Formally established in 1947 by Dr. Paul Bosco – a Harvard Ph.D. who taught at Notre Dame for 50 years, alongside his wife, Vittoria – Italian Studies at Notre Dame actually has a much longer history, dating back to 1847, when the subject was first taught at the University. In the 1920s, Rev. John Zahm, C.S.C. – the pioneering priest-scientist and University vice president – expressed his hope that Notre Dame would become the premier center for the study of Dante in the English-speaking world. Handwritten notes unearthed in the Provincial Archives describe Father Zahm’s desire for the establishment of a professorship in Dante studies and his systematic efforts to amass a magnificent library collection: a monument to the great Florentine poet that has today grown into one of the top three such collections in all of North America (the others belong to Harvard and Cornell).
While our preeminence in the area of Dante studies has its origins in Father Zahm’s meticulous collection of rare 15th- and 16h-century Italian volumes, it has come to full flower with the William and Katherine Devers Program in Dante Studies. The Devers Endowment, established in 1995, funds a whole menu of conferences, fellowships, lecture series, publications, seminars, travel grants, and visiting professorships. With the activities made possible by this benefaction, Notre Dame has solidified its reputation as a leading center for the study of Dante outside Italy.
Beyond Dante, however, Notre Dame is home to impressive numbers of scholars with teaching and research expertise in a wide range of matters relating to Italy and its languages, literatures, culture, art, architecture, history, and politics. Today, Italian Studies at Notre Dame encompasses over 30 faculty members – including several senior chairs – from the College of Arts and Letters, the School of Architecture, and the Notre Dame Law School, and enrolls between 400 and 500 students each semester.
Italian is now the second most-studied language at Notre Dame, and the students enrolled in what is arguably the country’s strongest undergraduate program in Italian language and literature have demonstrated a deep scholarly commitment to their studies. At the graduate level, a PhD in Italian and MA degrees are offered.
The quality of teaching in Italian Studies ranks among the best on campus. Offerings combine traditional language and literature classes with anthropology, art history, classics, film, history, and cultural studies. The program boasts thriving study abroad opportunities in Rome and Bologna. The sense of community among undergraduate and graduate students in Italian Studies is strong and supportive.
Italian Studies at Notre Dame is enriched by its close collaboration with other highly successful entities at the university: the Medieval Institute, the School of Architecture, and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.
Conferences, colloquia, academic exchanges and research projects organized and facilitated by Italian Studies at Notre Dame have resulted in a network of scholarly collaborations and interactions among Italianists worldwide.
Led by steering committee co-chairs Margaret Meserve, Associate Professor of History, Associate Dean for the Humanities, College of Arts & Letters, and Theodore J. Cachey, Jr., Albert J. and Helen M. Ravarino Family Director of Dante and Italian Studies, Italian Studies at Notre Dame is an interdisciplinary program formed by a community of scholars drawn from diverse academic disciplines who share a common interest in Italian culture.