How to Use This Curriculum

italy forum
First rule: There are no rules. These resources are completely free and at your disposal. Use as much, or as little, as you want. Study casually, or work to create a portfolio of academic work that will blow the socks off of the educational establishment.

Feel free to adapt the materials for your own purposes. We expect families, business people, backpackers, college students, high school kids, middle aged vacationers, and retirees who are on a late life adventure to take these materials and run with them. We’d be very happy for teachers or travel group leaders to add these materials to their study abroad packets as well.

The nature of open source is collaboration, so please feel free to contribute when you become aware of resources we haven’t listed, or you have project ideas that we haven’t developed. Send us your work and inspire others to reach higher and deeper as they travel!

Our goal with this project is to inspire adventure and further education through experiential learning around the world. Please send us a note and let us know how you used these resources!

Buffet Style Learning

Does the menu look overwhelming? Looking for a formula to use as a skeleton for your studies in Italy?


  • Two books
  • Two films
  • Three articles
  • One Problem & Solution or Project Option
  • One Cultural Assignment

Table of Contents

Book Recommendations

italy shop

italy pursuitThe Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples

by David Gilmour

Did Garibaldi do Italy a disservice when he helped its disparate parts achieve unity? Was the goal of political unification a mistake? The question is asked and answered in a number of ways in The Pursuit of Italy, an engaging, original consideration of the many histories that contribute to the brilliance?and weakness?of Italy today.

David Gilmour’s wonderfully readable exploration of Italian life over the centuries is filled with provocative anecdotes as well as personal observations, and is peopled by the great figures of the Italian past?from Cicero and Virgil to the controversial politicians of the twentieth century. His wise account of the Risorgimento debunks the nationalistic myths that surround it, though he paints a sympathetic portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, a beloved hero of the era.

saving italySaving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis

by Robert M. Edsel

I couldn’t put it down! Saving Italy is a page turner with a compelling narrative that often keeps you on the edge-of-your-seat with suspense. The drawings that Monuments Man Deane Keller sent home to his young son offer a revealing insight into the man’s mixed emotions about his eagerness to help save the treasures of a country he loved in the midst of war, coupled with the loneliness and isolation he felt being separated from the family he adored.

The passion and impulsiveness of Monuments Man Fred Hartt help the thrilling adventure of Saving Italy come alive. Edsel does a great job bringing out the very human side of his complex characters, including a little known Nazi General, Karl Wolff. The book is well-researched with many author interviews noted, but is presented in a way that reads more like an espionage novel. I highly recommend Saving Italy not just to those who love art or WWII History, but to anyone looking for an inspiring story about the human spirit and the sacrifices people make to follow their passion, risking their lives for a cause greater than themselves. Five stars doesn’t seem like enough! — Review by Kiki

italy's sorrowItaly’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945

by James Holland
During the Second World War, the campaign in Italy was the most destructive fought in Europe – a long, bitter and highly attritional conflict that raged up the country’s mountainous leg. For frontline troops, casualty rates at Cassino and along the notorious Gothic Line were as high as they had been on the Western Front in the First World War. There were further similarities too: blasted landscapes, rain and mud, and months on end with the front line barely moving.

And while the Allies and Germans were fighting it out through the mountains, the Italians were engaging in bitter battles too. Partisans were carrying out a crippling resistance campaign against the German troops but also battling the Fascists forces as well in what soon became a bloody civil war. Around them, innocent civilians tried to live through the carnage, terror and anarchy, while in the wake of the Allied advance, horrific numbers of impoverished and starving people were left to pick their way through the ruins of their homes and country. In the German-occupied north, there were more than 700 civilian massacres by German and Fascist troops in retaliation for Partisan activities, while in the south, many found themselves forced into making terrible and heart-rending decisions in order to survive.

mediciThe House of Medici: It’s Rise and Fall

by Christoper Hibbert

At its height Renaissance Florence was a centre of enormous wealth, power and influence. A republican city-state funded by trade and banking, its often bloody political scene was dominated by rich mercantile families, the most famous of which were the Medici.

This enthralling book charts the family’s huge influence on the political, economic and cultural history of Florence. Beginning in the early 1430s with the rise of the dynasty under the near-legendary Cosimo de Medici, it moves through their golden era as patrons of some of the most remarkable artists and architects of the Renaissance, to the era of the Medici Popes and Grand Dukes, Florence’s slide into decay and bankruptcy, and the end, in 1737, of the Medici line.

sprezzaturaSprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World

by Peter D’Epiro & Mary Desmond Pinkowish

A witty, erudite celebration of fifty great Italian cultural achievements that have significantly influenced Western civilization from the authors of What Are the Seven Wonders of the World?
The word “sprezzatura,” or the art of effortless mastery, was coined in 1528 by Baldassare Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier. No one has demonstrated effortless mastery throughout history quite like the Italians. From the Roman calendar and the creator of the modern orchestra (Claudio Monteverdi) to the beginnings of ballet and the creator of modern political science (Niccolò Machiavelli), Sprezzatura highlights fifty great Italian cultural achievements in a series of fifty information-packed essays in chronological order.

sicilySicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History

by John Julius Norwich

“Sicily,” said Goethe, “is the key to everything.” It is the largest island in the Mediterranean, the stepping-stone between Europe and Africa, the link between the Latin West and the Greek East. Sicily’s strategic location has tempted Roman emperors, French princes, and Spanish kings. The subsequent struggles to conquer and keep it have played crucial roles in the rise and fall of the world’s most powerful dynasties.

