Master of Arts (MA) in Italian Studies


  • Do you have a real interest in Italian culture, history and literature?
  • Would you like to illustrate this passion in a qualification?
  • Want to know more about the nation that has had the biggest impact in history?
  • Ready to start building a professional career?

Why not pursue the study of the literature and history of this fantastic country with the Warnborough MA in Italian Studies?

There is probably no other country which has had two periods of greatness — Rome and the Renaissance — when it exerted an enormous international influence:

Si gira l’orbe di ciascuna gente
Intorno al sole de la gloria, e quando
Compì la pompa de la sua giornata,
Dechina a sera. Luce per due volte
Di civiltà maravigliosa, e quale
A nessuno fu dato, avemmo in sorte
Noi d’invïar su la progenie umana
A illuminarla …
(Aleardi, “Il Monte Circello”, ll. 336-43)

According to the Cambridge historian, Denis Mack Smith, no other people has had such a civilizing impact.¹ For A. J. Whyte, the world is inestimably indebted to Italy, for its contribution to civilization and human progress in so many areas has been incalculable.² Suffice it to say that Roman Law is the foundation of most Western legal systems, while the manners of the English gentleman and the French gentilhomme are derived from the Italian Renaissance.

Furthermore, Italy has given us, among other things, opera (Peri and Caccini), the sonnet (Iacopo da Lentini), double-entry book-keeping and the first printed textbook on modern accounting (Luca Pacioli), the first bank (Monte dei Paschi di Siena), the oldest European University (Bologna), the first medical school (Salerno), the barometer (E. Torricelli), the experimental method (Galileo), the first treatise on human anatomy (Mondino dei Liuzzi), the foundations of modern historiography and aesthetics (G. B. Vico), the piano (Bartolomeo Cristofori) and the violin (Gasparo da Salò), the discovery of America (Columbus), wireless telegraphy (Marconi), the telephone (Antonio Meucci) and the typewriter (G. Ravizza), as well as more than seventy percent of the world’s art treasures. The modules in this programme refer to some important aspects of Italian civilization, history, art, culture and literature.

¹ Denis Mack Smith, “Introduction”, An Illustrated History of Italy, ed. by M. Gendel, London,  1966, p. 8.
² A. J. Whyte, The Evolution of Modern Italy, Oxford, 1959, p.

This course is particularly useful for those who would like to pursue a career involving Italian culture and history.

However, once you have completed the MA in Italian Studies, your analytical skills will be much more adept and you will be able to move into many fields, including: teaching (most likely at the college level), course development and curricula design, research, civil service, local government, charities, information technology, solicitor’s firms, publishing, journalism, and so forth.

The modules given below should be regarded as guidelines, since the College does not exclude viable alternative themes proposed by students, subject to mentor and College approval. Individual modules may either be combined with those from other programmes, or transferred to courses in other institutions.


The Warnborough College Master of Arts (MA) Degree in Italian Studies by distance learning requires the completion of 120 ECTS credits. The programme consists of 5 modules: 4 papers (to be chosen from the first 9 modules listed below) and a dissertation.

Students should submit: four papers (each of between 7,000 to 8,000 words and worth 20 credits) — chosen from sections 1 to 9 below — and a dissertation (of 15,000 words, worth 40 credits) on any topic, subject to mentor approval.

As mentioned above, students do have the option of suggesting other acceptable topics, for the four papers, subject to the approval of the mentor and the College:

1.    Magna Grecia

“Magna Grecia”, or “Greater Greece”, is the name given to the complex of Greek colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily (8th to 6th centuries BC). The most noteworthy included Taras, Metapontum, Sybaris, Croton, Rhegium, Zancle, Catania, Cumae, Leontini, Naples, Acragas and Syracuse, the birthplace of Archimedes and Theocritus. These cities eventually became independent and the people referred to themselves as Italioti and Sicelioti.

Mainland Magna Grecia was conquered by the Romans between 280 and 265 BC, while Sicily succumbed at the end of the First Punic War (241 BC). The civilization of Magna Grecia, which was not subservient to that of Greece but parallel and autonomous, constituted the link between Hellenistic culture and Italy before Greece became part of the Roman Empire.

Apart from works of art and lyric poetry, Magna Grecia also produced philosophers such as Parmenides and Zeno from Elea, Empedocles of Acragas (Agrigento), Gorgias of Leontini and Archytas of Taras (Taranto), while it was in Croton that Pythagoras established his school of philosophy.

2.    The Etruscans

The Etruscans — an ancient people, probably from Asia Minor,¹ who settled in Etruria, which corresponds with present-day Tuscany, as well as part of Latium and the Plain of Lombardy — were responsible for developing Italy’s first major autocthonous civilization and influenced early Roman traditions.

The territory under their control, at its greatest extent, encompassed Elba, Corsica, Campania and Emilia. They set up a predominantly religious-based federation of city-states — which included Volterra, Arezzo, Perugia, Bologna, Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Mantua — eventually conquered by Rome. They became Roman citizens following the Social War of 90 BC. While there are Oriental, Greek and Italic influences in their art, it was the Etruscans who were responsible for such architectural innovations as the arch and the vault.
¹. Enrica Salvatori, “Le origini degli Etruschi”, Quark, n. 60, gennaio 2006, pp. 90-95.

3. Roman Civilization

Apart from contributions to literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, engineering and law, the benefits of Roman civilization also included the following very distinctive features.

According to many historians, the three centuries of the Pax Romana could probably be regarded as one of the happiest, most peaceful and most stable periods of human history. Rome also had the amazing ability to integrate diverse peoples and Roman citizenship was ultimately extended to everyone within the frontiers of the empire, while quite a few of the emperors were neither Roman nor Italian by birth. The Romans also transmitted Greek civilization, but in a modified form which included their own original contributions.

