Sunday, November 3, 2013

Teaching History in Italy

Villa Giulia, Etruscan Museum in Rome 
Rome is definitely  one of the best place to be a history student….or teacher.
Many years ago when teaching at international schools in Rome, 

vintage  photo with students 

the history books supplied from the USA practically ignored the Etruscans and Romans thus an ad hoc curriculum was created. Rome was our campus, our library, our textbook: Rome's Villa Giulia museum and Tarquinia and Cerveteri’s museums and necropoli  became extensions of the classroom for on site learning.
Etruscan bucchero  - reproduction by Mastro Cencio 
At Villa Giulia the  kids sat on the floor and spread  themselves out with notebooks, pens and pencils  to sketch artifacts  and fill in study sheets about the Etruscan civilization. 

The stern guards  were quite taken aback  then, but nowadays  this up close and familiar  way of  learning at  a museum is considered acceptable.

Palazzo Vitelleschi, Tarquinia's Etruscan Museum

For  Tarquinia  the best plan was to start on the  top floor of the museum  and work down to the entrance, skipping the “boring” rooms where   hundreds of black and red figure vases  were set in glass cases, including an entire room of  vases decorated with very graphic  erotic scenes.   

erotic vases  at Tarquinia Museum
Teaching youngsters about Roman civilization  involved difficult choices: should we go to  Castle Sant’Angelo, Ostia Antica or the Museum of Roman Civilization in EUR? 
model of the Flavian ampitheatre  Museum of Roman Civilization, EUR

 Lucky students who  visit the Colosseum, Pompeii and  Herculaneum at 10-15 years of age understand history in a deeper way and remember  it for the rest of their lives. A  fascination for  the past developed as a youngster occasionally becomes a life choice, a former student, now history professor at  Oxford, has told me.  
cut away of Castle Sant'Angelo 

The best season for visits to Etruscan, Roman and medieval sites  in the Italian countryside  is  the winter  while the vipers are still hibernating and the sun’s rays are lenient. 
Cerveteri, one of  the top 10   Etruscan sites 
Independent travelers, students and teachers can find  more  practical tips for visiting  Etruscan sites in central Italy in the   several books  I have published. 

the painted tombs of Tarquinia
Happy exploring!
rock hewn tombs of Norchia (ph. J.F.Sims)

 Doric  facade, Norchia 

little known Etruscan necropolis of Norchia, Vetralla

Have you visited  any of the above places as a student or independent traveler?   


  1. Loved the Etruscan artefacts in Italy.

    1. ISn't it wonderful to see Etruscan places up close? And as D.H. Lawrence noted, some of them are still walking around!! living history!

  2. I've been to all of the places you mention - and would be delighted to return again (and again)

    1. Judith, hope to see you on your next visit. Your book about your time in Rome reminds me that it is the personal encounters, not only the history and buildings that make a place special... looking forward !

    2. Mary Jane, You expressed that truly is the personal encounters and not only the history and buildings that make a place special! My thoughts as I have explored Italy...thanks!

  3. I just added a vintage photo with students I taught....I recognize Elie Malouf, one of the Lazo brothers and Bruno Maglione...

  4. Having lived on Via Giulia as a teenager attending NDI, and attended Sunday services at the Methodist Church of Rome, directly across Ponte Sant'Angelo bridge from Castel Sant'Angelo for many years in the '70's. I always loved exploring Castel Sant Angelo and enjoy seeing these old maps and pictures of it. Though I don't think we ever found (or entered) the secret (1 km?) passageway from the Vatican to Castel Sant Angelo we did find of lots of other undocumented rooms, hallways, roofs, entrances, from both inside and outside the castle. Our Sunday ritual was church service in the morning, walk cross the Ponte Sant Angel to the Vatican for the Popes Sunday blessing and pick up the Sunday London Times (freshly delivered) and walk home to Via Giulia. With a cappuccino and cornetto for breakfast.

    1. elpablo, that was my usual Sunday ritual too since I lived nearby..a cappuccino, cornetto and the newspaper at the Castle Sant'Angelo bar listening to the bells of St. Peters close by. What wonderful memories, that become better as the years go by.

  5. Oh,yes...almost all of them....thanks to your helping to plan our various trips to Roma! But, I am ready to return! Marilyn

    1. Dear Marilyn, your next visit is eagerly awaited. Start planning!


  6. November 4 at 5:57pm · Like · 4

    Mary Jane Cryan thanks Paul, why not leave a comment on the blog ...
    November 4 at 6:09pm · Like

    William Troop I think the boy in the darker sweater is Gabe Lazo. Or Paul Lazo, one of the two.
    Yesterday at 3:03am via mobile · Like

    Tim Contado That's Gabe...
    Yesterday at 3:18am · Like

    Richard Cacciato Just as I remember you. Thanks for being a wonderful, inspiring, caring and memorable teacher!
    18 hours ago via mobile · Like

    Mary Jane Cryan may I add these comments to the blog page?
    16 hours ago · Like

    Paul Angelo Varona Lazo Thank you Miss Cryan great pics and the memories just keep on flooding in. and Tim, I think that's me..

  7. Dear Ms. Cryan,

    You were my Italian teacher at NDI in 1970. You did an incredible job explaining Italy to class of very confused Americans. It was obvious to us all that you loved Italy and its history. I can remember going to the museums with you.

    Years later in a college history class, I actually explained to the class who the Etruscans were, where they lived, how we knew about them and something of their art! My history teacher was astounded that this mediocre student actually knew something!

    I took full credit for it but it really belongs to you, a wonderful teacher who could even educate the worse students.


    1. thank you Ed for remembering the history I taught you. Your comment enforces what I wrote in the article: get the students interested during those vitally important years and the passion for history will accompany them forever.
      Thanks, stop by for a visit next time you are in Rome, Italy...

  8. Mary Jane, thx for the post! Pls note that your link to Pamela Haack's ebook doesn't work (for me, at least).