Yet Sicily has often been little more than a footnote in books about other empires. John Julius Norwich’s engrossing narrative is the first to knit together all of the colorful strands of Sicilian history into a single comprehensive study. Here is a vivid, erudite, page-turning chronicle of an island and the remarkable kings, queens, and tyrants who fought to rule it.

italian cinemaThe Italian Cinema Book

by Peter Bondanella

THE ITALIAN CINEMA BOOK is an essential guide to the most important historical, aesthetic and cultural aspects of Italian cinema, from 1895 to the present day. With contributions from 39 leading international scholars, the book is structured around six chronologically organised sections:

THE SILENT ERA (1895–22)

Acutely aware of the contemporary ‘rethinking’ of Italian cinema history, Peter Bondanella has brought together a diverse range of essays which represent the cutting edge of Italian film theory and criticism. This provocative collection will provide the film student, scholar or enthusiast with a comprehensive understanding of the major developments in what might be called twentieth-century Italy’s greatest and most original art form.

coas nostraCosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia

by John Dickie

Hailed in Italy as the best book ever written about the mafia in any language, Cosa Nostra is a fascinating, violent, and darkly comic account that reads like fiction and takes us deep into the inner sanctum of this secret society where few have dared to tread.In this gripping history of the Sicilian mafia, John Dickie uses startling new research to reveal the inner workings of this secret society with a murderous record.

He explains how the mafia began, how it responds to threats and challenges, and introduces us to the real-life characters that inspired the American imagination for generations, making the mafia an international, larger than life cultural phenomenon. Dickie’s dazzling cast of characters includes Antonio Giammona, the first “boss of bosses”; New York cop Joe Petrosino, who underestimated the Sicilian mafia and paid for it with his life; and Bernard “the Tractor” Provenzano, the current boss of bosses who has been hiding in Sicily since 1963.

michelangeloMichelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

by Ross King

In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel. With little experience as a painter (though famed for his sculpture David), Michelangelo was reluctant to begin the massive project.

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling recounts the four extraordinary years Michelangelo spent laboring over the vast ceiling while the power politics and personal rivalries that abounded in Rome swirled around him. Battling against ill health, financial difficulties, domestic problems, the pope’s impatience, and a bitter rivalry with the brilliant young painter Raphael, Michelangelo created scenes so beautiful that they are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. A panorama of illustrious figures converged around the creation of this great work-from the great Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus to the young Martin Luther-and Ross King skillfully weaves them through his compelling historical narrative, offering uncommon insight into the intersection of art and history.

soccerWinning at All Costs: A Scandalous History of Italian Soccer

by John Foot

The 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France was a down-and-dirty game, marred by French superstar Zidane’s head-butting of Italian defender Materazzi. But viewers were also exposed to the poetry, force, and excellence of the Italian game; as operatic as Verdi and as cunning as Machiavelli, it seemed to open a window into the Italian soul.

John Foot’s epic history shows what makes Italian soccer so unique. Mixing serious analysis and comic storytelling, Foot describes its humble origins in northern Italy in the 1890s to its present day incarnation where soccer is the national civic religion. A story that is reminiscent of Gangs of New York and A Clockwork Orange, Foot shows how the Italian game — like its political culture — has been overshadowed by big business, violence, conspiracy, and tragedy, how demagogues like Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi have used the game to further their own political ambitions.

tasting romeTasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City

The recipes here, each selected for the story it tells, acknowledge the foundations of the cuisine and demonstrate how it has transitioned to the variations found today: cacio e pepe is not only a peppery condiment for pasta, but also a filling for suppli, fried rice balls; pollo alla romana is served as a summer platter of peppers stewed with chicken, but also deboned and on hearty sandwiches. Parla and Gill focus, too, on cucina ebraica to highlight the role Rome’s Jewish communities have had, bringing dishes such as hraimi con couscous, which incorporates spicy amberjack, and matzoh fritters, pizzarelle, with honey and pine nuts; celebrate the authentic quinto quarto (“the fifth quarter”) offal, and luscious verdure, which grow all over; acknowledge the baked pizzas and breads that anchor everyday eating; and explore the ever-changing culture of sweets and cocktails.

With its forgotten recipes, beloved favorites, and street food innovations, the book transports all the flavors of Rome into your kitchen. Narrative features revealing bits of history and gorgeous photography that highlight both the food and its hidden city will immediately inspire you to start Tasting Rome.

monarchsAbsolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy

by John Norwich

In a chronicle that captures nearly two thousand years of inspiration and intrigue, John Julius Norwich recounts in riveting detail the histories of the most significant popes and what they meant politically, culturally, and socially to Rome and to the world.

Norwich presents such popes as Innocent I, who in the fifth century successfully negotiated with Alaric the Goth, an invader civil authorities could not defeat; Leo I, who two decades later tamed (and perhaps paid off) Attila the Hun; the infamous “pornocracy”—the five libertines who were descendants or lovers of Marozia, debauched daughter of one of Rome’s most powerful families; Pope Paul III, “the greatest pontiff of the sixteenth century,” who reinterpreted the Church’s teaching and discipline; John XXIII, who in five short years starting in 1958 instituted reforms that led to Vatican II; and Benedict XVI, who is coping with today’s global priest sex scandal.

Epic and compelling, Absolute Monarchs is an enthralling history from “an enchanting and satisfying raconteur” (The Washington Post).

popemussoliniThe Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe

by David I. Kertzer

The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922, and together changed the course of twentieth-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and “Il Duce” had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. (“We have many interests to protect,” the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals.