Although the Greeks never advanced much beyond the city-state, the legal-political heritage of Rome foreshadowed the organization of the modern state and the Roman Empire has been viewed as a possible model for world government or federation.

4.    Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

The greatest Italian poet, the father of the Italian language, a giant of world literature and the most outstanding philosophic poet of all time, whose masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, based on the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, has been regarded as encapsulating the essence of medieval civilization, both in doctrinal and poetic terms.

5.  Humanism and the Renaissance

Broadly speaking, Humanism and the Renaissance correspond with the three centuries (from the fourteenth to the sixteenth) when Italy dominated Europe culturally. The most characteristic feature of Humanism — originally taken to mean a study of the humanities or studia humanitatis — a very high regard for Classical Antiquity, as opposed to the negative perception of the medieval “Dark Ages”, can be found in Petrarch, who exerted an enormous influence on the development of Humanism. Another fundamental theme of this cultural movement was anthropocentrism or valuing Man as being of central importance in the universe, as well as a belief in his potentialities to study any subject or area of human activity.

Humanism had begun in Italy and that is where it reached its full flowering in the Renaissance. If Leonardo da Vinci, the universal genius, epitomises Humanism, Michelangelo, sculptor, painter, architect and poet, is emblematic of the Renaissance, which also gave us the masterpieces of Raphael, Titian, Giorgione, Palladio, Tintoretto and Palestrina, as well as the foundations of modern political science (Niccolò Machiavelli) and the manners and behavioural standards of the ideal gentleman (Baldassare Castiglione).

6.    Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, engineer, writer and musician, among other things, created the scientific prose style, discovered the law of aerodynamics and foresaw many future developments, including: the glider, the use of aircraft in world wars, the parachute, armoured cars, radiotelephony and the submarine.

It has been said that if it had not been for Pope Julius II, humanity would have been deprived of two of its greatest artistic masterpieces: Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and Raphael’s frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura in the papal apartments, which include the famous School of Athens. These two works are a perfect example of how the deepest thought of the Italian Renaissance found expression in the visual arts, rather than in words.

7.  G. B. Vico

Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), a Neapolitan philosopher, is regarded as the founder of modern historiography and aesthetics. He felt that Man could not fully come to know Nature, because he had not created it, he could, however, study the “new science” of human history for which he had been responsible.

In his most famous work, the much-revised Principii d’una scienza nuova d’intorno alla comune natura delle nazioni (1725), he extrapolates from the three stages of the development of the human mind — instinct, imagination and reason — to the three corresponding epochs through which each society, under the guidance of Providence, evolves: the Age of the Gods (theocracy), the Age of Heroes (aristocracy) and the Age of Men (democracy).

These three ages would be characterized, respectively, by three types of language (hieroglyphic, symbolic, alphabetic script) and three types of natural law (the divine, that of force, that dictated by fully developed human reason). Vico not only anticipated Romantic historiography, his impact was very wide-ranging and touched many fields, including philosophy, history, literary criticism, economic and political theory, and jurisprudence.

8.    Cesare Beccaria and the Lombard Enlightenment

A leading figure of the Lombard Enlightenment and one of the main contributors to its mouth-piece, the periodical Il Caffè, Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), a philosopher, economist and jurist, published his most important work, Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crimes and Punishments), in 1764.

This short essay contains the first enunciation of the principle of a person’s innocence until proven guilty, as well as the concept that the purpose of punishment should be the prevention of crime and the redemption of the criminal leading to his re-integration in society. He also expressed his abhorrence for secret accusations, arbitrary arrest and the use of torture to obtain confessions. He eloquently pleaded for the abolition of the death penalty, both on compassionate grounds and since it did not constitute an effective deterrent.

This work, which had an enormous international impact, being particularly well received by the French Encyclopaedists and highly praised by Voltaire, has had innumerable editions and translations, has influenced many modern constitutions and the American Bill of Rights, and prepared the ground for modern penal science.

9.    The Risorgimento

The Risorgimento, the nineteenth-century Italian struggle for national independence and unity, began in the 1820s and continued until 1870 when Rome was proclaimed the capital of Italy. The prime movers were Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour considered, respectively, the soul, the sword and the brain of the movement. It is particularly significant because, since the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy had never been a united country and had known centuries of foreign domination.

Literature and music, especially opera, played an important part in inspiring patriotic fervour. If this liberation movement seems more circumscribed and purely “national” than the two periods of Italy’s greatest civilizing impact — Rome and the Renaissance — it should be remembered that the spirit of the Risorgimento, at its best, called for a world federation of free nations, as advocated in the writings of Mazzini.

10. Dissertation

Of 15,000 words, on any topic, subject to the mentor’s approval.

There are no required materials for this programme, apart from text and reference books. The satisfactory completion of four research papers and a dissertation will lead to the award of the Master of Arts (MA) in Italian Studies.

The program will be conducted by distance learning, through self-paced research, under the guidance of the Programme Director.

Dr. Mazhar’s degree in Italian (B.A., London) was followed by a M.Phil. (London) on Giacomo Zanella: his poetica, poetry and historical significance. His Ph.D. (Liverpool) thesis on the “Catholic Attitudes to Evolution in Nineteenth-Century Italian Literature” was published, in Venice, by the Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts. His research interests include: literary criticism, Science-Faith issues, the History of Ideas in a literary context and the role of literature in relation to society, science, philosophy and theology. He has prepared MA and PhD modular research programmes for the Sociology of Literature, the History of Ideas, and Italian.

Check the FAQs page, or contact Dr Mazhar or The Warnborough Team!