BA History of Art

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Travellers' Tales: Italy in the British Imagination

Course unit fact file
Unit code ITAL30582
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Italian Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This interdisciplinary course unit is designed to appeal to students in Italian, History, History of Art, English and American Studies and those interested in cultural heritage and museum studies. It examines the centrality of the cultural and political heritage of the Italian peninsula to the British cultural imaginary: from the neoclassicism of the Grand Tour and Joshua Reynolds to the Romanticism of Keats and Shelley and the burgeoning obsession with landscape and ruin; from the Gothic revival of Pugin to the medievalism of the Pre-Raphaelites and Victorian Aesthetic Movement; from the social critique of John Ruskin to the socialism of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. 

In many ways, Italy provided the mirror with which Britain fashioned a variety of political and social imaginaries prior to WW1. The analytical focus of the course will be on key moments in this process through the examination of travel writing, literary and artistic texts, buildings, artefacts and collections produced by those mediating the translational encounter. 


This course aims to provide students with: 

  • an awareness of the centrality of Italian culture in conditioning British self-fashioning in the 18th and 19thC; 

  • an ability to engage critically with the genre of travel writing and its subject positioning;  

  • an insight into the migration of Italian culture in GB from the stately homes of the ruling classes to the new sites of public education and entertainment;  

  • an awareness of the imbrication of Italianate cultural heritage into the political, critical, artistic and cultural debates of Victorian Britain; 

  • an ability to read and analyse ‘texts’ broadly defined in different media in great detail; 

  • an awareness of the political, social and cultural landscape of 19th-century Britain and Italy 

  • an insight into the genesis and evolution of the Grand Tour; 

  • a broad knowledge about successive cultural movements in 19th-century Britain and their debt to Italy; 

  • an overview of 19th-century European cultural trends 


On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: 

  • discuss various British artistic movements and their relation to the Italian experience; 

  • discuss the relationship between Italian arts, politics and religion and d

Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: 

  • analyse the selected texts in detail;  

  • use different analytical and digital languages; 

  • move across diverse analytical frameworks; 

  • understand the concerns of reception studies and cultural translation; 

  • demonstrate a critical awareness of historiography and intercultural theory. 

Intellectual skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will possess: 

  • an ability to carry out independent research; 

  • an ability to recognise the importance of social and historical contexts in the study of travel writing, literature, cinema, and the visual/plastic arts. 

  • an ability to deal with abstract ideas; 

  • an ability to engage with different type of texts; 

  • an ability to use different analytical languages; 

  • a solid historical understanding of the history of the reception of Italian culture in Britain; 

  • a critical awareness of the relationship between the arts and society. 

Practical skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will possess: 

  • the ability to communicate ideas and sustain an argument, using relevant critical material, in discussion, essays, and seminars; 

  • an ability to present complex ideas in clear form; 

  • an ability to sustain public debate; 

  • an ability to work in a team 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

On successful completion of this course unit, students will possess: 

  • an ability to work towards deadlines 

  • an ability to communicate and discuss ideas in public fora 

  • an ability to write complex arguments 

  • an ability to critically assess conceptual problems 

Employability skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: Initiate and carry out projects; Manage a project independently and work in a team; Manage time and meet deadlines; Deal with personal responsibility and autonomous planning; Demonstrate good presentation, writing, and language skills; Demonstrate power of analysis dealing with a variety of media.

Assessment methods

Essay - 60%

Travel Book Review - 40%

Feedback methods

Feedback method  

Formative or Summative 

Oral feedback and collective online feedback 


Written feedback on essays  

Written feedback on essays will be available within 15 working days of the submission date. 

Global feedback on commentary and essay will be posted on Blackboard. 



Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment) 

Formative or Summative 

Recommended reading

Primary sources 


Collections: digital and paper archives; casts, prints and picture collections 

‘The Grand Tour’, Adam Matthew Digital Database. Huge digital resource of texts, diaries, letters, prints, paintings of British Traveller’s to Italy and continental Europe 1550-1850 


Digital collections: Society of Antiquaries (

Digital collections: Keats Shelley House, Rome (

Digital Collections: British School at Rome 

Lord Spencer, Piranesi Collection, University of Manchester (JRRIL) 

William Roscoe Collection and Classical Casts Collection, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 


Indicative texts from which seminar material will be selected: 

Mariana Starke, Letters from Italy between the Years 1792 and 1798 

The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers (1814-21), ed. J.R. Hale 

Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843 (London: Moxon, 1844)  

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy (1844) 

John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (1851-53) 

Mrs Mary Carter’s Letters (1860), ed. F. Nelthorpe 

E. M. Foster, A Room with a View (1908). Film version, 1985 (dir. James Ivory) 


Selected secondary bibliography 


Richard Mullen and James Munson, The Smell of the Continent: The British Discover Europe (London: Macmillan, 2009) 


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen Milner Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Independent study hours: 20 credits minus (contact hours plus assessment hours) 

Following successful completion of the first summative assessment, it is recommended that students continue working on their independent essay writing and gather information for the final summative assessment. 

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