HIST/FLM 370 – Cosa Nostra – History & Cinema of the Mafia

Note: Online courses will only run with sufficient enrollments.


Course Description
Mafia is one of the words most associated with Italian American culture, and the portrayal of the mafia in cinema cannot be separated from popular perception of the organized crime phenomenon (or even an academic study of its history) as it is so pervasive. This hybrid history/cinema course provides an in-depth examination of the Italian American Cosa nostra through a historical, social, cultural, and fictional-narrative perspective. Students will trace the progression of the mafia from its Sicilian roots into the United States and be asked to analyze a variety of primary sources. The fiction – stereotypes, myths, and legends – surrounding the mafia will be examined through a close reading/viewing of some of the most important cinematic narratives portraying mafia culture in order to analyze those works in relation to historical realities. This course has no prerequisites and students will be given all the necessary tools and techniques in order to read primary resources and analyze films with a certain degree of sophistication

Learning Outcomes
After completing this course students will be able to:

  • explain Cosa nostra’s origins, growth, and persistence;
  • read and analyze different types of primary historical documents;
  • relate historical facts about the mafia to a broader (Italian) American cultural and historical context;
  • explain the representation of the mafia in cinematic popular culture;
  • identify and analyze specific film techniques.


  • Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather II 1972
  • Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather II 1975
  • Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas 1990
  • Mike Newell Donnie Brasco 1997
  • Martin Scorsese, The Irishman 2019
  • David Chase, The Sopranos (TV series, selections) 1998-2006


  • Dickie, John. Cosa nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. London: 2007.
  • Newark, Timothy. Mafia Allies: The True Story of America’s Secret Alliance with the Mob in World War II. St. Paul, MN: Zenith, 2007.
  • Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2005.
  • Renga, Dana. Mafia Movies: A Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.
  • Reppetto, Thomas. American Mafia: A History of its Rise to Power. New York: Holt, 2004.

Course descriptions may be subject to occasional minor modifications at the discretion of the instructor.