Graduate Program

The Department of Italian Studies at Brown joined in solidarity with other departments and universities that paused graduate admissions in 2020-21, to offer additional support to already enrolled students who were facing various challenges due to COVID-19. We have resumed admissions in 2021-2022 and we look forward to welcoming a third post-Covid cohort in AY 2023-24.

Prospective Ph.D. Students

The Doctoral program in Italian Studies prepares students for research and teaching positions in academic environments, and in the world of advanced thought more generally. The program emphasizes an interdisciplinary “cultural studies” perspective, while maintaining vital links to literary-critical, philosophical, art-historical and historical disciplines. Along with intensive training in teaching language and culture at all levels, we offer our students preparation in the most recent relevant theories and methodologies, including special training in the digital humanities.


Program Information

First Year of Graduate Study

In the first year, graduate students normally take eight courses, including the year-long Colloquium (one credit) as well as other required courses, in particular the Teaching Methodology course, usually taught in the Spring semester (see the complete list of required courses below). All students receive a mid-year evaluation from the DGS, after the completion of the fall semester coursework. The faculty mentor assigned to each student upon entering the program will serve as the student's advisor for the first academic year. At the end of the first year, each student will participate in a comprehensive review of his or her progress in the program. This review by an ad-hoc Graduate Committee (GC), including the DGS and two faculty members familiar with the student's work, will be based on a sample of work completed during the year (e.g. seminar papers) and on course performance reports by the student’s instructors. The GC will meet with the student to discuss the materials submitted and the student’s performance and to advise the student about possible fields for the Preliminary Examination. On the basis of the First Year Review, the GC will make a recommendation to the department as to whether the student may continue in the Ph.D. program.

Second Year of Graduate Study

In the second year students take six courses and usually complete remaining course requirements (see below). They are expected to teach under the direct supervision of the Director of Language Studies. Students are also expected to present a paper at the Colloquium, reflecting their research in progress. By the end of their third semester, students should form a Preliminary Examination committee (PEC). The chair of the PEC will be designated by the student in consultation with the DGS, according to the student’s research interests and period and/or area of studies. It is the student’s responsibility to approach a prospective chair and ask whether he or she is willing to serve on the PEC. The student must then enroll in an independent study (Prelims Preparation) with the chair of the PEC and work on the composition of the first, or core list. Two additional members of the PEC (at least one of which, in addition to the chair, must be a core or affiliated member of IS) will be selected by the students in consultation with the chair, according to the subject of the reading lists proposed by the student. Students are expected to have the three PE lists (core list, theoretical/methodological, and subject specific lists) approved by the PEC and the expected date of their PE ratified by the DGS, by May 15 of the Spring semester. It is expected that they will spend the summer preparing for the PE.

Third Year of Graduate Study

In the third year students usually complete the minimum teaching requirement (two years as Teaching Assistants) and remaining coursework, including all core and distribution requirements, when necessary. They are expected to complete the preliminary examination (PE) by the beginning of the Spring semester (January 20). Following the successful completion of the PE, students should proceed to designate a Dissertation Advisor (DA) and form their Dissertation Committee (DC). The DC can be the same as the PEC but this is not required. At least two members of the DC must be core or affiliated faculty members of IS. One member can be external (from another program at Brown or another university). The DC should not have more than four members in total. It is the student’s responsibility to approach a prospective DA and ask whether he or she is willing to serve in such capacity. During the Spring semester of their third year, students will work with the DA on a Dissertation Prospectus (DP) which, when the DA approves it, will be submitted to the other members of the DC. The student is expected to schedule a defense of the DP with the DC by the end of the Spring semester (sixth semester in the program). The defense should be completed by the end of the seventh semester (December of the Fourth Year in the program). With the assistance of their DA and DC, third-year students are also expected to draft and submit applications for external support.

