Studying Italian at Vassar

Why Italian

Italian has been a field of study at Vassar since 1922 (view history of the department) and it remains a popular choice both for beginners and for students who have studied the language in high school. Study of Italian language and culture fulfills the college mission of promoting “analytical, informed and independent thinking” by fostering an in-depth understanding of different systems of thought and a broader view of one’s own language and culture. Students may choose a concentration or a correlate in Italian, and often combine Italian with work in other disciplines such as Anthropology, Art History, Studio Art, English, Film, History, International Studies, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Sociology, Women’s Studies.

How to begin

Beginners can choose between the two-semester sequence Elementary Italian and the Intensive Elementary course, which offer an introduction to the language and culture of Italy through short stories and plays, opera and popular music, film and popular culture. Students with previous language study will be placed in the appropriate course after an interview with the department chair. An oral and written exam may be used for advanced placement or to fulfill the Foreign Language Proficiency requirement.  In the summer after completing Elementary Italian, students have the opportunity to participate in a program in Siena, Italy, and fulfill the requirement for Intermediate Italian.

While working on language skills, students may also enroll in Italian literature and cinema courses taught in English, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy, Boccaccio’s Decameron: The Novella as Microcosm, Italian Cinema, or Four Italian Filmmakers.

What then

The department offers a variety of literature, film, and culture courses in Italian, ranging from the classics of Medieval and Renaissance literature to contemporary trends in cinema, Italophone African narrative, and translation studies.  All students are encouraged to spend one or two semesters in Italy, usually during their junior year. In conjunction with Wellesley College and Wesleyan University, Vassar offers the Eastern College Consortium (E.C.Co) junior-year-abroad program in Bologna, Italy, where students take courses at the program center and the University of Bologna. Credits for courses taken in Bologna may be used toward an Italian major or correlate, and towards other concentrations, at the discretion of each department or program.


Students are encouraged to attend extra-curricular activities organized by the department and by the Italian Majors’ Committee, such as opera evenings at the Metropolitan Opera House, the Italian Cinema Club, card nights, cooking classes, and guest lectures by invited scholars.

To coordinate the different language activities, a native Italian Language Fellow is in residence.