120: Italy and Food: A Cultural History

MWF 2-3 | Dwinelle 88 | Instructor: Danielle Callegari

Units: 4 Satisfies L&S Arts & Literature breadth requirement.

The idea of Italy is inextricably tied to great food and Italians are known the world over for their excellent cooking and love of eating, rooted in a recognizable gastronomic canon and iconic exports: chianti, pizza, gelato. Yet, what precisely makes food so important to “Italianità”? To understand why Italian consciousness within and beyond the peninsula roots itself in gastronomy, our course will train a serious critical lens on the world of Italian food, re-constructing Italian history and culture as we de-construct the Italian meal, trying to find within it the seeds of an imagined community and a political reality. Our goal will be to answer questions such as: what makes a national identity and what makes a national cuisine?; how is food wielded as a tool of political power?; what makes food important to Italy and Italians specifically, when compared with other European nations and ethnic identities?; how has Italian cuisine changed from the birth of the Italian vernacular in the late Middle Ages to the unification of the Italian nation state in 1861 to today? To answer these questions we will investigate sources ranging from the lineage of Italian cookbooks, to textual and visual representations of Italian food and eating, to models of ancient and modern dining spaces and rituals, and more.

Preparation & Expectations:

Students should be prepared to read, listen to or watch approximately 6-7 selections from primary and critical sources each week. In addition to preparing all required materials in advance of lecture and participating enthusiastically in class, students will take a written, in-class exam at the conclusion of each unit of study. Each student will also select a food item or technology to research individually during the course of the semester, for which the student will present a final product (written or oral).

Grading Breakdown:

Attendance and participation 20%

Exams 50%

Food Research Assignment 30%

 Required Texts:

Capatti, Alberto and Massimo Montanari. Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History. Translated by Aine O’Healy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. [Paperback and e-book versions available; ISBN-10: 0231122322, ISBN-13: 978-0231122320]


All further texts and materials will be provided in digital format.