In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life—as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler—the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver.

talesItalian Popular Tales

by Thomas Frederick Paine

Originally published in 1885, Italian Popular Tales is a fascinating trove of fairy tales, legends, ghost stories, nursery tales, and jests, and other oral accounts that were collected, recorded, translated, and annotated by Thomas Crane, the first folklorist to bring the riches of Italian oral tradition to the English-speaking world.

Collectors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries unearthed a wealth of stories from around the world and published them in English translations for the delight of general readers, young and old. Sadly, most of these anthologies have long been out of print. Italian Popular Tales brings back to life this key anthology of traditional tales from the golden age of folklore discovery. Crane’s monumental achievement illustrates the enormous scope of his research, incomparable to other collections in the English language. In this modern edition, Crane’s love for his work shines through the scholarship just as it did more than a century ago.

princeThe Prince

by Niccolo Machiavelli

As a young Florentine envoy to the courts of France and the Italian principalities, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was able to observe firsthand the lives of people strongly united under one powerful ruler. His fascination with that political rarity and his intense desire to see the Medici family assume a similar role in Italy provided the foundation for his “primer for princes.” In this classic guide to acquiring and maintaining political power, Machiavelli used a rational approach to advise prospective rulers, developing logical arguments and alternatives for a number of potential problems, among them governing hereditary monarchies, dealing with colonies and the treatment of conquered peoples.

Refreshing in its directness, yet often disturbing in its cold practicality, The Prince sets down a frighteningly pragmatic formula for political fortune. Starkly relevant to the political upheavals of the 20th century, this calculating prescription for power remains today, nearly 500 years after it was written, a timely and startling lesson in the practice of autocratic rule that continues to be much read and studied by students, scholars and general readers as well.

danteThe Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso)

by Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri’s poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is a moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary journey through the infinite torment of Hell, up the arduous slopes of Purgatory, and on to the glorious realm of Paradise—the sphere of universal harmony and eternal salvation.

Daughters of Alchemy: Women and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy

by Meredith K. Ray

The era of the Scientific Revolution has long been epitomized by Galileo. Yet many women were at its vanguard, deeply invested in empirical culture. They experimented with medicine and practical alchemy at home, at court, and through collaborative networks of practitioners. In academies, salons, and correspondence, they debated cosmological discoveries; in their literary production, they used their knowledge of natural philosophy to argue for their intellectual equality to men.

Combining literary and cultural analysis, Daughters of Alchemy contributes to the emerging scholarship on the variegated nature of scientific practice in the early modern era. Drawing on a range of under-studied material including new analyses of the Sarrocchi–Galileo correspondence and a previously unavailable manuscript of Sforza’s Experimenti, Ray’s book rethinks early modern science, properly reintroducing the integral and essential work of women.

galileoadultGalileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius

Galileo’s trial by the Inquisition is one of the most dramatic incidents in the history of science and religion. Today, we tend to see this event in black and white–Galileo all white, the Church all black. Galileo in Rome presents a much more nuanced account of Galileo’s relationship with Rome.

The book offers a fascinating account of the six trips Galileo made to Rome, from his first visit at age 23, as an unemployed mathematician, to his final fateful journey to face the Inquisition. The authors reveal why the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun, set forth in Galileo’s Dialogue, stirred a hornet’s nest of theological issues, and they argue that, despite these issues, the Church might have accepted Copernicus if there had been solid proof. More interesting, they show how Galileo dug his own grave. To get the imprimatur, he brought political pressure to bear on the Roman Censor. He disobeyed a Church order not to teach the heliocentric theory. And he had a character named Simplicio (which in Italian sounds like simpleton) raise the same objections to heliocentrism that the Pope had raised with Galileo. The authors show that throughout the trial, until the final sentence and abjuration, the Church treated Galileo with great deference, and once he was declared guilty commuted his sentence to house arrest.

agonyThe Agony & The Ecstasy

by Irving Stone

The Agony and the Ecstasy is the “biographical novel” of Michelangelo but much more than that it is the story of the Italian Renaissance in all its glory. Through Michelangelo’s eyes one gets a full feeling for Florence and Rome at the time. Stone paints with a broad brush the stories of wars, feuding princes, religious machinations, and the wonderful art that the Renaissance produced.
This novel is however much more than that.

It is an analysis of the struggle that is necessary to create. We experience the creation of just about every major work of art of Michelangelo and the personal struggles that went into the creative process. We see the artist as he struggles with family, princes, popes and other artists to get his designs accepted.And finally we see the glory of a life well lived as the artist dies leaving a truly monumental body of work behind. — by Bryan A. Pfleeger

marcoMarco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu

by Laurence Bergreen

As the first European to travel extensively throughout Asia, Marco Polo was the earliest bridge between East and West. His famous journeys took him across the boundaries of the known world, along the dangerous Silk Road, and into the court of Kublai Kahn, where he won the trust of the most feared and reviled leader of his day. Polo introduced the cultural riches of China to Europe, spawning centuries of Western fascination with Asia.

In this lively blend of history, biography, and travelogue, acclaimed author Laurence Bergreen separates myth from history, creating the most authoritative account yet of Polo’s remarkable adventures. Exceptionally narrated and written with a discerning eye for detail, Marco Polo is as riveting as the life it describes.

pompeiiPompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris

All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire’s richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world’s largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.

But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the ?rst time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta’s sixty-mile main line—somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Attilius—decent, practical, and incorruptible—promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work—both natural and man-made—threatening to destroy him.

