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News and Events

Fall 2014 Events

Galileo Philosopher

A COMMON HOUR TALK by Mark Peterson, Professor of Physics and Mathematics on the Alumnae Foundation, Mount Holyoke College

Thursday, October 9, 2014
11:30 a.m.-12:35 p.m.
Common Hour web page

​Galileo is known and remembered for his Copernicanism, for his trial, and for his early experiments in physics, but his most important contribution, Professor Peterson argues, is to philosophy. In his late 50s he began to bring together his knowledge of the arts and mathematics, combined with his experimental observations, into what was briefly called "the new philosophy," a world view that is essentially identical to modern science. Recent discoveries in the Galileo Archives suggest that a person almost lost to history, Galileo's student Niccolo Aggiunti, was a crucial participant in the creation of the new philosophy, and, most astonishingly, that his knowledge of medieval scholastic theology played a pivotal role in it.

Mark Peterson is a professor in both the physics and mathematics departments at Mount Holyoke. His work often explores the intersection of science and the humanities. He has written on the scientific speculations of Dante, programmed a pioneering computer program for introductory Chinese language courses, and, in 1997, published the cover article on the painter Piero della Francesca in The Mathematical Intelligencer. In the article, Peterson makes the case that Piero, who is well known as one of the great painters of the Italian Renaissance, was also by far the greatest mathematician of the fifteenth century. He is the author of the book Galileo’s Muse (Harvard University Press) which further explores the intersection of mathematics and art in the Renaissance.

Co-sponsored by The Department of Italian, The Center for Liberal Arts & Society, and the departments of Art and Art History, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Comparative Literary Studies


The Pope and Mussolini: A lecture by David Kertzer (Brown University)

Monday, April 7, 2014 at 4:30 pm in the Lisa Bonchek Adams Auditorium

The 2002 public release of the archives of Pius XI’s papacy revealed a trove of historical treasures that Brown University professor Kertzer (The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara) found “irresistible.” He brings to life an intriguing and unlikely alliance of two powerful individuals, using extensive primary sources from both sides. Whether or not it was truly a partnership is suspect, but they undoubtedly needed each other’s cooperation. The reader is taken inside the papacy in incredible detail, exposing the Vatican’s inner workings, from the Pope’s schedule to what he kept on his desk, to the knife’s-edge particulars of dealing with Mussolini. The insidious way that Il Duce was able to create his dictatorship predates the rise of Hitler in Germany, though their stories possess remarkable parallels. Mussolini’s numerous love affairs offer interesting asides as the myriad intricacies of world-historical events like the Lateran Accords—which ended decades of antagonism between Italy and the Vatican, while establishing the latter’s sovereignty—play out. Kertzer unravels the relationship between two of 20th-century Europe’s most important political figures and does so in an accessible style that makes for a fast-paced must-read.  (Review from Publishers Weekly October 21, 2013)


Galileo's 450th anniversary celebrations

  • Galileo Philosopher (RESCHEDULED FOR OCTOBER 9, 2014)

A COMMON HOUR TALK by Mark Peterson, Professor of Physics and Mathematics on the Alumnae Foundation, Mount Holyoke College
Thursday, February 13, 2014
11:30 a.m.-12:35 p.m.
Common Hour web page
  • How to read like GalileoA lecture by Professor Crystal Hall (University of Kansas and Bowdoin College)

Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 4:45pm in the Great Room of Ware College House 

This talk will examine the printed books in Galileo’s library and the books that his fictional characters claim they own in order to outline the reading strategies that Galileo championed for his new philosophical and scientific endeavors. Rather than be a lecture, the talk will use a combination of images and quotations to help the audience interact with the sources related to the books that Galileo owned and to attempt to pass Galileo’s tests for successful reading skills.

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Italian, Art and Art History, Religious Studies, and Philosophy, and by CLAS and the Ware College House.

Click here to see Professor Hall's book:



“Incastellamenti” – Fortified settlements in Medieval Italy

A lecture by Professor Anna Maria Bertini Jones
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
4:30-5:30 PM LSP Auditorium
A large part of the Italian landscape is characterized by ancient hill top villages and towns, still surrounded by a full or partial wall system. These centers were denominated “incastellamenti” (Encastellations) by the French historian Pierre Toubert who saw in them the defensive response to the political instability and incursions (Normans and Saracens) of the X century. Later excavations led by the medieval archaeologist Riccardo Francovich have been shedding more light on Toubert’s interpretation and chronology of this phenomenon and the debate are still alive and unresolved. Were the “incastellamenti” an ex-novo creation of the X century or were they preceded by other forms of settlement? Were they somewhat connected to earlier Late Roman structures present in the territory? And finally, what was the original nature and purpose of these ”incastellamenti”?
This is event is open to Italian students only.

Faculty talk, October 22, 2013 4:45-5:45 p.m., Great Room of Ware College House.

Professor Chelsea Pomponio, "A Matter of Lust: Reading Rape in the Middle Ages"

What constitutes rape? Do terms such as "forcible rape" ease or complicate our understanding of sexual violence? Medieval definitions of rape, like their modern counterparts, hinged on the thorny issue of consent. Consideration of the literary afterlife of Lucretia, the Roman matron who avenged her violation through suicide, highlights medieval anxieties about female desire, and reveals the difficulties in defining rape in any society.


