The role played by Italian civilization in the shaping of Western values, taste and world view can hardly be overstated.
Today, Italian is taught as a foreign language in universities all over the world. Italy is a country with many dynamic industries, particularly in the high-profile areas of fashion and design, gastronomy and manufacturing. In the early 20th century, Pirandello was the first European playwright to radically question the structures of traditional theatre. Since then, film directors and writers such as Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini, Calvino, Eco and Fo have been recognized around the world. The centenary of the first overseas wireless transmission, by the radio pioneer Marconi, was celebrated in 2001, and served to remind the world as well of his further contributions to the development of radio, including the original entertainment broadcasts. In science, Rita Levi Montalcini, Renato Dulbecco, Carlo Rubbia and Riccardo Giaconni have been recent recipients of Nobel prizes.
The turbulence of Italy's politics has, perhaps, caused it to look inwards more than some other European countries, but it has increasingly made its weight felt in world affairs.
One can find much of the current energy and cultural tensions in contemporary Italy reflected in its past.
In the Middle Ages, the vitality and prosperity of Italian merchants was in evidence throughout Europe, and this trade prompted the invention of financial and business practices that provided the foundation for modern capitalism. In politics, the Renaissance states of Italy anticipated structures and modes of government that would later characterize modern constitutional European monarchies. Italian artists and intellectuals influenced major centres in France, Germany, England, Spain and Holland.
In the 18th century, although Italian states were under the political hegemony of more powerful European monarchies, Italian remained the language of European intellectuals and Italian grand opera became a prestigious pastime of European courts and the expanding bourgeoisie. The education of wealthier young men had to be completed by a "grand tour" of Italy. The reasons for this had to do with, aside from the superior weather, the visible legacies of classical culture to be found throughout Italy, as well as the universal celebration of its culture and language, which extended to the worlds of music, literature, art and architecture.
All educated people were familiar with the works of Dante and Boccaccio, which had dominated the literature of the European Middle Ages, and with their contemporary Petrarch, who had established the most important lyric poetic tradition in Europe. Italian Renaissance epic poems were quoted by Cervantes and Spenser. As anyone familiar with Shakespeare knows, plots, places and conventions of Italian origin are in the background - as well as the foreground - of every play. French and Spanish theatre of the 17th century are likewise rooted in the 16th century renaissance of classical theatre in Italy.
While the Italian Studies department at McGill cannot do justice to such an expansive legacy, as stated on our front page, its mission is to maintain the traditions and study of the great classics as well as to provide a window on an increasingly complex and diverse contemporary Italian culture. It promotes the study of the Italian language through an excellent and rigorous language training program. It offers courses in Italian literature, both in Italian and in English, as well as in Italian film. It is privileged to have a number of Associate Faculty members and Adjunct Professors who bring their distinct knowledge and interests from other McGill departments and Montreal universities. It also invites scholars specializing in contemporary politics, the Italian immigrant experience and social change, which offers a broad perspective to students wishing to gain an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the varied aspects of Italian culture.