Spring 2018 - HIST 433W D100

Italian Films, Italian Histories (4)

Class Number: 3316

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    WMC 2532, Burnaby

  • Instructor:

    Paul Garfinkel
    1 778 782-4431
    Office: AQ 6233
  • 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. Students with credit for HIST 433 and/or HIST 486 in Fall 2007 (1077) may not take this course for further credit. Writing.


Italian Films, Italian Histories: Sicilian Mafia

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 origins, nature, evolution, and persistence of this notorious crime syndicate. Unlike their counterparts in Hollywood, who have long romanticized and sensationalized the Sicilian Mafia for the purpose 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.

Students will normally view one film (out of class) per week. All films will be available via stream 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. Full attendance, thorough preparation, and active participation are expected. No background in film studies is necessary. Familiarity with twentieth-century European (or modern Italian) history is helpful but not required.

Although the usual prerequisites are 45 credit hours, including 9 in lower-division History, I very much welcome upper-division 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. I will consider prerequisite waivers on a case-by-case basis so long as space is available.


  • Participation & short assignments 30%
  • Film analyses 35%
  • Capstone paper 35%



John Dickie, Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/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