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This seminar is concerned with political, social, cultural, and religious aspects of Italian life from 1815 to the present. In recent years, the seminar has stressed an interdisciplinary approach to Italian studies, increasing the participation of anthropologists and scholars of art, film, and literature. The seminar meets on the second Friday of the month, from October to April, to discuss a paper presented by a member or an invited speaker. Papers cover a wide range of topics, approaches, and methodologies. The seminar occasionally holds a day- long conference or a more restricted symposium to explore a topic in depth.

Professor Rebecca Bauman

Luca Naponiello

All seminars will continue to meet virtually through Fall 2021. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change.

Meeting Schedule

09/10/2021 Online Meeting
3:15 PM
Why ‘ius culturae’ and not ‘ius soli’?: The Colonial Histories that Underpin Italian Citizenship Reform
Valerie McGuire, University of St. Andrews (Scotland)


The 2018 failure to secure change to make Italian citizenship de facto apply to second-generation Italians (children of immigrants) has generated an increasing sense of urgency about how best to address issues of race and migration in contemporary Italy. But most of these discussions gloss over the nature and origins of the ‘ius culturae’ proviso for citizenship—that is, the possibility of acquiring Italian citizenship on the basis of culture and language, or deep sentimental ties to the nation-state.

The following paper describes how a long and ultimately colonial history underpins this idea and analyzes the state’s use of the ‘cultural’ logic to extend citizenship to nonnatives of Italy living outside the peninsula – first through the system of consular (or diplomatic) protection for ‘Italians’ living in areas of Ottoman rule and then later through the 1912 reforms to institutionalize dual citizenship. It contends that a dialectical relationship has historically defined Italian citizenship: between the extension of Italian citizenship to the diaspora on the one hand, and the exclusion of “foreigners” within Italian territories on the other. Yet, paradoxically, this dialectic also opens up the possibility of Italian citizenship based on ‘culture’ or sentiments of italianità, or Italianness. The paper considers a diverse array of groups that have been successful since the 1990s in obtaining Italian citizenship through legal petition—from the descendants of mixed-race unions in East Africa to the Jewish communities in Libya and the Dodecanese. These petitions reveal the ways in which Italian citizenship has long been a site of unstable or ‘liquid’ identities that can challenge, within a juridical framework, the very link between citizenship and ethno-nationalism which is at its core.

Respondent: Konstantina Zanou, Columbia University

10/08/2021 Online Meeting
3:15 PM
On Guns and Challenges: Playing Cowboys and Indians in Italian Popular Culture
Paola Bonifazio, University of Texas, Austin


This project aims to explore the construction, distribution, and reception of historical and fictional characters of the American West in Italian media from the late XIX century to the late sixties. In particular, I am interested in analyzing how discourses of gender and sexuality intersect with perceptions and ideas about territorial expansion, adventure and exploration, and diversity. My approach is transnational for I study transmissions and receptions of the American West in Italy (as well as their representations in media products that originated from Italy with successful distribution in the U.S.; and those that exclusively targeted Italian audiences. I examine the processes of negotiations between Italian, American, Native American, and Mexican cultures through the lens of migrating characters across multiple media platforms: live performance (such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show), comics (Tex, Pecos Bill, Kinowa, Sergeant Kirk, and others), and film (the Man with No Name, Rojo, Harmonica, and others). My goal is to shed light on the complex dynamics that shape gender and sexual discourses across cultures. Further, I investigate how historical narratives, folk tales, and serialized fictions intersect in building the media landscape of the American frontier, working through desires and expectations of consumers and building on business synergies among producers.

