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PhD in Italian

Italy emerges from its contrasts: one language and dozens of dialects; an age-old literature and culture and the burgeoning creativity of the local vis-à-vis the global; world-famous landscapes and culinary traditions and traumas of wars, political crises, and environmental disasters. Its identity speaks through its art, history, politics, and philosophy, being a crossroads of Mediterranean voices, civilizations, and migrations. Building on this complexity, the Graduate Program in Italian Studies considers Italy at the confluence of cultures, territories, and imagination to be seen through multiple lenses.

Our Graduate Program enables students to work across the whole spectrum of the humanities and social sciences. We place Italian literary, linguistic, and cultural production in dialogue with complementary fields such as anthropology, art history, comparative literature, cultural and visual studies, philosophy, critical theory, film studies, geography, history, music, post-colonial studies, translation studies, women, gender, and queer studies.

UNC-CH’s Graduate Program in Italian Studies does also something more. We emphasize trans-disciplinary conversations across the boundaries of the humanities, with the goal to develop the competencies, flexibility, and sensibility necessary to address and read the phenomena of complex societies and environments. We use innovative theoretical frameworks that allow Italian Studies to expand its vistas and topics, while still providing fruitful reinterpretations of its historic foundations.

A core area is the environmental humanities, a bourgeoning cultural discourse that brings humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences together, creating space for cooperative endeavors between environmental scientists and scholars focusing on the historical, cultural, and ethical dimensions of ecological issues. Drawing on ecocriticism and all the major fields of critical ecological culture (from landscapes ethics and urban ecology to food studies, from posthumanism and new materialisms to the Anthropocene debate), our goal is to build a creative critical discourse that elicits differences, pluralities, hybridizations, conflicts, and encounters, thus positioning Italian Studies within the broader horizon of this debate.

The interdisciplinary study of medieval and early modern literature and culture is another core strength of the program, which invites students to join UNC-CH’s lively scholarly community of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Faculty specializations include the 13th-century origins of the Italian literary vernacular; the civic and poetic crises memorialized by the Tre Corone (Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch); theories of obscenity and the grotesque; medieval to early modern travel; the history of medicine and law; paleography, textual transmission, and the history of the book; the reception and transformation of classical culture and language; and women writers and vernacular traditions of the Renaissance and early modern Italy.

All students’ inter- and trans-disciplinary interests are fostered by the UNC-CH Italian faculty, who provide access to a broad knowledge of Italian literary and cultural history from the 13th century to the present. Because faculty research always informs graduate teaching, students gain perspective on current movements in the critical discourse.

In addition to coursework within the department, our students take advantage of a wide range of offerings from several departments on campus – such as English and Comparative Literature and Communication Studies – and have the opportunity to enroll in Italian seminars in the Department of Romance Studies at Duke University, with whom we collaborate closely. Furthermore, the Center for European Studies, the Program in Medieval and Early Modern StudiesWomen’s Studies, and other programs provide opportunities for academic research and coursework.

Aiming to equip young scholars with the professionalization necessary to embark on careers as researchers and teachers, Graduate students develop mentoring relationships with teaching faculty and gain experience with recent language pedagogy and diverse instructional technologies. There are many initiatives in the department which allow graduate students to adopt leadership roles: coordinating an Italian film festival, the tavola italiana, writing contests, course coordination, and more.

Graduate students are also given the opportunity to collaborate with our department’s publications and plan events, the most visible of which is our annual departmental Carolina Conference on Romance Studies, a two-day event which brings together graduate students and professors from across the country for collegial exchanges on the most pressing current topics in Romance Studies.

Graduate students in Italian Studies have also the opportunity to apply for several competitive fellowships and for a year-long period of teaching and research in Florence at the Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Finally, in our Department of Romance Studies, graduate students in Italian  find a strong and supportive community of students and faculty in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Romance Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill is committed to supporting the professional development of its teaching fellows and works across language sections to provide mentorship and opportunities for growth.

