Jewish Italy and Its Literatures: The Most Ancient Minority


Jews in Italy are often referred to as “the most ancient minority,” because of their continuous presence in Italy, from pre-Christian times to today. This course examines the wealth of literature, art, and culture that they have produced and inspired in three parts. In the first part of the course we will discuss a range of works, from antiquity to modern day Italy, to analyze Jewish Italy and its representations in historical context. Focusing especially on Rome, Venice, and Trieste, we will scrutinize representations of the ghetto, Jewish learning, anti-Semitism, family life, memory, and the Holocaust in figures such as Ahimaaz ben Paltiel, William Shakespeare, Leon Modena, James Joyce, Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba, Natalia Ginzburg, Primo Levi, and Alexander Stille, among others.

At the midpoint of the course we will take a required nine-day excursion to Italy during spring break to visit key sites pertaining to Jewish life and history in Rome, Venice, and Trieste (Evening of March 9th-18, 2018). Thanks to a generous gift from the Lauder Family Foundation, student expenses (round-trip from Durham) will be covered.  

In the third part of the course, students will build on their readings and experiences in Italy to develop final projects that will determine in part our shared readings for class discussion. Projects might include examining the Vatican’s relationship to Jewish Italians, tales of conversion, specific stories of persecution, the biographical experiences of Peggy Guggenheim and Margarita Sarfatti, or close readings of more contemporary authors, such as Igiaba Scego and Jonathan Levi, who have portrayed “Jewish Italy.”

Because places are limited, applicants for the course are required to submit a brief (approximately 300 words) essay on the prompt: “What inspires your interest in taking this course, and what experience do you have with studying or traveling overseas?”
Applications are DUE NOVEMBER 15, emailed to the Program Director of Jewish Studies, Serena Bazemore, (

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Jewish Italy and Its Literatures: The Most Ancient Minority

Saskia Ziolkowski,

Crosslisting Numbers: 
Areas of Knowledge: 
Modes of Inquiry: 
Film, Visual & Performing Arts?
Literature in Translation?