Spring 2021 - HIST 433W D100

Italian Films, Italian Histories (4)

Sicilian Mafia

Class Number: 5585

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units, including nine units of lower division history, or permission of the instructor.



Explores the representation of modern Italian history through the medium of film. HIST 433W may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught. Writing.


This seminar explores the enduring problem of organized crime in modern Italian history – a problem that has generated great interest in popular culture but remains poorly understood in historical perspective. We will approach our subject by way of Italian cinema and its representations of the Sicilian Mafia (otherwise known as Cosa Nostra) from 1945 to the present day. Italian cinema offers valuable insights into the nature, evolution, and persistence of this notorious crime syndicate. Unlike their counterparts in Hollywood, who have long romanticized the Sicilian Mafia for purposes of entertainment (The Godfather, etc.), Italian filmmakers have grappled with the problem of organized crime in more politically conscious, socially committed, and cinematically diverse ways.

Treating our films as audio-visual histories, we will examine how the Mafia emerged in Sicily and why it flourished; why it has remained an endemic scourge in Italian social, political, and economic life for so long; how and why it has changed and adapted over time; and the extent to which anti-mafia campaigns have succeeded in curbing its influence in national politics, state institutions, and local communities. We will also analyze the films as cinematic texts, assessing their strengths and limitations in representing the Sicilian Mafia and in generating political and cultural debate throughout the post-1945 era.

SPRING 2021 UPDATE: Although the seminar will meet remotely, it will follow the same structure and format as the in-class version. All seminar meetings will be live (via Zoom) and held at the regularly scheduled time. Students will view one film per week. All films will be streamed on Canvas and subtitled in English. To situate the films in their social and political contexts, supplemental readings will be posted on Canvas. No background in film studies or Italian history is necessary.

Although the usual prerequisites are 45 credit hours, including 9 in lower-division History, I welcome upper-division students from other departments and faculties. If you are interested in requesting a prerequisite waiver, then please e-mail me. If asked, please be prepared to submit a transcript. I will consider waivers on a case-by-case basis so long as space is available


  • Participation 25%
  • Portfolio 15%
  • Film analyses 30%
  • Final paper 30%



John Dickie, Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia (St. Martin’s Press, 2005)*

*The required text is not available in e-book format through the SFU Bookstore. Registered students will be expected to acquire the book on their own before the start of class. Copies are widely available online. A new paperback costs approximately $25; and the Kindle edition on amazon.ca currently sells for $1.


Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

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


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).