LeoDThoughts on Art & Life

by Leonardo DaVinci

A fascinating collection of writings from the great polymath of the Italian Renaissaince, Leonardo da Vinci. There are sections covering the great man’s thoughts on life, art and science. Maurice Baring trawled the available manuscripts to distil da Vinci’s writings on these subjects into a single, accessible tome, which will be of interest to students of da Vinci, the Renaissance and the history of both art and science. Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452–1519) was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal.

Books for Kids

Italy ABCItaly ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Italy (Country ABCs)

by Sharon Katz-Cooper & Allen Eitzen

An alphabetical exploration of the people, geography, animals, plants, history, and culture of Italy.

mission romeMission Rome: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure (Travel Book For Kids)

by Catherine Aragon

Mission Rome takes your young travelers through the famous sights of Rome, engaging them in an exciting scavenger hunt as you explore city landmarks together.

Say ‘arrivederci’ to a trip filled with the stress of keeping everyone entertained. Instead, say ‘buon giorno!’ to a memorable family vacation. Imagine – your kids will be excited to sightsee (yes, even at museums!) as you discover the wonders of Rome as a family.

leoLeonardo da Vinci: Artist, Inventor and Scientist of the Renaissance

by Francesca Romi & Sergio & Andrea Ricciardi

Leonardo da Vinci has become the definition of the “Rennaissance man.” His accomplishments in painting and sculpture, music and mathematics, and engineering and architecture have endured for centuries. The Renaissance was a watershed for European artisitc and scientific accomplishment and da Vinci led the way. He exemplified a new perspective, seeking to explore and control the forces of nature, and to extend the frontiers of human knowledge.

galileokidsWho Was Galileo?

by Patricia Brennan Demuth

Like Michelangelo, Galileo is another Renaissance great known just by his first name–a name that is synonymous with scientific achievement. Born in Pisa, Italy, in the sixteenth century, Galileo contributed to the era’s great rebirth of knowledge. He invented a telescope to observe the heavens. From there, not even the sky was the limit! He turned long-held notions about the universe topsy turvy with his support of a sun-centric solar system. Patricia Brennan Demuth offers a sympathetic portrait of a brilliant man who lived in a time when speaking scientific truth to those in power was still a dangerous proposition.

poloThe Adventures of Marco Polo

by Russell Freedman

Was Marco Polo the world’s greatest explorer — or the world’s greatest liar? Newbery Medalist Russell Freedman turns his eagle eye on the enigmatic Marco Polo in his most exciting biography yet.

He claimed to have seen rocks burn, bandits command sandstorms, lions tamed with a look, and sorcerers charm sharks while divers gathered pearls on the ocean floor. Marco Polo shook Europe with descriptions of the world he’d seen on his epic journey to the court of Kublai Khan.

But was Marco Polo the world’s most accomplished explorer? Had he really seen the “Roof of the World” in Central Asia, and the “City of Heaven” in far-off China? Or was he a charlatan who saw nothing more than the conjurings of his inventive mind?

pompeii kidsBodies From the Ash

by James M. Deem

In ancient times, Pompeii was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. Its 20,000 inhabitants lived in the shadow of Vesuvius, which they believed was nothing more than a mountain. But Vesuvius was a volcano. And on the morning of August 24, A.D. 79, Vesuvius began to erupt. Within twenty-four hours, the entire city of Pompeii—and many of its citizens—had been utterly annihilated.

It was not until hundreds of years later that Pompeii saw daylight again, as archaeological excavations began to unearth what had been buried under layers of volcanic rubble. Digging crews expected to find buildings and jewelry and other treasures, but they found something unexpected, too: the imprints of lost Pompeiians, their deaths captured as if by photographic images in volcanic ash.

Film Recommendations

italy portofino

Documentary of Mussolini, dictator of Italy



History of Venice, City of Dreams



Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy


A feature length documentary film about Southern Italian culture told through its indigenous folk music. The film focuses on how these traditions are dealing with the rapid changes in local economy and the homogenizing effect globalization has on local culture. Filmed by an Italian-American rediscovering his family’s roots, the film takes the viewer on an odyssey through remote regions in Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Molise introducing the people who carry on these ancient traditions that most Italian Americans are completely unaware of. The Zampogna – the Italian bagpipe is the physical manifestation of this culture, its music representing the spirit and vitality of the Southern Italy.

The Medici – Secrets of the most Powerful Family in the World


The Medici – Secrets of the most Powerful Family in the World (Full Documentary) Secrets of Rothschild Family Fortune: The Medici were among the most powerful families in the world. Beginning in the fourteenth century, they built a fortune bankrolling popes and kings. Through their wealth and their political abilities, they went from being one of many patrician clans in Florence to the city’s hereditary rulers. They married into the royal houses of Austria and France, and two of their number were made pope. Scholars and lovers of art, the Medici were patrons of Leonardo, Raphael, Botticelli, Galileo, Michelangelo, and Cellini. And under their rule, Florence became the intellectual hub of the Western world.

Secrets Of The Colosseum



Battle Of Sicily Documentary – The Day The Allied Invaded Italy


The Allied intrusion of Sicily, codenamed Procedure Husky, was a significant World War II campaign, where the Allies took Sicily from the Axis Powers (Italy and Nazi Germany). It was a large amphibious and also airborne operation, followed by a six-week land project and also was the start of the Italian Project.

Inside Sicilian Mafia Crime


The Sicilian Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”), is a criminal syndicate in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct. Each group, known as a “family”, “clan”, or “cosca”, claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village or a neighbourhood (borgata) of a larger city, in which it operates its rackets. Its members call themselves “men of honour”, although the public often refers to them as “mafiosi”. The Mafia’s core activities are protection racketeering, the arbitration of disputes between criminals, and the organizing and oversight of illegal agreements and transactions.

