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Lecture | Olive Oil and the Culture of Italy and the Mediterranean


On the occasion of the opening of the photographic exhibition Italian Cuisine and Mediterranean Identity: A Culinary Journey, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Toronto and the Canadian Institute of Mediterranean Studies present a lecture by Prof. Kenneth Bartlett from the Department of History at the University of Toronto on the history and the cultural significance of olive oil in Italy and the Mediterranean.

Co-presented by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Toronto and the Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies.

Olive Oil and the Culture of Italy and the Mediterranean

Prof. Kenneth Bartlett
Department of History | University of Toronto

Wednesday, June 12 | 6:30PM

496 Huron St | Toronto ON


The Mediterranean can be described as the land where the olive tree grows; and the Roman Lucius Junius Columella (4-70 A.D) in his De Rustica defined the olive tree as “the first among all trees”(Olea … prima omnium arborum est). From Anatolia, where the olive likely first appeared and was cultivated as early as 6000 BC, it spread to every corner of the Mediterranean, with the Romans in particular engaged in large-scale production, which they categorized by quality from oil suitable only for lamps to the finest which could enhance an imperial banquet. Today, not a great deal has changed. The olive still is a symbol of Mediterranean culture and has become an essential element of Italian cuisine and an important export product. Demand has only increased with the growing sophistication of world palates and the universal attraction of Italian recipes. The pressure on Italian production by this almost insatiable demand has led to some serious problems; but these again serve to reflect the power of the olive and the need to sustain and celebrate that ancient, traditional, and essential symbol of Italy and the Mediterranean.


Kenneth Bartlett received his Ph.D. (1978) from the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, where he is Professor of History and Renaissance Studies (Victoria College). He was editor of Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme from 1985 until 1990 and President of the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies from 1982 until 1984. He was the Founding Director of the University of Toronto Art Centre and sat on the Board of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art from 2001- 2015.

He is the author of: Kenneth and Gillian Bartlett eds., At Once a Home and a Paradise: The Letters of Katharine and Emily Roberts from Siena, 1895-96. Siena: Extempora Edizioni, 2024; The European Experience, 1350-1950. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2021; The Renaissance in Italy: A History. Cambridge MA: Hackett, 2019; Florence in the Age of the Medici and Savonarola. Cambridge MA: Hackett, 2018; The Experience of History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017; A Short History of the Italian Renaissance. University of Toronto Press, 2013 – designated an Outstanding Academic Title for 2014 by Choice, the Journal of the American Library Association; The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance (UTP Revised edition 2011; first edition 1992); The English in Italy: A Study in Culture and Politics, (1991); Humanism and the Northern Renaissance, with M. McGlynn, (2000) and many more. In June 2017 he filmed the first Virtual Reality Tour of Venice for Smithsonian Journeys.

In 1993 he won the Victoria University Excellence in Teaching Award; in 2000 and 2007 the Students Administrative Council and Association of Part-Time Students Undergraduate Teaching Award; and in 2003 the Faculty of Arts and Science Outstanding Teaching Award. In 2005 Professor Bartlett was awarded the prestigious 3M National Teaching Fellowship. That same year he was presented with an Arbor Award for service to the University. In 2006 Professor Bartlett was awarded an inaugural President’s Teaching Award, and in 2007 an inaugural government of Ontario LIFT (Leadership in Faculty Teaching) award by the province. Most recently in 2023 he was awarded recognition for contributions to Italian culture by Centro Scuola e Cultura Italiana.

  • Organizzato da: Istituto Italiano di Cultura Toronto | Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies