Visit the Graduate School for admission information and the online application to the Ph.D. program. Please note that only online applications are accepted. Any difficulties or special requests for paper applications should be addressed directly to the Graduate School. Questions of a general nature relating to the Department of Romance Studies may be directed to the Graduate Field Assistant.

Program Overview

Thanks to the Special Committee system at Cornell, the Ph.D. program in Italian at Cornell has long been a program in Italian Studies. Graduate students in Italian design a program of study that is comparatist and/or interdisciplinary in approach, and are strongly encouraged to develop a high degree of theoretical and methodological awareness. The Italian program is particularly strong in the areas of medieval and Renaissance Italian literature, modern and contemporary visual culture and media studies, political theory, literary theory, and feminist thought. Graduate students have access to other outstanding faculty in many departments and programs across the university, such as Architecture, Comparative Literature, German Studies, Government, History, History of Art, Medieval Studies, Music, Romance Studies, and Visual Studies. The opportunity to do interdisciplinary work is enhanced by the structure of the program which requires students to complete a concentration in a minor field. Typical concentrations include gender studies, visual studies, comparative literature, music, and art history.

Cornell And Romance Studies

Cornell is uniquely positioned for the study of Italian literature and culture. The University Libraries house the finest Dante and Petrarch collections outside Italy, while the university is home to Cornell Cinema, cited as one of the best campus film exhibition programs in the country, screening close to 400 different films/videos each year, seven nights a week.

Society for the Humanities

Founded in 1966 to support research and imaginative teaching in the humanities, the Society for the Humanities encourages serious and sustained discussion on topics of compelling interest to Italian Studies. The topic for 2016-17 is “Skin” and for 2017-18 is “Corruption.”

Institute for European Studies

Cornell is also home to the Institute for European Studies, whose mission is to enhance the international dimensions of Cornell University’s curriculum and facilitate interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching. The Institute provides financial and logistical support for more than 20 programs in area, thematic and development studies at Cornell. It is especially active in offering predissertation workshops and international research travel grants to encourage graduate student research.


The following list of recent graduate courses offered by members of Italian Field offers a snapshot of faculty interests and the kinds of subjects prospective students can expect to study at Cornell:

Recent Courses

  • Fascist Bodies, Fascist Films
  • The Modern-Post: Postmodernism in Italy
  • The Modern Italian Novel
  • Boccaccio
  • Dante’s Commedia
  • The Medieval Society of the Spectacle
  • Opera, History, Politics, and Gender
  • The Cinematic City
  • Tuscany as the New Jerusalem
  • Love and Sex in the Italian Renaissance
  • Patronage and the Medici
  • History of the Italian Language
  • Poetry in a Radio Age: Data Retrieval and the Italian Lyric
  • The Culture of the Renaissance
  • Renaissance Literature
  • The Catholic Grotesque: The Italian ‘Sacri Monti’ and Their Post-Renaissance Legacy
  • Manzoni
  • Precariousness
  • The Italian Landscape: From the Dittamundo to Cyberspace
  • Autonomia: Art, Literature and Politics in and around Italy, 1968-1979

Course Descriptions

Please refer to the Italian section within the Romance Studies course offerings for detailed descriptions about the language and literature courses we offer.  Note that bracketed courses are not being taught this academic year.

Ph.D. Program

Structure of the Ph.D. Program

The graduate program in Italian literature is structured to allow for a broad experience in literary history and criticism. The student of recent literature should acquire an ample and precise sense of cultural traditions; likewise, the student of earlier periods should become acquainted with the literary and critical trends of our own day. To this end, courses and seminars seek to provide both broad and detailed familiarity with major periods and authors.

The graduate plan encourages students to define their field of study flexibly and broadly, in relation to such disciplines as linguistics and semiotics, philosophy, anthropology, visual studies, history of art or music, medieval studies, psychology or psychoanalysis, and the study of classical literatures or other modern national literatures. The student’s field of study is defined by consultation with the Special Committee.

The Special Committee and the Minor Subject

As soon as possible–but no later than the third semester of study–each doctoral student chooses a three-member Special Committee consisting of a chair (who must be a member of the Italian section in the Graduate Field of Romance Studies) plus two other faculty members. The committee (in particular, the chair) is the person directly responsible for the student’s progress in his/her work. It is the student’s responsibility to consult regularly with the members of his/her committee and, ideally, to convene the entire committee once a year to discuss the general direction of his/her studies. Students may reconstitute the committee whenever and as often as they wish, and are encouraged to do so, without embarrassment, as their special interests crystallize and their contacts with faculty members increase.

At least one member of the Special Committee must represent a field other than the student’s major field. Most students choose only one minor subject, though Graduate School regulations allow election of two.

Members of the Graduate Field from the Department of Romance Studies

Members of the Graduate Field from Other Departments:

Coursework and Second Foreign Language Requirement

Students entering the program without an M.A. normally take a total of sixteen courses over a three-year period.

Every student is expected to speak and write Italian fluently and accurately. Students choose any additional language study according to the requirements of their areas of study and in consultation with Special Committees.

The student must also demonstrate or acquire proficiency in a second foreign language (one that complements the student’s course of study) prior to taking the “A” exam. Proficiency can be demonstrated through coursework or by written examination.

Area Examinations

“Q” Examination

The main purpose of the “Q” or “Qualifying” Exam is to evaluate the student’s ability to do the kind of original research work and analysis required of a successful Ph.D. candidate; additionally, the Q exam may be used to evaluate the student’s pedagogical and linguistic skills. Ideally, the Q exam will provide an opportunity for the student and the Special Committee to discuss possible directions the student’s work might take in the future.

Students must take the Q exam by the end of the fourth semester. The Q exam will consist of a longer essay (possibly developed from course work) and short answer questions, followed by an oral discussion.

Because the Q exam depends on directives provided by the members of the Special Committee, the student would be well advised to constitute a three-person Committee as early as is feasible, and no later than the end of the student’s third semester.

If the committee is satisfied with the quality of the student’s Q exam, the student can begin preparing for the A exam. If the committee finds that the Q exam does not meet the standard for graduate work, the committee will ask the student to complete further portions of the exam or the committee will recommend a terminal M.A. degree.

“A” Exam

The Graduate School requires that students complete the “A” or “Admission to Candidacy” Examination before registering for the seventh semester.

The “A” exam is an oral exam that usually does not exceed two hours. Based on an extended piece of written work presented to the Special Committee—usually a paper designed to serve as the introduction or first chapter of the dissertation—the “A” exam tests the student’s competence in his/her area of specialization.

Students should plan to spend at least a fourth of their time over one semester in the preparations of this paper, consulting frequently with their chair as they define the topic, prepare an outline and write. The paper should not be a first draft, but a finished piece of work, complete with summary bibliography and such scholarly apparatus as may be appropriate (most such papers are twenty to fifty pages long). The completed paper should be made available to all members of the Special Committee at least one week (preferably two) prior to the date agreed upon for the examination.

During the examination, members of the Special Committee question the candidate on the worth and coherence of his/her topic and on his/her understanding of the texts and problems of interpretation that the topic raises. Students who pass the examination receive recommendations from committee members for further work on the dissertation. In the event of failure, the student repeats the examination on the basis of a new or revised paper.

“B” Exam

The “B” exam is the defense of the dissertation. Each member of the Special Committee usually presents to the candidate a brief written judgment and critique of the dissertation and a checklist of errors to be corrected. The major aims of the exam are to assure the candidate that the dissertation has been carefully read and considered and to allow the student to engage in a serious discussion of his/her work.

Research Abroad

Students have the opportunity to study abroad and are encouraged to spend one of their fellowship years in Italy.