HSIT 350: The History and Culture of Food in Italy (Food Studies Core Course)

Instructor: Ph.D., Simon Young
Credits: 4
Course/Lab Fee: 480€ for all field trips and workshops (Course reader fee announced by the Print Shop)
Prerequisite: None
Cross-Listing: Anthropology & Sociology, Food Studies, History, Italian Studies-Interdisciplinary

Course Description

In the last twenty years historians have turned with ever more interest to food as a key for understanding the past. Italy is particularly interesting in this respect. Modern Italian identity is based, in large part, on food. And many Italian ‘staples’ from pasta to olive oil, from ice-cream to wine, from pizza to risotto, have interesting stories that give insights into Italian culture and Italian history. Our historical review will look at Italian food in prehistory, antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and more recent times.


This four-credit class will feature not only more conventional power-point based lectures but also an extensive schedule of field trips and food tastings. Students will also get deeper into Italy’s modern food culture with a series of seven food tastings, each a kind of culinary practicum that combines history and biochemistry with sampling a wide variety of foods or beverages. The food products that are the subject of the tastings are coffee, wine, olive oil, bread, gelato, and cheese.


Note: This course is the “core course” of the Food Studies curriculum. It may be taken individually. Student do not have to be enrolled in the Food Studies Program to take this course.


Course Objectives

  • Have a solid understanding of the role of food in Italian culture;
  • Gain understanding of the emerging discipline of ‘food history’
  • Have an idea of the general sweep of Italian history; and (iv) have come into intimate contact with primary historical sources assessing them in both class discussions and their writing

Course Materials

Mandatory course reader


Field Trips

  • Students will take a day trip to Florence where they will sample traditional Florentine food and what is called “the best chocolate in the world.”
  • At his agriturismo home in Città di Castello, Matteo Bartolini will lead students on a truffle hunt day trip. 
  • Students will travel to Parma and Modena for a three-day field trip where they will tour an authentic Parmesan cheese cooperative, learn how balsamic vinegar is made, and see the process of making prosciutto.