to be performed on a stage for an audience in Shakespeare’s London.
Students will be asked to read and discuss the plays carefully, to write four papers on assigned topics, and to perform excerpts from them during the semester. The course will conclude with a performance by the students of a longer extract from a play by Shakespeare for the faculty, the staff, and their classmates at the Villa.
The history of Italy since 1796 provides fascinating examples of a diverse set of issues and phenomena at the heart of politics, including state formation, revolution, war, fascism, empire, democracy, political parties and coalitions, welfare capitalism, and social movements. This course will explore Italian history from the perspective of comparative political science, using the case of Italy to help students understand more general political dynamics. The course will alternate sessions discussing readings on general political phenomena with sessions exploring the corresponding periods or events in Italian history. The course would not attempt any systematic integration of Italian political history with Italian cultural or intellectual history, but it will give students flexibility to write papers on how these or other dimensions of history relate to Italian politics. The major course assignment, in addition to readings, discussions, and short papers on the weekly readings, will be a 15-page research paper on Italian politics, whether contemporary or historical.
In this course, you will examine the papacy’s relation to the church and the world and explore its influence in Italy. You will discover ecclesial politics inside and outside of Italy, the papacy’s international reach and influence, its checkered history, and its relevance today. Studying the papacy involves theology, history, sociology, and politics. The relationship between Italy and the papacy has a long history, even though the pope was not always located in Rome. During some periods, the pope was a minor player in church affairs but for most of its history, the papacy has played a key role in culture, religion, the arts, and politics. The pope leads the Roman Catholic Church, but also commands attention and respect from the rest of the world, religious or not. The course will include studying the Holy See’s political and diplomatic structure, its relation to world affairs, its influence on national church communities, in particular, the United States, and the figures who have occupied the papal office, beginning with Saint Peter until Pope Francis today.
“Did women have a Renaissance?” Joan Kelly polemically asked in 1977, only to answer in the negative: “there was no ‘renaissance’ for women, at least not during the Renaissance.” The extraordinary amount of scholarship conducted in last forty years, however, allows us to provide a more nuanced answer. While women’s status did not improve dramatically during the Renaissance, it is now clear that many factors—from the development of the printed press to the rediscovery of Plato—led to a more positive view of women’s role in society and of their very nature. One particularly fascinating aspect of this phenomenon is the unprecedented emergence of women writers, a distinctive Italian feature. Women also explored other forms of creativity and affirmed themselves as composers, painters, and actresses.
In this course you will explore some of the protagonists of this extraordinary season, from the humanists of the late fifteenth century—such as Isotta Nogarola and Cassandra Fedele—to Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia who in 1678 became the first woman in the world to receive a university degree.
This is an innovative on-line course that will utilize a multidisciplinary approach to explore the meaning and experience of borders and related security concerns throughout the world. We will analyze historical and modern forces that shape borders, and then study how borders affect the economic, social, and political fabric of countries. This class will focus on border issues in the EU, but we will also look at borders throughout the world.
How will this class work?
Students will do readings on their own time, then they will post responses to prompts in a discussion board. Discussion boards later in the semester will include students from the main campus and Doha that are also taking the course. The course will include an on-campus visit from Dr. Stephen at VLB during which time she will hold one-on-one and group meetings with students taking the course.
This course explores the value and future of the humanities, asking questions both about their intrinsic value and their value for approaching global and local problems. How does the study of the humanities in college courses relate to what is called “the engaged humanities” or to the “public humanities”? The course confronts such issues head-on, offering students a grounding in approaches, both old and new, to the humanities and to the way humanities-trained students can contribute towards solving the real-world problems that accompany climate change, cultural conflict, and the development of artificial intelligence. We begin with Petrarch (“the first great humanist”) and end with Primo Levi and Elena Ferrante, supplemented by portions of A Cyborg Manifesto (1991) by Donna Haraway and The Posthuman (2013) by Rosi Braidotti, among other readings. Does the study of the humanities create better human beings? Are there specific humanities methodologies that can better the world? Who are the humanities meant for? Why are the humanities believed essential to democracy? Is there room for the humanities in a posthuman world in which technology divides the haves from the have-nots, the initiates from the uninitiated? And, finally, how does the study of the humanities encourage us to explore our own encounters with difference, with new readings, and with new ideas?