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Gendered History of Food in Italy



WGS 223/HIST 165 Gendered History of Food:  La Cucina Della Nonna

 (1 unit, Liberal Learning Elective in Social Change in Historical Perspective; Gender)


Program Director: Dr. Ann Marie Nicolosi, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History/Chair, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies

No Pre-Requisites, Language Requirements, or GPA Restrictions – Open to all students (including current first-year students)

If there is one commonality among all members of the human race it is this: everyone eats. However, what each of us eats depends to a great degree on where (geography) and when (history) we live. In addition, while food is a visceral necessity, it is also one of the central means by which people throughout time and across cultures have created and expressed their identities as men and women and as members of different ethnic, racial, and religious groups, classes and nations. Food raises numerous interlocking issues of gender, race, ethnicity, class, religion and nationality. By examining food historically, we can see how these issues have developed over time and across cultures in relation to political, social and economic changes.

In La Cucina Della Nonna (grandmother’s kitchen) class we will study the origins and assimilation of Italian cuisine in American history and culture.  Readings will focus on the migratory experience of Italian Americans in the late 19th century and 20th century and the impact of that immigration on American society and culture, especially American cuisine.   We will explore the relationship between food, culture and gender with special attention to the ways in which Italian American women have been the conduits of Italian culture and cuisine in their roles as mothers and grandmothers. In our readings we will also explore the prominent role of food, masculinity and Italian Americans in popular culture such as The Godfather.

The travel portion of this course will allow you to experience the “push” factor of the migratory process in the “push/pull” historical theory of migration by focusing on the southern Italian and Sicilian regions responsible for the majority of Italian migration to the United States in this era.  It will also enable you to understand the ways in which food is transformed, as well as migrants, in the process of acculturation, and for this historical period, the process of “Americanization.’

Learning Outcomes for the Course

Students will:

  • Analyze historical and contemporary systems of privilege and oppression, with special attention to the ways gender intersects with class, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and nationality. By examining how these forces contributed to food access and preparation, students will gain an understanding of the “push” factor in Italian American migration and the emphasis Italian Americans placed on food culture.
  • Gain an understanding of gender as a central category of analysis that compels constant inquiry into the production and legitimation of knowledge
  • Gain an Understanding of the significance of women’s historical and contemporary contributions to Italian and Italian American culture and society
  • Gain a historical understanding of links between past and present, specifically of the migration process of Italians in the late 19th and early 20th century and the resultant acculturation process.
  • Learn to discern the story in history and the relationship between historical narrative and myth in immigration
  • Learn the role of food preparation and consumption in preserving and transmitting culture, particularly the gender roles that shape this process.
  • Analyze secondary works strategically (for main argument) and critically; prying information and insight from primary sources to better understand a given historical setting; and comparing sets of primary sources in different settings
  • Through the study food access and preparation as a historical force, gain an understanding of key historical concepts, such as causation, chronology, sequence, and consequence, and their place in analyzing the interplay of change and continuity in Italian and Italian American culture.

Students are required to attend pre-departure classes.

Course assignments include considerable pre-departure readings, a daily journal while traveling, and an analytic essay due one week after our return.

2013 Excursions (subject to change): 

Rome: Colisseum, Forum, Palatine, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Evening Walking Tour
Rome Cooking Class with Market Visit
Vatican City: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica
Volterra: Olive Oil Mill
Chianti Region: Winery Visit
Florence: City Tour, galleria dell’Accademia, Uffizi Gallery
Florence Cooking Class with Market Visit
Sorrento: Cheese Factory Visit, Limoncello Factory Visit
Soverato: Market
Taormina: Teatro Greco, Villa Communale, Parco Archeologico
Taormina Cooking Class with Market Visit
Palermo: Walking Tour, Food Markets
Agrigento: Valley of Temples


For more information, contact Cecilia Colbeth at


Video of 2013 Maymester in Italy Course.