Subsequent Years

By the end of the fourth year, students will have completed all coursework (24 course credits earned, including up to eight credits transferred from a previous M.A., or Laurea Specialistica), the residency requirement, and the language requirement (one language other than English and Italian). With the DGS approval, the language requirement can be fulfilled by one of the eight transferred credit courses. The fourth year is normally devoted to researching the dissertation topic on a dissertation fellowship, including traveling to libraries and archives. During their fifth and sixth year, students work to complete and defend their dissertation. They are expected to present their research in progress (usually a chapter from their dissertation) at the Colloquium. They are also expected to teach, when in residence with no external support. Preparation for applying for teaching and research positions, the job interview process, and related issues typically occur in their final year (fifth or sixth).

At least 12 courses in Italian Studies are required of doctoral students. All courses must be taken at the 1000-, or 2000-level. Students in their first year typically take 8 courses (including the Colloquium which carries a credit for the year). Students in their second year take 6 courses when teaching, including the Colloquium. One of these 6 courses can be a Reading & Research (independent study) course, in preparation for the Preliminary Examination. Up to 8 credit courses (depending on the subject and including a course fulfilling one of the two language requirements) can be transferred from a Laurea Specialistica or M.A. in Italian Studies.  

  • ITAL 1610 - Dante (can be replaced with ITAL 1620 with the instructor's permission)
  • ITAL 2100 - Introduction to Italian Studies
  • ITAL 2820 - Italian Studies Colloquium
  • ITAL 2900 - Teaching Methodology

Distribution requirements:

  • All students must take at least 3 courses in Medieval/Early Modern Italian Studies and 3 courses in Modern/Contemporary Italian Studies.
  • All students must take at least one 1000- or 2000-level course in three out of the four following disciplinary fields: Italian literature; Italian history and anthropology; History of Italian art and architecture; Italian film and media studies. NB:  one course can fulfill both the chronological and the field requirement (for example: a course in Renaissance art can fulfill both the Medieval/Early Modern and history of Italian art and architecture field requirement). 
  • With the approval of the DGS, distribution requirements can occasionally be fulfilled by pertinent courses taken outside the department. 


Director of Graduate Studies: 

Professor Massimo Riva –

Italian Studies PhD Program

The Doctoral program in Italian Studies is aimed at preparing students for academic positions in a market that is shifting its traditional focus from language and literature teaching positions toward an interdisciplinary “cultural studies” perspective. One of the fundamental assets we offer our students, in preparation for their career, is advanced training and intensive experience in teaching language and culture at various levels, along with preparation in the most current research and teaching methodologies, including special training in the digital humanities.

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program Description

Requirements for the Ph.D.

There are three stages in the Ph.D. program: 1) Preparation for Candidacy, which includes Coursework, the First Year Review, fulfillment of the Teaching requirement, and one foreign language examination to fulfill the Language Requirement; 2) Advancement to Candidacy, which includes the Preliminary Examination and the writing of an approved Dissertation Proposal; and 3) the writing of a Dissertation in completion of the degree. 

NOTA BENE: The Graduate School requires a total of 24 credits (24 enrollment units for residency requirement) to complete the Ph.D. degree. For students entering with an M.A. or Laurea,* up to 8 credits can be transferred from the M.A. or Laurea granting institution, upon Advancement to Candidacy. Credits reflect a combination of coursework, independent study and preparation for Examinations, etc., including the completion of the Dissertation (1 credit is assigned to each course, independent study, Preliminary Examination preparation, and Dissertation work).

Preparation for Candidacy

Course requirements.

At least 12 courses in Italian Studies are required of doctoral students. All courses must be taken at the 1000-, or 2000-level (Brown designates 1000-level courses as upper-level undergraduate courses and those at the 2000-level courses as graduate courses). The following are courses required of all graduate students:

ITAL2100 Introduction to Italian Studies (1st year or second year, depending on when course is offered, or equivalent course, when course is not offered). 
ITAL2820 Italian Studies Colloquium. In the first year, students usually take the Colloquium for credit, and they are expected to write short response papers on the presentations, according to the syllabus' specifications. Second-year students must take the Colloquium for credit, since they will be presenting their research in addition to participating in the colloquium. Grading system is mandatory pass/fail (SAT). In the following years, students are expected to enroll in the colloquium as auditors when they are in residence and present their work in progress, usually a chapter from their dissertation, when they are ready (in consultation with their dissertation advisor and the DGS), either in person or remotely.

