While studying abroad, many Franklin & Marshall College students have crossed the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge over the Arno River, one of many connecting the neighborhoods of Florence, Italy.
Now, after more than 50 years, F&M will provide a stronger connection to the country’s language, culture and history with the introduction of a major in Italian starting this fall.
“The civilization of Italy stands as a pillar of Western culture in literature, art, architecture, religion and philosophy, among other subjects,” said Scott Lerner, the Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and French and Italian. “Italy is a major crossroads in the global interconnectedness of the contemporary world. This alone is reason to offer a major in Italian.”
Founded in 1966 by Professor Emerita Angela Jeannet, the Italian program at F&M allowed students to complete a minor by engaging in directed readings and independent studies, but faculty and course offerings were limited because faculty resources were unavailable at the time.
After Lerner replaced Jeannet, who retired in 1996, the program began to expand in faculty resources and course offerings. The number of Italian minors is usually about 20 students per year, said Giovanna Faleschini Lerner, associate professor of Italian and department chair.
One of the reasons for the Italian program’s success is F&M’s summer program in Tuscany, created in 2005. “Our six-week summer program in Italy has attracted a lot of students because they’ve had a chance to experience both the practical applications and the relevance of a humanistic approach to studying a language,” Faleschini Lerner said.
As a language, Italian is not just a tool for tourism, but also a way to communicate, to meet other people, to understand their culture, their history and their traditions, she said.
The summer program, offered every other year, is a two-credit course divided into two sessions, one conducted in Florence, the capital of the Italian Renaissance and the Tuscany region, and the other focused on the small town of Vicchio del Mugello, where student interact with the locals through sports, social events and other experiences tailored to the individual student’s interests and goals.
“The new Italian major provides an opportunity for F&M students to engage in humanistic learning at the highest undergraduate level, and to do so while immersed in a second language,” Lerner said.
Alumni who minored in Italian said the language prepared them well for their professional endeavors. Nick Porcelli '15 said that studying Italian for four years improved his academic abilities, which made it possible for him to learn to fly an F-16 for the Air Force in 12 months.
"When I reflect on the relationship between my experience at F&M and my time spent minoring in Italian, I cannot help by conclude that the latter not only improved my overall development as a student, but also my ability to take on new challenges in my professional career," he said.
The Italian major will offer a range of studies, including great writers of world literature, from Dante to Calvino; immigration cinema; and the historic encounters of recent popes with the Italian Jewish community.
“Italian majors will cut their analytic and interpretive teeth on primary works that speak most profoundly to our shared humanity, and to burning questions of contemporary society,” Lerner said. “They learn to become highly effective writers and speakers, in their second or third language and in their native one.”
Students already can declare their major in Italian during the current major declaration period. Detailed information about the major will become available on the Italian Studies website in August, when it also will appear in the 2018-19 course catalog. Meantime, department faculty can provide interested students with information and a full description of the courses.