Respondent: Elizabeth Leake, Columbia University

11/12/2021 Online Meeting
3:15 PM
Categorical Miscegenation and Queer Italia
John Champagne, Pennsylvania State University, Erie


Critical race theory proposes that, in the modern period, gender, race, and sexuality are “coterminous”—often indistinguishable from one another. Rey Chow calls this “categorical miscegenation.” This paper will examine works of modern Italian homoerotic fiction for the way in which they figure the relationship between same-sex encounters and Italian racial identity. It will argue that the specificity of Italian homosexuality lies in Italy’s status as both white and “brown.” Hiram Pérez notes the manner in which white Victorian homosexual identity is produced in a dialectical relationship with “brown bodies.” Pérez employs this locution to signal the fluidity and racial ambiguity at work in the way a gay cosmopolitan imagines an idealized primitive figure that functions both as an object of desire and as the repository of disowned projections cast temporally and spatially backward. The homosexual thus stakes his whiteness on its difference from these brown bodies that are the object of his desire.

While European and American homosexuals indeed traveled “east,” some of these same men, however, went to Italy in search of brown bodies. As Roberto M. Dainotto argues, the specificity of modern European identity lies in the way Europe’s Other was located not simply in an Orientalized East but within Europe’s own borders”—the “backwards” south (55). In some homoerotic literature, Italy was construed as primitive and underdeveloped but also a site of nostalgia for an arcadian homoerotics -- nostalgia being a signal characteristic of the modern homosexual male (Pérez). An analysis of Italian literature—literature about Italy; literature written by Italians -- reveals a complex process in which the forging of Italian homosexuality as white is always in tension with the historical understanding of it as “brown,” for, via homosexual encounters, Italians risked “becoming” brown in a way that, obviously, their Northern European counterparts did not.

Respondent: Vetri Nathan, University of Massachusetts, Boston

12/03/2021 Online Meeting
3:15 PM
Heroin in Italy: A Historical Perspective
Vanessa Roghi, Italian Academy Fellow Fall 2021


The study of history is essentially based on two units of time: the longue durée, and short time, the event. They must always be thought about together. This is especially true when dealing with a historical phenomenon that still lacks a historiographical tradition, such as the story of heroin and of its addiction. The longue durée of heroin circulation is fundamental to understanding the phenomenon, due to the fact that it highlights the origins of use of the drug in 19th Century Europe, the political and economic relations between states, and the rise of criminal activity associated with it, which was enabled by its commerce.

On the other hand, the short time of the event is crucial to understanding the fact that every story of heroin addiction is a new and different one. Models of consumption change, as does the culture of addiction for every generation. The absence of this awareness makes history the most useless and consolatory of human sciences: if everything changes, nothing changes for those who look at the discipline in this way.

In recent years, heroin has once again become a crisis in Italy but intellectuals and the media use the same categories to describe it that were used forty years ago. This happens because we are affected by two absences: that of renewed interpretative categories and that of vocabulary to describe what is happening. We still use categories such as marginality, but we do not discuss it as it should be. The sole work to deal with this topic in an Otalian context was David Forgacs’s Italian Margins, released in 2017, although, unfortunately, the opportunity to renew our perspectives on marginality presented by the book was not taken. In this seminar I would like to discuss how heroin use in contemporary Italy can be framed within this new idea of marginality suggested by Forgacs.

Respondent: David Forgacs, New York University

01/14/2022 Online Meeting
3:15 PM
Exporting Leonardo Sciascia to the Arab World: Notes on The Night Bird
Amara Lakhous, New York University


In September of 2009, the Berlin International Literature Festival commemorated the twentieth anniversary of Leonardo Sciascia's death. My German publisher, Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, who also publishes Sciascia, invited me to participate in the event with the Sicilian writer Vincenzo Consolo, a close Friend of Sciascia’s, as well as my mentor. I happily accepted this invitation. During my intervention at the conference, I explained my debt to and strong relationship with Sciascia's works. First of all, as he himself stated, Sciascia’s name is of Arabic origin, an inheritance that, in many ways, facilitated my own integration into Italian literature. As a Berber and Arab-speaking Algerian, I did not have to create new roots in Italy because the roots already existed. Second, Sciascia contributed in an essential way to my understanding of the role of religion in daily life, that is, religion remains in the private space and does not invade the public sphere and politics. In Algeria in the 1990s, I witnessed the disaster that terrorism caused through the politicization of Islam, a problem that has since become global. Third, in the writing of my novels I have followed Sciascia's model of employing the detective story genre and exploring collective memory in order to narrate Italian reality.