ITAL2900 Teaching Methodology (no later than the second year). Students are encouraged to take Teaching Methodology during the first year whenever possible. Beginning in the academic year 2009-2010, students are required to pass the course with the grade of “B” if they are to be allowed to teach during a subsequent semester. Students with less than a “B” in the course will go on automatic warning, and be required to repeat the coursework.

Distribution requirements
Graduate students are required to take three courses in Medieval/Early Modern Italian Studies (one must be on Dante), and three courses in Modern/Contemporary Italian Studies. Graduate students are also required to take at least one course in three out of four disciplinary fields (Italian literature; Italian history and anthropology; history of Italian art and architecture; Italian film and media studies). However, one course can fulfill both the chronological and the field requirement (for example: a course in Renaissance art can fulfill both the Medieval/Early Modern and the field requirement). In either area (Medieval/Early Modern or Modern/Contemporary Italian Studies) students may enroll in one independent study course (ITAL 2920: Reading and Research) in order to fulfill their requirements in that area.

Students entering the program with a fellowship normally take 8 courses or independent studies in their first year. Students entering with a Teaching Assistantship are permitted to take up to 6 courses or independent studies.

Transfer credits: Students transferring into the graduate program from other graduate institutions or from Italian universities are expected to complete the first year of residence at Brown before transfer credits can be recognized. It is possible to transfer a maximum of eight credits toward the Ph.D. degree. Students may get specific information about how to transfer credits from either Mona Delgado or the Director of Graduate Studies.

Incompletes: The faculty views any incomplete grades that are not accounted for by circumstances over which the student has no control as danger signals. Students who take incompletes in course work find themselves in a particularly difficult situation. Not only does the incomplete suggest that they are having trouble working with graduate school conditions, but it limits the amount of evidence that would be available for evaluation. Furthermore, the work of the subsequent semester suffers badly if the student is finishing up one semester while beginning another. Accordingly, students should make every effort in order to avoid incompletes; if one proves unavoidable, the student should discuss the reasons for the incomplete with the instructor and the Graduate Advisor, so that it can be explained. Under normal circumstances, students will not be permitted to have more than one INC per semester. According to the Handbook of the Graduate School (Part VII, G) “an instructor may allow a student to complete course work after the normal deadline, but after one year, the permission of a Dean is required for a grade to be given.” Finally, graduate students in Italian Studies should be aware that outstanding grades of INC might jeopardize their TA-ships, according to the handbook regulations of the Graduate School (Part VII, G).

Grades: In general, “A” or “A-“ grades should signal superior, not merely good, graduate performance in course work and on papers. “B” grades should indicate good, solid graduate-level performance. Grades in the “C” range indicate work considerably below that standard. “C” grades do afford graduate credit, but will not be counted by the Italian Studies Dept. towards the satisfaction of the departmental course requirement. Such coursework will have to be repeated again for credit. The receipt of a “C” grade in one or more of the required courses will automatically lead to a warning status.

First Year Review

At the end of the first year, each student – whether entering with a B.A. or an M.A. – will participate in a review of his or her progress in the program. This review by the Department Graduate Committee (GC) will be based on a sample of work completed during the year (e.g. seminar papers) and on reports by the student’s instructors. The Graduate Committee will meet with the student to discuss the materials submitted and the student’s performance and to advise the student about possible fields for the Preliminary Examination.

On the basis of the First Year Review, the GC will make a recommendation to the department as to whether the student may continue in the Ph.D. program. The committee can recommend that the student proceed towards advanced candidacy; or the GC may determine that the student should not continue in the Ph.D. program. In the latter case, the student may be recommended to the Graduate School for a terminal Masters degree, provided that s/he has satisfactorily completed eight (8) courses.

Students who have entered the department with an M.A. and who have completed all the first year requirements may elect to receive a Brown University M.A. at their discretion.

Foreign Language Requirement

1 Foreign language, other than English and Italian, is required. Examinations in other languages are administered by the relevant departments, and coursework in the FL at 1000-level or above may also fulfill the requirement.

