Spring 2020 - HIST 391 D100

Studies in History II (4)

Laughing at History

Class Number: 5364

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 6 – Apr 9, 2020: Thu, 1:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Paul Garfinkel
    1 778 782-4431
    Office: AQ 6233
  • Prerequisites:

    45 units, including six units of lower division history.



Special topics.


Laughing at History
This new seminar introduces students to the joys and challenges of analyzing history on film and film as historical text. We will explore modern Italian history through “Italian-style” film comedies (a.k.a. commedia all’italiana). At their peak of production and popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, these intensely satirical films offer profound audio-visual histories of Italian social life. We will focus specifically on how these film comedies visualize, interpret and ultimately humanize a crucial era in Italy’s recent past: the dynamic but difficult transition from Mussolini’s dictatorship, wartime defeat and widespread poverty in 1945 to a postwar democratic republic that became one of the world’s richest industrialized nations by the early 1960s. Treating comedic filmmakers as historians in their own right, we will examine their incisive parodies of cultural attitudes, social customs, sexual behaviors, mass consumerism, urban migration, the Mafia and Fascism during this postwar era of rapid change and unprecedented prosperity.

Students will view one film (out of class) per week. Films will be streamed on Canvas and subtitled in English. In order to situate the films in their social and political contexts, supplemental readings will be assigned each week. No background in film studies or Italian history is necessary.

Although the usual prerequisites are 45 credit hours (including 6 in lower-division History), I welcome upper-level students from other departments and faculties at SFU. If you are not a History major/minor and are interested in enrolling, then please contact me by e-mail (please include a statement of interest and an official transcript). I will consider prerequisite waivers on a case-by-case basis so long as space is available.


  • Participation 25%
  • Portfolio 15%
  • Film analyses 25%
  • Capstone project 35%



Paul Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy

Registrar Notes:

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Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html