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Italy and the Mediterranean: Earth, Sea, and Culture

An international, block-length course in Italy

Curricular materials created for the 2013 SAIL seminar:

Mediterranean Trivium: Earth, Sea, & Culture in Italy

This international course examines the interrelationship between the occupants of the Italian Peninsula and the Peninsula’s distinctive landscape, geology, and ecology. It focuses on the influence of nature on how people lived in the ancient, Renaissance, and modern periods, and how people perceived and tried to manage nature.

Sites for study include Rome and Florence, the Bay of Naples and Venice, with additional short visits to the Maremma in southern Tuscany, Pisa, and Orvieto. By examining three time periods that can be ‘read’ and retrieved from a common physiographic and urban setting (e.g. Rome, or Venice), the course seeks to provide the means for students to experience the scholarly excitement that derives from intellectual exploration, synthesis and integration, and thereby to instill a passion for interdisciplinary inquiry.

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Context for Use of this Course

The design of the course is most suitable for intensive, immersive learning and a one-month format of the type that is employed for J-term, interim, Block Plan, and summer courses at many ACM schools and other liberal arts colleges.  The course is intended to be taught on-site in Italy, for students at sophomore level or higher who have developed an affiliation or an initial preference for a disciplinary focus within an academic major.

Using geospatial and internet resources, faculty members who wish to offer this course on the home campus could readily do so by making use of GoogleEarth, GeoMapApp and other interactive geospatial resources, together with web-based materials such as the Google Art Project. For an example of the latter, brought to bear on interdisciplinary learning, see our web resource entitled “Landscape and the imagination in Florence.”

An ideal class size would be determined on the basis of faculty to student ratio, with one faculty member per six students (or so), and the possibility for students to work on group projects in teams of three or four. Hence, an optimal class size that is guided by three faculty members would be 18 students.


Updated May 02, 2016

Learning Goals

Drawing upon the perspectives of history, classics and archaeology, and geology, the learning goals for the Italy and the Mediterranean: Earth, Sea, and Culture course are to:

  1. Examine how natural phenomena affected/affect society. The distinction will be drawn between continuous and catastrophic phenomena, for purpose of comparison and contrast.
  2. Use primary sources to discover how individuals and societies affected the environment in ancient and Renaissance societies, and to compare those effects to the impacts of contemporary society on the environment. Primary sources will include rock and sediment exposures, archeological sites, and literature in English translation. Communicate about and discuss the rationale for use of primary materials.
  3. Examine domestic objects, art and ritual objects, architecture and urban design, and primary literature sources to determine how people imagined and understood nature.
  4. Center investigation on three major periods in history: ancient, Renaissance, and contemporary.
  5. Educate students and collectively explore the meaning, motivations for, and drawbacks of an interdisciplinary approach.
  6. Communicate about and discuss practical aspects of interdisciplinary learning:

• Obtain sufficient breadth, depth and acquaintance with foundational knowledge and methods in each discipline to function at a professional (not amateur) level. Avoid reducing the foundational knowledge, best practices, and intellectual framework of each discipline  in order to have acquaintance with multiple disciplines.
• Monitor and record the process in achieving interdisciplinarity, and be conscious of impediments that exist to interdisciplinary work. Track the steps by which we achieve important realizations or discover new knowledge.
• Achieve a degree of balance between disciplinary standpoints and respect/implement the best practices of each discipline.
• The ability to working interdisciplinarily grows with experience. It takes practice to become adept at identifying new relationships among disparate types of information, from which we may attain knowledge.


Updated May 02, 2016

Curricular Plan

Curricular Plan for Italy and the Mediterranean: Earth, Sea, and Culture

  • Developed by: Colorado College faculty Susan Ashley (history), Christine Siddoway (geology), and Sanjay Thakur (classics, archaeology
  • Includes: Introduction; Course goals and approach; Course syllabus, itinerary, and primary sources


For assessment of the degree of proficiency with interdisciplinarity that students achieve during the course, we will adapt and apply the  targeted assessment rubric of Mansilla et al. (2009). Specific to our course, we have identified five learning objectives for the course (see list on p. 4), to be developed over 20 days of interdisciplinary inquiry in varied geological, historical, urban and extraurban settings in Italy. Five approaches to learning (p. 4) are prioritized for development and application. The degree to which students fulfill the learning objectives and attain proficiency with the learning approaches will be assessed using the rubric that appears on pages 10-12 of this document. Learning objectives 2 through 4 are, in our view, essential to interdisciplinary inquiry. They serve to instill traits of curiosity, critical thinking and reasoning that are at the core of liberal arts education that lead to tendencies for lifelong learning. Instructors who share this view may apply our rubric as it is or with some adaptation to align with course content.

Resources and Materials

Curricular Plan

Curricular Plan for Italy and the Mediterranean: Earth, Sea, and Culture

  • Developed by: Colorado College faculty Susan Ashley (history), Christine Siddoway (geology), and Sanjay Thakur (classics, archaeology)
  • Includes: Introduction; Course goals and approach; Course syllabus, itinerary, and primary sources

See also, related course modules:

  • Module: The Arithmetic of Distance. Contributed by Susan Ashley, Colorado College.
  • Module: Platform for Interdisciplinary Inquiry – GIS: Putting ‘place,’ ‘space,’ and humanity into a shared frame of reference. Contributed by Christine Siddoway, Colorado College.

Collaborating partner(s)
Susan Ashley
Professor of History, Colorado College
Christine Siddoway
Professor of Geology, Colorado College
Sanjay Thakur
Assistant Professor of Classics, Colorado College
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