Bruno Estigarribia

Department Chair

Serenella Iovino

Graduate Advisor for Italian

Lauren Lisinski

Graduate Student Services Manager


Program Details

Following the pattern for the PhD in the Department of Romance Studies, the PhD in Italian Studies entails the following specifics.

Graduate students in Italian Studies are expected to acquire a broad, transhistorical knowledge of Italian literature and culture, distributed across the following periods:

  • Medieval
  • Renaissance
  • 17th century to Unification
  • Unification to the present

Students should take at least two courses in Italian per semester. The first semester in which a student serves as a Teaching Assistant, s/he will be required to take ROML 700 (which may be waived if an appropriate equivalent has been taken prior to enrollment). In consultation with the Graduate Advisor, doctoral students may enroll in a maximum of one course per semester outside Italian in areas related to their interests. Beyond the basic coursework, doctoral students may want to take additional classes to strengthen their preparation for the research paper, the qualifying exams, or the written comprehensive examination, to lay the groundwork for the dissertation, or to develop a wider range of teaching fields. As interdisciplinary studies may be appropriate to some research projects and career plans, a supporting program of three courses (nine credit hours) may be part of the PhD program. Students may consult the availability of appropriate courses in other departments via the Graduate Record.

For students applying to the doctoral program with the MA in hand, appropriate placement and course transfer will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) in consultation with the Graduate Advisors. The Department may transfer up to four courses (12 credits) into the PhD program and in very exceptional cases up to nine (27 credits). For these students transferring a total of nine courses (27 credits), the research paper, and the second-year qualifying exams are waived. All students must meet the Graduate School’s minimum residency requirement of four semesters of full-time registration.

In the second week of the spring semester of the second year, students take a comprehensive written examination intended to test their broad knowledge of Italy’s literary culture. Based on the students’ course work, the Qualifying Reading List and discussions between the student and the exam committee, the examination consists of three questions out of five, answered over a weekend.

In the fall semester preceding the exam, the student will form a committee comprised of a chair and two additional members, for a total of three, to be approved by the Graduate Advisor. Each committee member will be responsible for writing and grading one-two questions (at the chair’s discretion) for a total of five. Prior to the exam, the committee chair will review the five questions to make sure they address a sufficiently broad range of topics/periods/texts. After the exam, the committee chair will consult with the other members of the committee to ascertain that the student has demonstrated sufficient transhistorical mastery.

To prepare for the written exams, under consultation with the exam chair students should prepare a reading list of primary texts based on the departmental suggestions for coverage of genre and period, as well as two bibliographies of secondary and theoretical texts. The exam list must be approved two months before the scheduled exam date. One month prior to the date, the student should arrange to meet with the committee members to discuss areas of focus.

Questions are based on the reading list, the major critical literature and theory, and discussions with the committee members. Students whose mother tongue is English must write one answer in Italian and two in English. Students whose mother tongue is Italian must write one answer in English and two in Italian.

The written examination will take place over a weekend (exam emailed to student by 3:00 pm on Friday and returned to the Graduate Student Services Manager by 9:00 am on Monday).  Grades are S (Satisfactory) or U (Unsatisfactory). In exceptional cases, professors may award H (High Pass). Students who receive up to two Us may repeat the exam after an interval of three months. Students may not ask to take written examinations at times other than those assigned by the Department. Registration in the university, typically for Thesis Credit, is required during the semester in which written exams are taken.

The Research Paper should be 5,000-7,000 words of text, exclusive of endnotes and works cited. All research papers must follow MLA style and conform to the Graduate School’s Guide to Theses and Dissertations. The student will also consult the Graduate School Handbook to ensure that he or she has met all of the requirements for the degree prior to working on and submitting the Research Paper.

At the beginning of the candidate’s second year, he or she should approach a member of the faculty to serve as the Research Paper advisor. The candidate, in consultation with the advisor, selects two additional readers to serve on the Research Paper Committee. Once they have agreed, all three names must be submitted by the candidate to the Director of Graduate Studies, who will officially appoint the committee and notify all involved, including the Graduate Student Services Manager. The advisor and the readers will approve the Research Paper.

