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Harvard Summer Program - Beauty, Leadership and Innovation in Milan and Siena, Italy

Publish Date: Sep 25, 2015

Deadline: Jan 28, 2016

Equally divided between one of the global capitals of industrial design, fashion, and architecture, Milan, and the beautifully preserved medieval city of Siena, this eight-week program draws connections between aesthetics and innovation, and introduces you to the burgeoning field of cultural economics.

The curriculum connects with internationally famous museums and historical sites, and it also includes visits to some of Italy’s leading financial and technology firms and institutions, such as Monte dei Paschi, the oldest surviving bank in the world, and Inarea, a cutting edge network specializing in the creation and management of identity systems. In Siena, you are deeply involved in the local community; you are invited to join one of the city’s wards (contrade) and participate in the momentous preparation for the Palio, the city’s most important event of the year for centuries. Optional Italian language instruction is also offered though not for credit.

See the website for the Milan and Siena program to learn more about the faculty, course of study, and accommodations.

Course of study

ITAL S-190 Study Abroad in Milan and Siena, Italy: Beauty, Leadership, and Innovation (33199)

Francesco Erspamer
(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

The purpose of this course is to show that culture and aesthetics are indispensable for real innovation, social change, and sustainable economic development. The course takes place in Milan and Siena. Milan, a world capital of fashion and design, hosts the 2015 Universal Exhibition, held under the theme "Feeding the planet, energy for life." Siena, a perfectly preserved medieval city, included in its fourteenth-century constitution a prescription to its rulers and citizens to enhance "the beauty of their city to bring prosperity and growth."

Students read and discuss with Professor Francesco Erspamer the main thinkers that defined the concept of beauty, from Plato and Immanuel Kant to John Dewey and Elaine Scarry. They are introduced to topics such as cultural agency, transgression, leadership, material culture, and visual sociology. One of the leading experts in the flourishing field of cultural economics, Professor Pier Luigi Sacco, teaches several classes on smart cities, new modes of cultural production, and creative industries.

Numerous activities and trips are integral to the course. We taste olive oil, aged vinegar, wine, and saffron, and learn the techniques for making espresso, cappuccino, and latte art. We visit the new hypertechnological and eco-friendly district Le Albere in Trento as well as the oldest bank in the world still in operation (Monte dei Paschi) and the Vittoriale, the eccentric house-museum of the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, overlooking Lake Garda. We attend seminars on identity design (with Inarea Strategic Design CEO Antonio Romano), on forum theater (with Professor Doris Sommer), on tourism and territorial management (at Fondazione Campus university in Lucca), and on comics and video games (with the vice-director of the second biggest comics and gaming convention in the world). We visit fashion studios, concept stores, and spaces dedicated to the production, exhibition, and enhancement of contemporary art such as HangarBicocca in Milan and Galleria Continua in San Gimignano.

The ultimate goal of the course is to inspire creative thinking: an opening of the mind to unexpected solutions. Contrary to truth and goodness, beauty does not ask for a judgment about something that we are familiar or comfortable with. Beauty incites and allows for a judgment of what is alien to us—both the forgotten past and the entirely new.

Course credit

See Study Abroad Credit Information.


Francesco Erspamer, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures


Before applying, review the Admission and Policies and FAQs pages.

You must be at least 18 years old and have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student in good academic standing to apply.

The application materials, outlined below, are due January 28, 2016:

  • A completed online application (available in early December) that includes:
    • A $50 nonrefundable application fee
    • A statement of interest in the program, including information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite)
    • Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students)

You will be notified of admission decisions by mid-February.


There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The cost includes the following:

  • Tuition
  • Room and some meals
  • Excursions (including meals when appropriate)

In addition to the program fee, you are responsible for:

  • A health insurance fee (waived if you have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
  • Transportation to and from Italy
  • Independent excursions
  • The cost of passports and visas (if the latter is needed)
  • Any immunizations

How to pay and funding options

See Payment and Funding for payment deadlines, deposit amounts, and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.


In Milan, you stay in double rooms at theHOTEL Residence Zumbini, in the southern part of the city. Each floor has a living room with a kitchenette. The residence is a ten-minute walk from the classroom, and a fifteen-minute walk from the Navigli, a picturesque quarter famous for its restaurants and clubs which animate the evenings with live music.

In Siena, you stay double rooms in the Collegio Santa Chiara, the collegiate residence of the University of Siena. You have access to the common areas of the Collegio, including the kitchens on the first and second floor. Classes are held in the same building. This beautiful building is in the historic center of the city—a five-minute walk from Piazza del Campo.

Additional information

Contact Francesco Erspamer, erspamer@fas.harvard.edu.

Students with disabilities

Contact the disability services coordinator as soon as possible. See Students with Disabilities for more information.

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