Course title and instructor

Rome Reborn

Christina Penn-Goetsch, Professor of Art History

Professor Penn-Goetsch has lived in Rome and completed research at Rome’s State Archives, the Vatican Library, and the Vatican Secret Archives. Italy plays a central role in her research, and she recently was a study leader for Smithsonian Institution trips to Sicily and Southern Italy.

Syllabus description

The ancient historian Livy assigned the title Caput Mundi to the city of Rome based on the exhumation of a human skull discovered while constructing the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. This course, taught in Italy, traces the evolving nature of this concept and the Eternal City from Antiquity and the world of Julius Caesar and Augustus to the Rome of the early modern popes as well as imperialism as revived under Benito Mussolini and Fascism. Topics include the development of the ancient city into the capital of the Roman Empire, the Christianization of Rome of the Counter Reformation, and urban planning under Mussolini.

Course highlights

  • Visits to many of the most important sites and museums in Rome, such as the Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Saint Peter's, Bramante's Tempietto, the Villa Borghese and the Trevi Fountain, Mussolini’s Esposizione Universale Roma, as well as Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli.

  • Free days with optional trips to places such as Pompeii and Florence.

Student reflections

Ashleigh Kanack, Aurora, CO

Psychology Major

I took the course for a few reasons, the most important being that I love art history and that I find Italian art beautiful and interesting to study.

For me one of the most memorable sites would be St. Peter's Basilica. The scavi tour we went on, when we went underneath the church and were able to see the old necropolis, the original St. Peter's, and the site where St. Peter's remains were found, was so incredibly breathtaking. I wrote my research paper about the central doors of St. Peter's, so to finally be able to see those in person and gawk at the intricacy of the work was really nice too.

Overall the most meaningful aspect to me was to be able to learn about the rich history and layering of Rome. I enjoyed seeing so many of the things I had only seen on  projector screens in the past--this course made me realize just how much the pictures don't do the art justice. It also showed me how art can continuously change, shape, and reflect a city, and its people.

Tim Porter, Northville, Mich.

Studio art and environmental studies majors

Spending a block studying architecture and art history in Rome gave me a much deeper understanding of the subject than I would have gained in a classroom. Through experiencing the buildings and art in person, I was able to also take in the context and surroundings, which provided insight as to why things were done a certain way; how a hill framed an approach to a building, or how a fresco referenced an ancient site only a short distance away. By the end of the class, I knew Rome, its history, and culture more intimately than I could ever hope to through just classroom slideshows.

Henry Hundt, Coon Valley, Wisc.

Religion and Art History Majors

My experience traveling abroad in Rome, Italy through Cornell College’s off-campus program and Prof. Penn-Goetsch was the most important part of my college educational experience. On a practical level, the process of planning a trip was eliminated and the school helped with the cost.  The experience was fundamentally different from any of my other courses.  In this case, the trip class allowed me to conduct original research that enabled me to succeed as a student and a professional.

Mark Wyzgowski, Port Huron, Mich.

History major

Of all my experiences at Cornell the one I cherish the most is taking an art history course abroad in Rome, titled “Rome Reborn.”  What made the class so special was that the city of Rome itself was our classroom. Whether we were exploring the necropolis beneath St Peter’s Basilica or the Colosseum, each day was an adventure. Each of us had to give a report on a structure or piece of artwork in Rome and I chose the Pantheon. It was such an amazing experience giving a presentation on the Pantheon right in the piazza in front of it. I have now taken postgraduate classes and I can certainly say that the coursework I worked on for “Rome Reborn” gave me the tools I would need for my postgraduate work.  

Studying abroad in Rome helped inspire me to study abroad for my postgraduate degree, and I finished my Master’s degree at Queen Mary University of London UK in 2014.  I would highly recommend any student at Cornell to take the opportunity to study abroad because, for me, it had such an impact on the rest of my life.