A formal meeting between the candidate and the Research Paper Committee may be scheduled if the advisor considers it necessary. The Research Paper is normally finished in the Spring semester of the second year. The approved version should be submitted electronically to the Graduate Student Services Manager no later than the last day of classes. The research paper is a thesis substitute, not a thesis, so it does not need to be received by the Graduate School by the April deadline for theses.

Upon completion of coursework and in preparation for the writing of the dissertation prospectus, the student will develop three lists that will form the basis of the written exam:

List 1 – Primary field: Medieval/Early Modern or Modern/Contemporary Italian Studies (20-25 items to be supported by a bibliography of secondary texts that address the current state of research).

List 2 – Secondary field: A theoretical, disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspective within list 1: ex. gender studies, translation studies, philosophy, literary theory, cultural studies, film studies, art history, etc. (10-15 items)

List 3 – Secondary field: A specific topic, theme or author within list 1: ex. Dante or Pasolini studies, Renaissance epic, the Risorgimento, colonial architecture, futurism, fascism, il giallo, (post)colonialism, migrant literature and film, etc. (10-15 items)

An examination committee for the student will be composed of a minimum of two faculty members whose responsibility will be to guide the student in his or her selections. Once the committee determines that the bibliography is acceptable and that the student’s knowledge of the texts is satisfactory, it will indicate its approval by signing and dating the document. The student shall then have a minimum of two months from that date to take the take-home written doctoral examination based on the bibliography; the exam must take place no later than the third week of November in Fall semester and no later than the second week of April in Spring semester. Exams are not given over holiday weekends.

The examination
The written examination will take place over a weekend (exam emailed to student by 3:00 pm on Friday and returned to the Graduate Student Services Manager by 9:00 am on Monday). Two questions per list will be provided, from which the student will choose one, for a total of three responses. Answers may be in English or Italian. Students may consult books or notes as necessary, but should not discuss the exam with others while in progress. A bibliography of the specific works consulted should be submitted with the answers.

The dissertation is meant to contribute significantly to the knowledge and understanding of Italy’s literary culture. The initial idea for the dissertation is often discovered in a course, and it always requires a well-defined theoretical approach, extensive research, and close consultation with the dissertation director.

Students will invite a faculty member to direct their dissertation at an early stage of the project’s development and no later than the fourth semester of their PhD program; together with their dissertation director and in close consultation with the Italian Graduate Advisor, they select four additional faculty members to serve on the dissertation committee, whom the candidates will contact to make sure of their availability; the Italian Graduate Advisor will submit the names of the committee members to the Director of Graduate Studies for the formal approval of the dissertation committee. The student will visit the Director of Graduate Studies in his/her office if invited to do so.

The Director of Graduate Studies, after consultation with the Italian Graduate Advisor, will formally appoint the student’s thesis committee. The committee is not officially formed until appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies, who will notify the candidate, the committee members, and the Graduate Student Services Manager of the composition of the thesis committee.

Students will discuss the prospectus in front of the entire dissertation committee, which either approves the project or recommends further research. Upon approval of the prospectus, students begin work on the dissertation under the guidance of the dissertation director, who is responsible for answering questions and returning drafts in a timely fashion.

With the dissertation director’s approval, the student presents the complete dissertation to each committee member at least one month ahead of the scheduled defense. At the beginning of the defense, the candidate will summarize the dissertation’s major findings and then answer questions presented by the committee members. The dissertation may be approved as is or with minor modifications. If the dissertation is not approved, the committee members will offer clear directives for the candidate to follow, and a new defense is scheduled only after all the committee members judge the dissertation to be satisfactory.

Ph.D. students are encouraged to pursue a minor in another Romance language and literature or in an allied discipline taught at the university.

Meet the Italian Graduate Faculty

Maggie Fritz-Morkin

Assistant Professor
Dey Hall 132
Serenella Iovino

James Gordon Hanes Distinguished Professor in Humanities
Dey Hall 218

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