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HIST / FLM 370: Cosa Nostra: Cinema and History of the (Anti)Mafia

This course was formerly HSIT 380.

goodfellasCourse Description
This hybrid history/cinema course provides an in-depth examination of Cosa nostra through a historical, social, and cultural perspective. The course will trace the progression of the Sicilian mafia from the Risorgimento to the present day, also considering the migration of this group into the States. The fiction – stereotypes, myths, and legends – surrounding the mafia will be examined through a scrupulous analysis of some of the most important American and Italian films portraying mafia culture.

An important aspect of this course will consist of discussions on important protagonists in the fight against mafias and collaborations between Italian and US law enforcement in their efforts to defeat transatlantic organized crime. To reinforce the classroom lessons on this particular subject, you will learn about first-hand experiences from representatives of  Libera. Associations, names and numbers against mafias, an association established in 1995 that strives to involve and support all those who are interested in the fight against mafias and organized crime.

Course Objectives
By the end of this course, you will:

  • explain Cosa nostra’s origins, growth, and persistence;
  • describe the similarities and differences between the Italian and American manifestations of Cosa nostra;
  • relate historical facts about the mafia to a broader Italian and American context;
  • explain the representation of the mafia in cinematic popular culture;
  • identify and analyse specific film techniques.


  • Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather 1972 – evening screening
  • Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather II 1975
  • Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas 1990
  • Martin Scorsese, The Irishman 2019 – home viewing
  • Marco Tullio Giordano, I cento passi (The Hundred Steps) 2000
  • PIF, La mafia uccide solo in estate (The Mafia only Kills in Summer) 2013
  • David Chase, The Sopranos (TV series, selections) 1998-2006

Bibliography (on reserve in the Umbra Institute Library)i cento passi

  • Dickie, John. Cosa nostra: A History of the Sicilian mafia. London: 2007.
  • Newark, Timothy. Mafia Allies: The True Story of America’s Secret Alliance with the Mob in World War II. St. Paul, MN: Zenith, 2007.
  • Pickering-Iazzi, Robin. Mafia and Outlaw Stories from Italian Life and Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.
  • Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2005.
  • Renga, Dana. Mafia Movies: A Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.
  • Reppetto, Thomas. American Mafia: A History of its Rise to Power. New York: Holt, 2004.
  • Stille, Alexander. Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic. New York: Pantheon, 1995.