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History of the Italian Department

In 1865, the college catalogue first listed Italian under "Special Studies" along with Greek and Spanish in the Department of Ancient and Modern Languages and Literature. William L. Knapp headed the department and also taught the only Italian class offered. Dante's Inferno was the primary text used to teach the class. In 1867-1868, Italian was listed under the regular course study for senior year. From 1896 to 1922, ltalian and Spanish formed one department.1 Finally in 1922, Bruno Roselli established the first Italian Department. Vassar was the first women's college to introduce Italian into the curriculum and for some years it had the largest undergraduate Italian Department in the country. Professors who served in the department were held in high recognition at other colleges.2 Roselli taught in the Italian Department for over a decade and directed a variety of programs and events. In 1921, he sailed with 40 of his students to Italy to participate in the sixth centenary celebration of Dante's death. After Roselli retired in 1933, Guido Ferrando, once vice director of the Britain Institute of Florence, took over as department chair.3 By the 1950s, the Italian Department under Maria Piccirilli sponsored many lectures and concerts, including two lectures in the late 1950s by Charles S. Singleton, a leading authority on Dante.4 By the early 1960s, all majors were encouraged to complete a summer study at the Middlebury Italian School or similar language institutes in ltaly.5 In 1966, the department employed four full-time professors who taught 200 students. In 1967, the Pirandello Fellowship was established as a gift from the Italian government. It included funding for a Vassar graduate to study in Italy for one year.6 By the early to mid-1980s, the department shrank to just two fulltime professors.7 In 2002-2003, the department grew once again to include three full-time professors and two visiting professors. The department recommended that majors participate in summer study at the Vassar program in Siena or Bologna. In 2002-2003, the department offered an undergraduate degree with 10 required units as well as a correlate sequence with 6 required units.8

— Written by Marian Thomas '04, An Administrative History of Vassar College 1861-2003, 2004, edited by Elizabeth B. Daniels and Ronald D. Patkus.

  1. "V.C. Departments and Programs. Italian" Subject File 10.65, Archives & Special Collections, Vassar College Library.
  2. Vassar Micellany News, 25 February 1933, "V.C. Departments and Programs. Italian," Subject File 10.65, Archives & Special Collections, Vassar College Library.
  3. "V.C. Departments and Programs. Italian," Subject File 10.65, Archives & Special Collections, Vassar College Library.
  4. "V.C. Departments and Programs. Italian. Lectures, Programs, etc.," Subject File 10.66, Archives & Special Collections, Vassar College Library.
  5. Bulletin of Vassar College Catalogue 1961-1962 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1961), 114.
  6. "V.C. Departments and Programs. Italian," Subject File 10.65, Archives & Special Collections, Vassar College Library.
  7. Vassar College Catalogue 1981-1983 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1982), 166.
  8. Vassar College Catalogue 2002-2003 (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 2002), 243.