Teaching Requirement

All Ph.D. students are expected to teach for a minimum of two years (four semesters) during their residency, usually in their second and third, and/or sixth year in the program. All language and culture courses taught by TAs are capped at 18 students. TA teaching assignments are made by the Director of Language Studies in consultation with the DGS and the department chair. The DLS also handles all overrides. Typical TA assignments consist of two sequences: ITAL100-200, and ITAL300-400. However, the timing of these assignments can vary according to a given semester’s effective offerings and enrollments, and graduate students’ other engagements (Open Graduate Education, Certificates, etc.). As part of their training, graduate students may also be offered the opportunity to assist or team-teach with a faculty member in an advanced course or serve as TAs in other departments in courses that are close to, or useful for, their general preparation.

Advancement to Candidacy

Preliminary Examination

Graduate students are expected to take the Preliminary Examination (PE) by the end of the 5th-semester (Semester 1 of the third year). Successful completion of the PE authorizes the candidate to proceed with the dissertation proposal. All course requirements and the First Year Review must be successfully completed prior to the PE. 

There are three necessary steps for the preparation and completion of the PE: 1) The student must define his or her fields of examination and form a PE committee; 2) He or she must select a list of texts and other materials for the examination in consultation with the PE committee; 3) The student must take the examination.

Defining the fields and constituting a committee: By the end of the second year for students entering the program with a B.A. or the end of the third semester for those entering with an M.A., candidates must define three fields, one primary and two secondary. The candidate must also form a committee of at least two faculty members in Italian Studies and designate a chair for that committee. It is the student’s responsibility to approach a prospective chair and ask whether he or she is willing to serve on the committee. It is also the student’s responsibility to make arrangements with the committee members in order to prepare for the PE.

Taken together, the three fields should delimit academic area(s) in which the student is preparing to teach, as well the scholarly context(s) for the student's projected research. The configuration of the fields for all students will be as follows:

*Field 1: Core list in interdisciplinary Italian Studies.
*Field 2: A theoretical or methodlogical perspective within field 1 (or across fields): ex. microhistory, history of the book, gender studies, literary theory, political symbolism, film studies, digital humanities, etc.;

*Field 3: An elective field such as a specific topic, theme or author within field 1: ex. Dante or Boccaccio studies, Renaissance or Baroque theater and architecture, history of the family, fascism, (post)colonialism, migrant literature and film, etc.

Reading Lists for the PE

Candidates must enroll in an independent study, or studies, (Prelims Preparation) with the chair of their PE committee and work on the composition of the first list of 40 titles/authors. They should work with the other members of their committee on the second and third list (30-20 titles/authors respectively). To be included in the lists are key scholarly books or the equivalent materials, such as articles and chapters, or media materials (films, etc.). The final lists must be approved by the PE committee and confirmed with the DGS (usually by May 15 of the fourth semester in the program).

The Preliminary Examination

General Overview

 The PE consists in a written and an oral part. Part One (written examination): A take-home written exam, consisting in answers to three questions, one for each field, formulated by the PE committee and based on the lists previously submitted and approved. The candidate will have one week (Friday 9 a.m. to the following Friday 5 p.m.) to complete the assignment. Part Two (oral examination): A two-hour discussion of the written exam and field lists. This part of the exam will begin from but not be limited to the student’s written exam and the core field bibliographies. It will probe the student’s understanding of his or her field and the debates within them. The purpose of the PE is to establish both the breadth and the depth of the student’s competence and knowledge in those areas where he or she plans to teach and do research. Upon the completion of the PE, the committee will come to one of the following determinations: a) Pass; or b) directed to retake the exam. Students may retake the exam once. 

Specific Procedures and Guidelines for Preliminary Examinations in Italian Studies

For the written portion of the exam:

1. Students will receive via e-mail a list of questions divided according to the three bibliographies that have organized the student’s preparation for the exam.

2. From these questions (two questions per bibliographic list) the student will choose one question per bibliographic list to which to respond.