History: The Roman Empire Documentary


Beginning in the eighth century B.C., Ancient Rome grew from a small town on central Italy’s Tiber River into an empire that at its peak encompassed most of continental Europe, Britain, much of western Asia, northern Africa and the Mediterranean islands. Among the many legacies of Roman dominance are the widespread use of the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) derived from Latin, the modern Western alphabet and calendar and the emergence of Christianity as a major world religion. After 450 years as a republic, Rome became an empire in the wake of Julius Caesar’s rise and fall in the first century B.C. The long and triumphant reign of its first emperor, Augustus, began a golden age of peace and prosperity; by contrast, the empire’s decline and fall by the fifth century A.D. was one of the most dramatic implosions in the history of human civilization.

Italian Weapons 2016 | Italian Navy Force 2016 – Italian Cavour Aircraft Carriers Action 2016



Pompeii: The Talking Walls


Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campanile, in the territory of the of PompeiI. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was partially destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

How to Make Parmesan


Join us as we Take Walks with a real parmesan cheese maker near Parma, Italy! Learn about the slow and delicate process the producers endure daily to create one of Italy’s most world-renowned products. See the inner workings of the live factory and hear the real passion through the voice of the local “cheesemaster.” To him, each cheese wheel is a baby that must be nurtured to maturity if it’s to end up on our tables and restaurants with their DOP stamp of approval.

The Refugees Facing Uncertain Futures In Italy



Rome’s Ancient Underground Neighbourhoods


Investigating the secrets buried beneath the streets of modern-day Rome, including ancient underground neighbourhoods and sewerage systems, with a look at how this technology contributed to the growth of the ancient empire.

The Ferrari Factory in Maranello, Italy


We take a rare tour inside the Ferrari factory and learn the unique way they make each car a piece of art.

The Art of Glass Blowing in Murano, Italy


We went to a blown glass factory in Murano, Italy and saw 11 minutes of this high stress, hot and apparently nicotine fueled craft that is passed down from generation to generation

Armani- The Story Of


FashionTV tells the story of Giorgio Armani and all the labels associated with this world famous designer: Emporio Armani, Armani Prive, Armani Men and more. From the runway to backstage, meet the designer and watch his shows. FashionTV presents Armani’s iconic moments; starting in 1997 through to the groundbreaking collections of present day. Get to know the triumphs of Italy’s most successful fashion designer.

Versace- The Story Of


FashionTV tells the story of Versace. From the runway to backstage, meet the designers and watch the shows. Discover the industry’s most glamorous fashion empire; starting in 1993 when Gianni head the Italian fashion house to exclusive interviews with muse and mastermind Donatella. Versace is more than a label – it is the heart and soul of a family.

Article Recommendations

italy tuscany
The Berlusconi’s Shrinking Empire: Things Fall Apart – The Ecomomist

Why Italy’s Anti-Mafia Movement is in Trouble – The Economist

Inside an Immigrant Refugee Camp in Italy– Vice

Amid Record Waves of Refugees, Italy Finding Limits to Its Compassion– National Geographic News

The Rise of Women in Italy– Stylist

Italian Wine Central- Facts & Figures

Origins of Wine Making– Made in South Italy Today

A Brief History of Italian Films– Italian Legacy

Italian Olive Oil Production– Made in South Italy Today

Italy Facts for Kids – Kid’s World Travel Guide (useful for adults too!)

Dropped Stitches: A lack of skilled workers could kill one of Italy’s manufacturing successes – The Economist

A Brief History of the Vatican – Italian Legacy

A Short Guide to the Italian Political System – Roger Darlington

Project Options

italy vespa
For each of these we will suggest several possibilities within each general heading, and then leave it open for a student to tackle some other interesting subheading that they would like to pursue:

Research and write (or create a multi-media project) about an aspect of the history, politics or culture (source books, individual experiences, site visits)

Italian History

Choose a period of history that you find interesting and study it, through books, media & site visits or interviews. Options include:

  • The Rise (and, or Fall) of Ancient Rome
  • The Middle Ages in Italy
  • The Renaissance in Italy
  • Italy during WW1
  • Italy during WW2
  • The Rise of Facism
  • The Unification of Italy

Historical Characters

Italy has a long and storied history, from pre-Roman times to present. Examine one (or more) of the fascinating characters from Italian history. Visit the cities they were born, lived, and died in. Examine their contribution to Italian life and culture, then and now.

Ancient History:

  • Julius Caesar
  • Marcus Auralius
  • Nero
  • Trajan
  • Constantine
  • And many others…

The Middle Ages:

  • Dante
  • Marco Polo
  • Matilda of Canossa
  • Beatrice di Folco Portinari
  • Petrarch
  • St. Francis of Assisi
  • And many others…


  • Giovanni Boccaccio
  • Galileo
  • Lucrezia Borgia
  • Lucrezia Borgia
  • Isabella d’Este
  • Donatello
  • Cosimo de Medici
  • And many others…

Modern Italy

  • Guglielmo Marconi
  • Maria Montessori
  • Antonio Stradivari
  • Benito Mussolini
  • Donatella Versaci
  • Enzo Ferarri
  • Guiseppe Garibaldi
  • Silvio Berlusconi
  • And many others…

Film Making in Italy

The first Italian film was made in 1896, but it really took off in the early 1900’s. Film has played an important role in Italian culture since the industry emerged. Some of the worlds most famous actors and directors have been Italian. Study some aspect of the film industry in Italy, a particular figure who interests you, or a genre. Watch as many films as you can. Compare and contrast films from different eras, genres, or internationally.

