Spring 2019 - HIST 433W D100

Italian Films, Italian Histories (4)

Sicilian Mafia

Class Number: 3825

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 3 – Apr 8, 2019: Thu, 1:30–5:20 p.m.

  • 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. HIST 433W may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught. 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 nature, evolution and persistence of this notorious crime syndicate. Unlike their counterparts in Hollywood, who have long romanticized 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 view one film (out of class) per week. All 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 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 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 25%
  • Portfolio 15%
  • Film analyses 30%
  • Capstone paper 30%



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

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