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Unit information: Screening the Past: Representing History in Contemporary Italian Cinema in 2015/16

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Unit name Screening the Past: Representing History in Contemporary Italian Cinema
Unit code ITAL30046
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. O'Rawe
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit analyses the way in which a range of recent Italian film genres and modes engage with history: the focus will be on the ways in which recent events in Italy (post-1968) are represented, and the unit will examine, among other topics, the ways in which different genres address the same historical event, the value of studying how popular film ‘does history’, debates over history and memory, the way that contested periods and events are shaped by film into persuasive narratives, the biographical film (or biopic), and the role of the star in directing audience attention towards particular historical features. Periods and moments to be studied may include: Italy’s experience of social unrest in 1968 and 1977, the tragic events of the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, and key moments of the terrorism of the anni di piombo.


  • To introduce students to the ways in which recent Italian cinema, of differing genres and styles, have engaged with particular historical events.
  • To familiarise students with the growing secondary literature that deals with the problematics of historical representation, the complex issues of memory and history, and the field of memory studies.
  • To develop further skills of film analysis and independent research, building on the skills acquired in units at level I.
  • To equip students with the skills to undertake postgraduate study in a relevant field.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the films studied and an understanding of their context in Italian cinematic history;
  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the historical events studied;
  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of debates on filmic techniques of representing history;
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the workings of genre, its importance as a classificatory and marketing tool and its historicity (i.e. the fact that it changes in different periods);
  • Understand how the films studied may be related to one another, ideologically, historically, technically or thematically;
  • Display an understanding of the relationship between films, genres and historical change in Italy
  • Conduct formal and thematic analyses of the individual films; with some guidance in class from the tutor on the application of this analysis in groups to selected film clips.
  • Use and display understanding of a range of film-critical terminology, applying it to independently researched material as well as to material introduced by the module tutor.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught in a combination of tutor- and student-led teaching, predominantly in seminar format but with a small number of introductory lectures.

Assessment Information

One 15-minute oral presentation (25%) plus one written assignment of 1500 words (25%) plus one written assignment of 3000 words (50%).

The short essay is normally a sequence analysis or film commentary and focuses on developing specific skills of film analysis. The long essay allows students to show their detailed knowledge of the film texts, the historical context, and to display their understanding of filmic representation of history within and across genres.

Reading and References

  1. Robert Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History (Harlow: Pearson, 2006).)

Marnie Hughes-Warrington, History Goes to the Movies: Studying History on Film (London: Routledge, 2007).

  1. Robert A. Rosenstone (ed.), Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995)
  2. Paul Grainge (ed.), Memory and Popular Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).
  3. Mary Wood, Italian Cinema (Oxford: Berg, 2005)
  4. Robert Burgoyne, The Hollywood Historical Film (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008)
  5. Alan O'Leary, Tragedia all’italiana: Italian Cinema and Italian Terrorisms 1970-2010 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2011)