Major players in the Italian film industry to investigate further:

  • Sergio Leone
  • Isabella Rossellini
  • Sophia Loren
  • Federico Fellini
  • Roberto Rossellini
  • Franco Zeferelli
  • Frank Capra

The Catholic Church

The Vatican

The Vatican, also called the Holy See, is the smallest country on earth. It is a city-state within a country; within a city, really. It’s also the home of the Pope who is the head of the Roman Catholic church. The Vatican has been, throughout history, and continues to be, one of the most powerful seats of government in the world. Why is this?

Study the history of the Vatican and it’s eventual recognition as a sovereign state in 1929. Why is the Vatican itself significant? Examine the architectural and cultural history of the site and how it has developed over the centuries. Study the art and museum aspects of the Vatican and what it curates for humanity. Do you think the Vatican should maintain control of these artifacts and associated wealth, or not? Explain your answer. Visit the Vatican yourself. How does the place affect you? What are your religious affiliations with the site, or lack of? How does that affect the way you see it?

Consider the modern role of the Catholic church and think about how the Vatican influences world affairs and culture beyond that of Rome, or the church itself.

Perhaps you want to write a paper or a blog post about this. Or, maybe you want to create a video of your thoughts, filmed during your visit to the Vatican (you won’t be able to film everywhere, don’t break any laws!)

The Council of Trent & The Roman Inquisition

The Council of Trent, in 1545 was the Catholic church’s response to the corruption and decay of the control of the church. The establishment of the Roman Inquisition meant that, in effect, the Renaissance was over. Study the decline of the Renaissance and the effect the inquisition had on Humanism, scientific advancement, art and culture, as well as the political climate of the time.

Papal History

The current Pope, Pope Francis, is the 266th and the first Pope born outside of Europe in over 1000 years. He’s a chemist and was a bouncer for a nightclub before he started studying to become a priest. He has made waves as a humble, simple man, choosing to eschew many of the trappings of the office of the Papacy and focusing his efforts on poverty, equality and climate change. One option for study would be to compare the current Pope with his predecessors in the twentieth century. Compare and contrast the recent leaders of the Roman Catholic church and note the evolution of the papacy in the past hundred and fifty years.

Papal history is long and storied. A cursory read through the exploits of the holy men at the head of the most powerful church in the world through the Middle Ages and Renaissance will be enlightening to say the least and will bring to light some fundamental questions about the nature of humanity and absolute power. Study a segment of papal history that interests you, or compare and contrast a couple of the notable popes from history. What conclusions do you draw about the papacy over the long haul and the particular political structure of the Catholic church? How does that compare with the Vatican today?

Italian Music

Italy is famous for music, in the past, and present. Some of the most loved composers and performers are Italian, across a range of genres. Listen to as much music as you can while you are in Italy. Attend performances of some of the greats. Listen to street performers and cafe musicians. Listen to Italian radio and perhaps purchase some modern Italian music to have on your iPod.

Study a particular artist or composer. Or, interview someone in the music industry. Why do you think Italy has been a driving force behind so many musical movements over the centuries? What do you love (or hate) about Italian music?

Italian musicians to investigate further:

  • Eros Ramazzotti
  • Ennio Morricone
  • Verdi
  • Puccini
  • Enrico Caruso
  • Vivaldi
  • Pavarotti

Italian Art

Art is everywhere in Italy, from the mosaic tiled floors of Ravena, to the famous frescos, to museum after museum full of classical art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Not all of the art in Italy is old, however. There is a thriving modern art scene as well. Italians exhibit their artistic natures in clothing, architecture, design, and even food.

Keep your eyes open for art in Italy. A very simple art project might involve photographing street art as you travel and looking for regional differences as well as areas of Italian cultural or political influence.

Another project idea might be to focus on one particular artist, or two from the same time frame, comparing and contrasting a wider, deeper body of work.

Or, perhaps you want to concentrate on the collection of one particular museum and pull from that the highlights of what moved you. If you choose this one, consider selecting a very small museum, as opposed to one of the big boys, like the Uffizi.

Some famous Italian artists to explore further:

  • Raphael Sanzio
  • Leonardo DaVinci
  • Michelangelo
  • Bellini
  • Raphael
  • Botticelli
  • And many others…

Italian Literature

Along with the rich art and music culture of Italy, literature is an enduring facet of Italian life. From the still famous The Prince, by Machiavelli, of the Middle Ages, to the modern and prolific work of Umberto Eco, the Italians have left their mark on the literary world.

Definitely read some of the works of Italian writers while you are in Italy. It’s one thing to read about a country, it’s another thing to read from within the mind of the culture itself. If you feel that your education in the classics is lacking, then perhaps a volume of Petrarch’s sonnets, or the Aeneid would be a great choice. If you’re looking for something more modern, one of Grazia Deladda’s prize winning novels, or something by Mario Puzo might suit you better. My personal favourite is Dante’s Divine Comedy (spoiler: it’s not a comedy in the modern sense). My visit to his burial place in Ravenna remains a highlight of my first trip to Italy.

  • Gioachino Belli
  • Virgilio (The Aeneid)
  • Dante Alighieri
  • Grazia Deledda
  • Petrarch
  • Machiavelli
  • Mario Puzo

Italian Architecture

How can you come to Italy and not notice the architecture? From St. Mark’s square in Venice, to the Vatican and Rome and every tiny church square in very village in between the regional architecture is fascinating. Hiring a tour guide at the major cites, or paying a little extra for the audio-guide is often a great way to learn more about the history of the building itself, not just what it houses.