Galileo Reading Group

The Italian Department has organized a fall-semester reading group to prepare for Galileo's 450th birthday celebrations (February 2014).  
Students and faculty will read and meet to discuss Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter and Mark Peterson's Galileo's Muse: Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts on September 24, October 28, and December 2, from 4:30-6 in the Den of the Ware College House.
RSVP to Giovanna Lerner  if you are interested.
  • Visual Poetics


Professor Giovanna Faleschini Lerner’s book, Carlo Levi Visual Poetics (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) is out

“What does it mean for a painter to remain a visual artist even as a writer? Carlo Levi's Visual Poetics engages this question through a critical re-examination of one of the most influential Italian intellectuals of the twentieth century, the painter and writer Carlo Levi. Reading Levi's major texts through the lens of his philosophical and critical essays, Lerner explores the ways in which the productive dialogue between word and image inherent in his works becomes an instrument of literary and political subversion and contributes to the development of Levi's original humanistic cultural program.”

  • Copertina Iannucci
Gianluca Rizzo's collection "Like Doves summoned by desire"

“But how does one explain Dante’s enduring popularity, and that of his harsh eschatological masterpiece in particular? The answer, I believe, lies in the poem’s distinctive textual characteristics. The Comedy is neither an open nor a closed text (Eco, The Role of the Reader); it is neither writerly nor readerly (Barthes, S/Z). Rather it is more like what Fiske in Television Culture calls a ‘pro­ducerly’ text. A producerly text is polysemous and combines the easy accessibility of the readerly with the complex discursive strategies of the writerly. These peculiar textual qualities allow the poem to produce meaning and pleasure in audiences which run the gamut from the un­educated to the most sophisticated and discerning.
The Comedy’s uncanny ability to generate meaning derives not so much from its formal, hierarchical allegory as from the allusive density of its literal narrative. […] In saying this, I do not mean to imply that the Commedia's polysemy is boundless and structure­-less: the poem defines the terrain within which meaning may be made. (Amilcare Iannucci)

Like Doves summoned by desire’: Dante’s New Life in Contemporary Literature and Film, ed. by M. Ciavolella and G. Rizzo (New York: Agincourt Press, 2012), collects a number of different articles, authored by leading scholars in Europe and the US, exploring Dante’s influence on the most disparate art forms across different languages. 

  • Gina Mangravite
Gina Mangravite ’12 published an article in the Kennesaw Tower

Gina Mangravite ’12 published an article in the Kennesaw Tower, an undergraduate research journal in the modern languages.  Her contribution was titled, “La fusione tra la scrittura e l’arte visiva: Adriano Spatola e la poesia visiva.  Here’s what Gina is saying about her work: “I decided to submit my article for publication in the Kennesaw Tower during my senior year at F&M under the suggestion and encouragement of Professor Gianluca Rizzo. My article originated as a final paper I wrote for an advanced Italian course on art in literature taught by Professor Giovanna Faleschini Lerner in Vicchio during the summer of 2011. The publication of this article is only one of the many positive outcomes I have had the privilege of experiencing as a result of working closely with the Italian professors at F&M.”

 Gina is continuing her research at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is completing a Master’s in Italian.  You can read Gina’s article here.



Women's Writing, Writing as Women: A lecture by Dacia Maraini

Monday, February 25, 2013 7:30 p.m. - Ware College House - Great Room

One of Italy's foremost women writers, Dacia Maraini is the author of more than fifty books, including novels, plays, collections of poetry, and critical essays. Her historical novel, The Silent Duchess, received the Premio Campiello, and her collection of short stories, Darkness, was awarded the most prestigious Italian literary prize, the Premio Strega. Several of her works have been adapted for the stage or screen, and she herself has directed both plays and films. Early in her career, Maraini founded the literary review Tempo di letteratura; she later established an all-women's theater group, Teatro della Maddalena, and became known as a theorist and activist in the Italian feminist movement.

Sponsored by CLAS, The Writers House, Italian, Comparative Literary Studies, Women and Gender Studies, and the Ware College House.


"Fabrica Inferni: Manetti, Galileo and the Architecture of Dante's Hell" : A lecture by Professor Gianluca Rizzo

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 11:30-12:30 in the Humanities Commons of the LSP



"Gluttony is not a sin!  The reinvention of Epicurus in the Italian Renaissance" - A lecture by Professor Luigi Ballerini (UCLA) followed by a light reception.

Sponsored by the Italian Department and the Ware College House
October 24th, 2011 6:30 pm, Great Room, Ware College House

"The Dark Side of the Renaissance: Unconventional Works by Improbable Characters" - A conversation with Professor Gianluca Rizzo.

November 29th, 2011 11:30 am, Great Room, Ware College House

Screening of Golden Door/Nuovomondo (2006) by Emanuele Crialese - Moderated by Professor Giovanna Faleschini Lerner for the CLAS Migrations film series

October 27th, 2011 7:30 pm Lisa Bonchek Adams Auditorium in Kaufman Hall

"The Narrating Architecture of Modern Italy: the Popes, the Jews, and the State (1860-2010)" - A conversation with Professor Scott Lerner

November 8th, 2011 11:30 am, Great Room, Ware College House