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LT/CU 340 - Tourists, Soldiers, Expats, Spies: Travelling Italy in the 20th Century

This course takes up representations of Italy by Americans travelling abroad as means of tracing the US’s changing relationship to the world in the twentieth century. Italy offers a rich point of entry for this investigation: the country not only embodied the “Old World” society against which US identity was contrasted and constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it also was occupied at length by the US military in the mid-20th century, received key Marshall Plan financial support, and played a strategic role in US Cold War  containment politics. Moreover, and at the same time, Italy was a dominant tourist destination during the postwar mass tourism boom – one with a strong, seductive hold on the American imagination.

This course will ask students to begin unraveling the complicated political, economic, and cultural relationships that these historical facts produced by engaging a variety of texts written by Americans about Italy, including short stories, novels, films, travel guides, US government handbooks, magazine essays, and academic articles. Moving chronologically from the turn of the 20th century to the mid-1960s – a period that saw a shift in US foreign policy from isolationism toward internationalism and the rise of the US as a global power (the “American Century”) – we will map various US discourses about Italy and Italian travel circulating during the era. Our investigations of these texts will allow us to identify and evaluate recurring themes, figures, and tropes characterizing representations of Italy and the ways that different genres take up shared attitudes and concerns. Outlining the myriad ways in which Italy and Italians are depicted as “other” by these texts will constitute a through-line of the course. By the end of the semester, students will not only be able to discuss how cultural values and positions of power or privilege get transcribed in accounts of travel and foreign people and places, they also will have a stronger ability to identify and analyze the political stakes of both the representations they encounter and their own experiences abroad.

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Cultural Studies

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