Two famous Italian architects to learn more about:

  • Filippo Brunelleshi
  • Massimiliano Fuksas

Italian Explorers

The Italian explorers include some of the greats. Their stories of exploration read like the greatest adventure novels of fiction. Italians are responsible for some of the greatest “discoveries” of all time, both in the direction of the east and west. The Americas are named fof Amerigo Vespucci, who discovered South America. Marco Polo’s autobiographical account of his journeys to Xanadu were too fantastical to be believed when first published. And every North American school child knows the name of Christopher Columbus.

Read the accounts of the explorers of Italy. Think carefully about what you have learned about exploration and the effects first contact and subsequent colonization or trade had on the “discovered” parties. Visit their homes, if you can. Why do you think Italy produced such a large percentage of the epic explorers of the Middle Ages & Renaissance?
Three of the most important Italian explorers to investigate further:

  • Christopher Columbus
  • Marco Polo
  • Amerigo Vespucci

Profiles Of ….

Conduct a series of at least five interviews within a country.

The point of the exercise would be to get a well rounded view of what it is like to live in Italy from a variety of ages, incomes, employments and experiences. This could be conducted as video, or as text and the student would be expected to do an analysis of the experience/information.

People you might profile:

  • Farmers
  • Teachers
  • Restaurant owners/workers
  • Church officials
  • Government officials
  • Doctors or Nurses
  • Street vendors
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Drivers
  • Artists or Musicians
  • Laborers
  • NGO workers
  • Refugees
  • Long term expats

Wine Industry

Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine, most years. (Yes, there’s an annual competition!) It’s impossible to visit Italy without experiencing the wine culture. Every little village store will have two large vats of wine that you can pour off into your own bottles and purchase by the liter, one red, one white. You’ll taste the differences by region if you travel slowly enough. You’re bound to see acres of vineyards from the window of the train or the back of a bicycle (do rent a bicycle somewhere in wine country).

Do you know anything about the actual production of wine? Do you understand the importance of the mysterious terroire on the quality of grapes, even within the same region? If you are lucky enough to be in Italy during harvest season try to volunteer to help cut grapes, or get involved in the production cycle that starts with crushing. Many vineyards will host festival days to celebrate harvest. These are a great time to learn more, tour facilities and sample the best of what Italy has to offer. Create a video, interview the fascinating experts involved in the process and try to track down a local person with just a handful of vines in the back garden for personal production. Don’t just ask about wine, dig into the culture of Italy in how it has become central to the community table.

Olive Oil Industry

Second only to grapes (maybe tied for first, actually) are olives in Italian food culture. Olives have been cultivated on this peninsula for thousands of years and the process hasn’t changed as much as you might think. You’re likely to see men with a long stick attached, with what look like jumper cables, to a car battery harvesting olives. The many fingered disk at the end of the stick vibrates, knocking the olives gently into the net spread out below the tree. Stop and ask, they might let you take a turn!

Olives are used in everything from their whole pickled form, to a range of oils, plain and flavoured, to cosmetics and massage. Choose some aspect of olive production or refinement and study the how and why. Become an expert in the types of olives, the grades of oil, the subtle flavour differentiations, or the many ways they can be used beyond the table. Perhaps you’d rather study the history of olive oil, and how this fruit, which tastes terrible off of the tree, became a pillar of Mediterranean culture. Get creative about how you document this one, and collect recipes as you go.


Problems & Solutions

italy olives
Study a current problem within the country and suggest/support a solution:

The Mafia

Organized crime has long been a struggle in Italy, and it continues to this day. Read some books, or watch a documentary about the mafia families and the ways they control business and politics, both regionally and nationally. If you are lucky enough to form a deeper relationship with someone, ask for their thoughts and personal experiences (if there are any).

What are the major industries that are income generators for the mafia families? What are they most notorious for? Who are the major players? Delve into their international connections. Watch some of the old films about the mafia. Why do you think there is a certain romantic notion around the idea of organized crime?

Economic and Population Decline

Since the economic crisis of 2008 Italy has been struggling financially. It is far worse in the southern parts of the peninsula, where unemployment is high and incomes are far lower than the average in the north. Historically known as a “big family” kind of place, Italy’s family sizes are shrinking and with the added exodus out of areas where there is little opportunity towards jobs overseas or in the north, there are areas that are struggling desperately.

If you have the opportunity to spend a longer amount of time in Italy, pay attention to the economic and cultural decline across the country. Which places seem worse, or better off? Is there a visible difference between cities and more rural environments? Is there a visible effect on infrastructure. Talk to people as you go about the economic situation in their area. Are there jobs? Do they feel as if things are improving and more prosperous times are returning? What do they see as the fundamental problems that have resulted in the decline? What is being done locally to rebuild? How are families coping, individually and as a community?

Refugee Crisis

Italy has born the brunt of the influx of refugees from Libya, in north Africa, since the advent of the conflict there. The recent civil war in Syria has resulted in another wave of refugee immigration that is taxing Italian infrastructure.

How is Italy coping with the mass influx of refugees? What sort of infrastructure have they put in place to deal with the people who continue to come? What is the political situation of the refugees as they arrive? What is it like for the refugees themselves? What is the collateral effect on Italian economics and culture, hosting so many refugess? What is the daily reality for refugees, relief workers and regular Italians? You may have the opportunity to volunteer in some capacity with the relief organizations serving the refugee population. Spend some time interviewing the NGO workers, Italians, and the refugees themselves about the many sides of this complex issue. Do you think the crisis is lessening? What do you see as long term outcomes? What worries you? Where do you see hope? Are there creative solutions, large scale, or in a smaller capacity, that aren’t being implemented that you see as possible action points?

