Fall 2021 - HIST 445 D100

Problems in Modern Italian History (4)

la dolce vita

Class Number: 3963

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 8 – Dec 7, 2021: 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.


La dolce vita
black and white photo of young people in a car

This seminar introduces students to the pleasures and challenges of analyzing history on film and film as historical text. Taking Federico Fellini’s iconic – and ironic – film La dolce vita (The Sweet Life, 1960) as our thematic foundation, we will explore cinematically Italy’s 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 countries by the early 1960s. The creative and often revolutionary films that we will study offer profound audio-visual histories of Italian society as millions of people pursued the “sweet life” during the postwar boom. Treating filmmakers as historians in their own right, we will examine their incisive interpretations of cultural attitudes, social customs, sexual behaviors, mass consumerism, internal migration, organized crime, and the Fascist legacy during this 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 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.

NOTE: Students who took History 391 (“Laughing at History”) in Spring 2020 may not take this course for further credit.


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



Paul Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy

Additional readings will be available on Canvas and via the library’s e-book collection.

Registrar Notes:


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Teaching at SFU in fall 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

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Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.