Skip to main content

Study information

A Thousand Faces: Cultures and History in 19th-Century Italy

Module titleA Thousand Faces: Cultures and History in 19th-Century Italy
Module codeMLI1121
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Luciano Parisi (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

We analyse and link together aspects of recent Italian history that are generally considered in isolation by students of anthropology (What did Italians eat and drink in the past?), economics (to what extent was the battle against poverty won after unification in 1861?), social mores (What structures did families have across regions? Were local identities overly strong?) and arts (why and how did opera develop in Italy? Were arts and crafts encouraged?). This module lays the foundations of an advanced understanding of contemporary Italy, but does not require any knowledge of Italian and is also suited to non-specialist students.

Module aims - intentions of the module

In this module we study local and social cultures of 19th -century Italy in order to understand its history and to become acquainted with the complex and often contradictory elements that have shaped today's nation. We also examine the perceptions of travellers, who often used the adjectives 'unique' and 'beautiful' to describe what attracted them to 19th -century Italy: warm weather, fertile land, attractive landscapes, impressive remains of the classical world, the heritage of the Renaissance, and the 'the universal gaiety' offered by major cities. Their impressions reinforced an international image of Italy that is still common today. Tourists paid less attention to local politics, societies and economies, although they managed to notice autocratic rulers, narrow-minded bureaucrats, poorly maintained roads, poverty in rural and urban areas, and the occasional shortages of food. Until 1848, they had the impression of visiting a country slowly slipping into the past, one 'whose present inhabitants [were] of limited consequence'. The events leading to unification in 1861 changed that impression and promoted a renewed interest in a nation striving for independence and progress. Italy became as interesting for its present as for its past.

The main aims of this module are:

  • To introduce you to key aspects of Italian local and social cultures before and after unification
  • To think about the nature of historical inquiries and the methods used to pursue them
  • To analyse the extent to which various Italian cultures interacted, merged or refused to merge during the course of the 19th century (and to discuss briefly the development of that interaction in the 20th and 21st century)
  • To consider the further interaction of outside cultures and the role they had in the shaping of the Italian nation and/or of its image abroad
  • To acquaint you with key texts and sources related to these issues
  • To provide you with a sound foundation should you wish to continue the study of Italian-related subjects

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify and explain some of the dominant methods informing the study of social history
  • 2. Demonstrate familiarity with the main Italian cultures in the century of the country’s unification
  • 3. Recognize the historical context of the documents related to these cultures
  • 4. Evaluate the main developments within Italy during the period, developed through independent study and seminars

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Interpret cultures with which you are initially unfamiliar
  • 6. Evaluate a broad range of cultural phenomena, including texts, visual media, material artifacts, institutions and public discourses
  • 7. Argue at length and in detail about aspects of the cultures studied, supporting the argument with textual evidence and with opinions from secondary literature
  • 8. Find independently and evaluate critically other relevant resources

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Select, assess and organize a relatively large body of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a written or oral argument of some complexity
  • 10. Identify your areas of personal strength and interest

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Italy in the 19th century: an introduction
  • The impact of France
  • The Grand Tour in Italy
  • Opera, entertainment and business
  • Society and the economy
  • North and South; comments on formative essays
  • Religion(s)
  • Infant abandonment
  • Migrants from Italy and to Italy
  • Civil and penal codes. The family laws
  • The Socialist movement and early welfare initiatives

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching5Seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Tutorial
Guided Independent Study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short essay500 words1-10Written feedback plus debriefing in class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Class test2545 minutes1-10Feedback sheet
Long essay751500 words1-10Feedback sheet

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Class test45 minute test1-10To be arranged with tutor
CourseworkEssay1-10Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

You are expected to read Martin Clark, The Italian Risorgimento (Harlow: Pearson, 2009), and a selection of essays and short passages (soon available on ELE or through the library catalogue) from the following texts:

  • Marzio Barbagli, ‘Marriage and the family in Italy in the early nineteenth century’, in Davis and Ginsborg, pp. 92-127
  • Jeremy Black, Italy and the Grand Tour (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003)
  • Daniela Luigia Caglioti et al.. Elite migrations in modern Italy: patterns of settlement, integration and identity    negotiation , special issue of the Journal of Modern Italian Studies , vol. 13 (2008),no. 2
  • John Anthony Davis (ed), Italy in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • John Anthony Davis, Merchants, Monopolists and Contractors. A Study of Economic Activity and Society in Bourbon Naples 1815-1869 (New York: Arno, 1981)
  • John Anthony Davis and Paul Ginsborg (eds), Society and Politics in the Age of the Risorgimento (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)
  • Spencer Di Scala, Dilemmas of Italian Socialism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press,1980)
  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Italian Journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)
  • David Kimbell, Italian Opera (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)
  • John Rosselli, The Opera Industry in Italy from Cimarosa to Verdi, (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1984)
  • Emanuela Scarpellini, Material Nation: A Consumer’s History of Modern Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)
  • Bruno PF Wanrooij et al., Italian Masculinities in the 19 th Century , in Journal of Modern Italian Studies , special issue, vol 10 (2005), no. 3
  • Perry Willson (ed), Gender, Family and Sexuality. The Private Sphere in Italy, 1860-1945 (London: Palgrave, 2004)
  • Perry Willson, Women in Twentieth-Century Italy (London: Palgrave, 2010)
  • William Wordsworth, Memorials of a Tour in Italy (any edition)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Italy, 19th century, society, economics, emigration, culture, opera, arts

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date