Cultural Assignment Options

italy culture
This is a list of ideas for projects that you can take and run with. In order to get credit for these projects there needs to be an “output” of some measurable sort. Common options would include a video project, a blog post, an essay, a published piece of work, or a certificate of some sort documenting the experience (in the case of a class taken).

Study the Language

Record the number of hours of language instruction along with verification from the language school. One week (minimum) is recommended. There are language school options in many of the major tourist centers, as well as online options.

Sample the Foods

Italy is food heaven! Document the experience of trying at least five brand new foods during your stay (a fun photo essay? or video?) Take it up a notch and learn to cook something local. Enroll in actual cooking classes, or learn from a local friend. Find a way to document this experience.

Meaningful Connections

What is a meaningful interaction? You get to decide that. In general, it should be an interaction in which cultural exchange took place and you learned something. Often this will be with a local person; sometimes it will be with another traveler.

Sometimes these interactions look like very little on the outside but are totally life changing on the inside. Other times, they are rock your world amazing from every angle. It could be a meal shared, an afternoon’s excursion, a discussion that opens your eyes in some way, a self revelation that happened without any words exchanged at all.

Document this interaction and how it impacted you.

Take a Class

There are so many options available:

  • Cooking
  • Art
  • Language
  • Massage
  • Music
  • Permaculture
  • Yoga
  • Anything else you can find!

Procure some form of documentation from the class provider to document your experience. You might also create a video, or a piece of art, or write about what you learned and how you learned it.

Museum Visits

Save the ticket stubs and share something that you learned. Go beyond the big name museums (by all means see those too) but search out the tiny ones, like the violin and strings museum in Venice… it’s a hole in the wall; good luck!


There are numerous volunteer opportunities available, both advertised on line and unadvertised locally. Look for them at a school, a social project, an NGO, teaching English, building project, or something entirely different. One very popular form of voluntourism in Italy is the agriturismo. These are like bed and breakfasts on small local farms, vineyards, or orchards. Often they are pay as you go, but sometimes there is an opportunity to reduce cost by work sharing. Don’t b e afraid to ask.

Photos of work, or documentation from project leader are a couple of options for documenting this one. As is a write up of the organization, what they are doing and how you helped. Preferably this is more than one day.

Live Local

Get out of the hostel, rent a place in a local village, or do a homestay.

Photo essay or a blog description of why living local was different than living in a hostel. How did this experience change the economics of your stay? What did you learn about the way locals live? What challenged you? What would you do differently next time?

Work Stay

Through an organization like WWOOF, HelpX, or Workaway you can arrange for an opportunity to work in exchange for your room and board in a number of capacities, from farm labour to hospitality. Lots of students make use of these experiences to lower the cost of their travels, while at the same time learning valuable skills or “trying out” various career areas that interest them.

Request feedback in the form of a short evaluation that can be used later for a CV or reference

Public Transportation Project

Take as many types of public transportation as possible.

Challenge yourself to take every type of public transportation available while you are in Italy. Take the vaparetto in Venice, as well as a gondola. Ride the trains, take the subways, hop into cabs. Rent a scooter if you are very brave. Don’t forget the long haul buses. Perhaps even hitch a ride! Create a photo essay or videologue of your adventures. What did you learn?

Attend a Religious Observance

One way to learn more about a country or culture is to study the religious aspect of life. Attend a church service, visit a shrine, or a local ritual. Visit a religious festival or event. Or, if you’re very lucky, score an invitation to a wedding or funeral for a window into the way that religious ritual is woven into the fabric of life.

Compare and contrast this to your other experiences, at home and abroad. What did you learn about Italy or Italians as a result of this experience? How did it make you feel? What did you learn about yourself?

How to Create Your Own Course Work

italy fountain


Learn to ask for what you want. If you meet someone interesting, ask them to teach you. Ask them for an interview. Ask to shadow them for a day or a week. You’ll be surprised at how eager people are to share what they know and teach when someone shows actual interest. Learn to ask questions. Learn to take social risks by putting yourself out there as a learner.


You have an idea or an interest. Something surprises you on your journey and all of a sudden you have a burning desire to know more. Plan your attack:

  • Narrow your field of study to a particular question or topic.
  • Compile resources: Look for teachers. Who knows what you need to know? Or who can you interview to learn more? Are there books or videos on the topic you’re interested in?
  • Quantify it. How will you demonstrate what you have learned? A research paper, a video project, a photo essay, through art or music, a blog post, a published piece, an interview series, a mini documentary or do you have some other idea?


Produce a quality piece of academic work that reflects your experiential learning. The whole key to quantifying outside the box learning is to translate it into something that reflects the value of what you learned and how it contributed to your overall educational process.

Perhaps this will be as simple as a traditional research paper, depending on the depth and length of your study this could be as short as three pages or as long as a dissertation. Maybe you’ll produce a video for YouTube, or something grander, like a mini-documentary. Perhaps you’ll do something concrete instead, an art, or community action project and you’ll tell the story through a photo essay, or a series of blog posts. The possibilities are limited only by the resources you have at hand. Get creative. Think outside the box and truly experience your education.

Do You Have Anything to Add to This Resource Page?

We’re actively seeking to grow these resources in an open-source spirit. Please email jenn(at)bootsnall(dot)com with your edits or submissions of new information or materials.

Thank you!