3. Students may respond to the questions either in Italian or in English.

4. Responses should be typewritten.

5. For each question, students should write approximately 2000 words, including footnotes.

6. Students should include a bibliography of texts consulted. The bibliography does not count toward the word limit.

7. Students are expected to work alone on their responses to the questions, but the written portion of the exam is considered a “take home” and therefore students may consult books and notes in order to write their response.

8. Standards of academic citation and academic honesty apply to the exam. Students should cite texts upon which they have based their arguments or from which they have cited directly. Considering the short length allotted for the responses, lengthy direct quotes should be avoided.

Time Frame and Best Procedures for Scheduling the Written and Oral Portion of the Exam:

1. Whenever possible, the students’ written exam should begin on a Friday with the receipt of the questions and end on the subsequent Friday with the submission of the responses via e-mail to the chair of the committee.

2. The oral portion of the preliminary exam will take place on the Tuesday following the Friday that the student has submitted her/his responses.

Oral Portion of the Exam:  

1. The oral portion of the exam is approximately one and a half hours of discussion of the written exam and the student’s reading in the three bibliographies.

2. The oral portion of the exam will be organized to examine the student’s understanding of his or her field and the debates within them.

3. The exam will be structured with the following guidelines in mind: Each bibliography will receive about one-half hour of discussion.

The Dissertation Proposal

After passing the preliminary examination, and no later than September of the fourth year, the candidate must defend her or his dissertation proposal. He or she forms a dissertation committee, writes a dissertation proposal, en route to writing the dissertation and finishing the degree.

It is the student's responsibility to approach a faculty member and ask if he or she is willing to serve as dissertation director. The candidate then constitutes a dissertation committee, in consultation with the dissertation director. The dissertation committee normally consists of three faculty members, at least two of whom must be in Italian Studies or affiliated with the Department. (In some cases, a candidate may request an additional faculty member – including one from another university – when it is necessary to cover unusual interests or fields pertinent to the dissertation.) The dissertation committee is often the same as the Preliminary Examination committee, but this is not required. 

The candidate then writes a dissertation proposal in consultation with committee members.

The dissertation proposal should furnish a clear description of the object or concern of the study, the methodological, historical or literary issues raised in the dissertation, the scholarly context and bibliography within which the work positions itself, as well as its the organization and structure. 

The dissertation is generally a book-length study. It must constitute an original contribution to its fields of concern and meet the highest standards of scholarly competence. Even with a firm idea about the dissertation topic, the student should not assume that he or she can write the proposal quickly and gain fast approval by the committee. Since this is probably the first time a student will conduct research of this scale, the committee will want to ensure that the proposal demonstrates not only intellectual and scholarly depth, range, and significance; the committee will also be concerned that the project is feasible and can be completed within a reasonable amount of time.

When the candidate and the dissertation director believe the proposal is ready, the committee will hold a dissertation proposal meeting with the candidate. At the thesis proposal meeting, the candidate will summarize her/his essay as if it were a scholarly paper presented in a lecture or at a conference. A discussion will follow, with the members of the Dissertation Committee first taking turns in asking questions. Questions may probe the topic of the proposal; its methodology; theoretical premises; accuracy; and thoroughness of preliminary research. Questions should lead to the clearer formulation of the dissertation project.

The committee will either approve the proposal or recommend revisions. The student must submit a file copy of the final, approved proposal, along with a cover sheet signed by all members of the committee, to the Director of Graduate Studies. A file of previous dissertation proposals is kept in the Italian Studies Department office and is available for students to consult.


The dissertation is a substantial work of scholarship or criticism, generally ranging between 200 and 300 double-spaced pages. There are many considerations I choosing a topic. Given the structure of the job market, the dissertation topic plays an important role in identifying a job applicant in the minds of prospective employers. The student should seek advice on this aspect of the dissertation topic, as well as on other issues. The topic should be clearly defined and its completion feasible within a reasonable period of time. [Nota bene: Brown University regulations require that students complete their dissertation within five years of being admitted to candidacy. Exceptions to this rule are made only with the consent of the Department and the Graduate Council.]

Revised June 2012

* Laurea quadriennale, or “specialistica (3+2 year).





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