Elizabeth Tavella

Advisor(s): Maria Anna Mariani
Subject Area: Italian Studies

Elizabeth joined the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in 2014.

In her dissertation she focuses on 20th century Italian texts where spaces of animal confinement such as slaughterhouses, zoos, and laboratories are represented, to investigate how the construction of the boundary between humans and other animals has led to the oppression and discrimination of both human and nonhuman beings. Alternate views to oppression and violence are also examined by exploring how to reorder our political and cultural systems to encompass nonhuman concerns as envisioned in the selected literary texts.

She holds a master's degree in Romance Philology and a B.A. in Literature and Modern Cultures from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. She currently serves on the editorial board of Sloth—A Journal of Emerging Voices in Human-Animal Studies and the Journal for Critical Animal Studies.

Research interests: Modern Italian Literature, Critical Animal Studies, Ecofeminism, Comparative Literature, Applied Ethics, Biopolitics, Gender and Race Studies, Urban Ecologies

Dissertation: A Shift in Perception: Rethinking Multispecies Coexistence

Recent Courses in RLL

ITAL 23205 Food and Culture in Italian Literature

The word “culture” is etymologically derived from the notion of cultivating the land, which evokes an act of care as well as of laboring. In this course we will explore this intrinsic link between food and culture in the Italian social context by analyzing a selection of literary works that tackle questions of identity, tradition, and the creation of a sense of belonging through the thematic thread of food.
Bridging geopolitics, history, and environmental humanities, with a particular attention to animal ethics and gender studies, we will embark on a journey across time, geographical regions, and social classes, to understand the role of food in Italian culture beyond its symbolic and aesthetic value. We will ask: how have culinary practices and consumption changed over time? How does Italian literature engage with questions of food justice and sustainability? How do representations of food reproduce and thus perpetuate harmful hierarchies of class, gender, race, and species? Together, we will look for answers to these and other related questions in a wide range of texts by authors such as Boccaccio, Giovanni della Casa, Clara Sereni, Italo Calvino, and Carlo Levi. We will also examine artworks born out of food labor movements, such as the protest songs of the mondine, and contemporary literature by migrant writers. The course will include creative assignments, close readings exercises, and will culminate in a whole-class collaborative project.


ITAL 20300 or consent of instructor. Taught in Italian.

2020-2021 Spring

ITAL 25218 Reading Nonhuman Animals: A Challenge to Anthropocentrism

CMLT 25218, GNSE 25218

How can we “read” a literary nonhuman animal? In what ways does literature deal with ethical and political issues concerning nonhuman animals? What does it mean to live in a multicultural and multispecies world? What does it mean to be “human”?
In this course we will ask these and other related questions as they are presented and represented in Italian 20th-century literary texts, read alongside philosophical writings, scholarly essays, and visual materials. While maintaining a focus on Italian literature, a comparative approach involving literary works of non-Italian authors will be key in understanding the pervasiveness of the problems that have caused our detachment from nature and our broken relationship with nonhuman animals. We will closely analyze and critically evaluate the works of several authors, including those by Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, Anna Maria Ortese, Elsa Morante, Italo Svevo, Alice Walker, and Franz Kafka, giving particular attention to techniques of close reading.
A thematic approach will enable us to explore a large number of critical discourses, from the moral status of nonhuman animals to the long-held assumptions regarding the anthropocentric set of values that have defined (Western) culture. We will also take into consideration different theoretical frameworks such as posthumanist theory and gender studies in order to discuss and evaluate the selected texts from different perspectives and entry points. 


Taught in English. No prior knowledge of Italian is required.

2018-2019 Winter

ITAL 10100 Beginning Elementary Italian I

This three-quarter sequence is intended for beginning and beginning/intermediate students in Italian. It provides students with a solid foundation in the basic patterns of spoken and written Italian (e.g., grammar, vocabulary, sociocultural norms) to develop their speaking, listening, writing, and reading skills. Although the three classes constitute a sequence, there is enough review and recycling at every level for students to enter the sequence at whatever level is appropriate for them. Cultural awareness is enhanced through the use of authentic audio-visual materials and literary texts.

This course is intended for students who have no previous knowledge of Italian and for those who need an in-depth review of the basic patterns of the language.

2016-2017 Autumn

ITAL 10200 Elementary Italian-2

This course offers a rapid review of the basic patterns of the language and expands on the material presented in ITAL 10100.


ITAL 10100 or placement. 

2016-2017 Winter