Fall 2020 - HIST 445 D100

Problems in Modern Italian History (4)

Fascists on Film

Class Number: 3498

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 9 – Dec 8, 2020: Thu, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history.



Examines topics in the social, political, and cultural history of Italy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Content may vary from offering to offering. See course outline for further information. HIST 445 may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught.


Fascists on Film

This seminar takes an unconventional approach to studying the history of Mussolini’s Italy (1922-45): through representations of fascism (and anti-fascism) in Italian cinema since 1945. It is not surprising that Fascist Italy has been a frequent subject of commercial films since the end of World War II. Italy, after all, was the birthplace of fascism, a political ideology and movement that attracted millions of followers. It was also the site of the first-ever Fascist regime: the violent, repressive dictatorship of Benito Mussolini that ended first with his arrest in 1943 and then in military defeat and national catastrophe two years later. After the Second World War, Italy reemerged as a multi-party, democratic republic founded on the values of anti-fascism. The legitimacy of that governing ideology, however, has long been challenged on the political right. This challenge has been especially fierce over the past thirty years with the resurgence of right-wing political parties and far-right populists seeking to rehabilitate Mussolini’s legacy and discredit the anti-fascist consensus of the postwar nation. Consequently, the question of how Fascist Italy should be interpreted and remembered remains unsettled and critically important today both in Italy and beyond.


Italian cinema is an ideal way to examine not just the history of Italian fascism but also the collective memory of it. Treating our films as audio-visual histories, we will examine how fascism has been represented on screen since 1945; how and why those representations have changed over time; what has been remembered (selectively or otherwise); what has been left out, silenced or simply forgotten; and to what extent Italians have ‘come to terms’ with their Fascist past and assumed some sense of responsibility for it. We will also analyze the films as historical texts, assessing their strengths and limitations in representing Fascist Italy and evaluating filmmakers’ effectiveness as interpreters of national history and sculptors of collective memory.


FALL 2020 UPDATE: Despite SFU’s switch to remote instruction, this seminar will follow the same structure and format as the in-class version. All seminar meetings will be synchronous (likely 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 programs. If you are interested in seeking a prerequisite waiver, then please contact me by e-mail and attach 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%



Students might be required to purchase 1-2 texts if they are available as e-books.

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 fall 2020 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).