The Italian Department also teaches Hungarian, inexplicably. Students can take advantage of the cultural offerings on hand at Columbia's Italian language house, Casa Italiana, including Mussolini's desk (yes, really).
The teaching of Italian at Columbia can be traced back about 200 years. The first professor of Italian literature at Columbia College was Lorenzo Da Ponte, who was the librettist of several Mozart operas before emigrating to the U.S. Although Da Ponte was the first to lecture on the works of Dante in America, his enthusiasm failed to prove infectious, and early Columbia students remained largely uninterested in the language.
The department remains small and obscure to this day, although Casa Italiana is by far the grandest and best appointed of Columbia's language houses.