Sciascia believed that the role of the writer and intellectual is twofold: on the one hand, to explore collective memory, not leaving that task solely to the archival investigations of historians, and, on the other hand, to approach historical and political events and “mysteries” truthfully, with courage, whatever the cost (to wit, the assassination of the political leader Aldo Moro in 1978).

I began writing my latest novel The Night Bird in Arabic in 2013, when I left Italy after a long time living there. I had eagerly imbibed Italian culture and wrote fiction in Italian in an original way. I felt that I was ready to write about Algeria in Arabic, with freshness and insight. After much thought, I became convinced that the crime novel, or Sciascia’s version of the detective novel, was the form most suitable for approaching the complicated and unhappy state of affairs in Algeria. Injustice and corruption have stood obstinately against all attempts to achieve change and progress. There is a general sense among Algerians that the regime in power since 1962 (the year of independence from France) is an extension of colonialism.

The Night Bird was published in Algeria in October 2019 and longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2021. I have been greatly influenced by Sciascia. How similar Sicily and the Arab world are, in both positive and negative aspects! My ambition was, and still is, to make the best possible use of my creative experience in Italian and my relationship with Sciascia, in order to inject new life into Arabic literature in terms of style and vision.

Respondent: Francesca Corrao, LUISS Guido Carli (Italy)

02/11/2022 Italian Academy, Columbia University
5:15 PM
Revolutionary Domesticity in the Italian Risorgimento
Diana Moore, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY


Drawing upon my recent book, Revolutionary Domesticity in the Italian Risorgimento: Transnational Victorian Feminism, 1850-1890, this paper examines how a group of British-Italian women affiliated with the exiled patriots of the Italian Left repurposed traditionally feminine traits and activities, such as fundraising, gift-giving, and maternity, to make a substantial contribution to Italian Unification and state-building. As histories of the Risorgimento have increasingly emphasized, these processes were inherently transnational phenomena that relied on a wide variety of actors and methods.

The women of this study took advantage of the openness of Italy’s underfunded revolutionary nationalist networks and the relative weakness of the new state’s bureaucracy to impact its development in ways that would not have been possible in other contexts. They also found agency in their femininity, class, and transnational status. Some constructed quasi-familial bonds of trust with Italian exiles through a network of gift-exchanges and emotional support, which they then used to plan patriotic uprisings in the Italian peninsula. Others funded these uprisings through seemingly innocuous behaviors like fundraising subscriptions and charitable bazaars.

Believing the Risorgimento was not complete with the physical unification of Italy, they also pushed for reform after 1861. In addition to work in education and memory formation, they participated in the international feminist campaign against state-regulated prostitution. Claiming a moral authority as women and mothers, they publicly addressed taboo sexual matters, such as the sexual double standard, and challenged male legal and medical authority.

Through their actions, these reformers transcended the boundaries of acceptable behavior for middle-class women and took part in the broader female emancipation movement. Their actions reveal how nineteenth-century female activists achieved their most revolutionary goals by using conservative, domestic, or religious language. Overall, this paper provides a reevaluation of the Risorgimento that emphasizes the importance of transnational networks, women, and religion.

Respondent: Morena Corradi, Queens College, CUNY

03/11/2022 Italian Academy, Columbia University
5:15 PM
Segnorine: Nation, Gender, and Crime in the Recasting of Post-WWII Italy
Chiara Fantozzi, University of Pisa (Italy)


During the Anglo-American occupation of Italy (1943-54), a new type of illegal sex work made highlights in crime news and retained the attention of law enforcement, public opinion, and pop culture. The reference is to the segnorine, a neologism that gained currency to identify Italian women working outside the system of state controlled prostitution and selling sex to GIs.

Most of these ‘wandering’ prostitutes were concentrated in the cities hosting important Allied military bases, such as Naples, Rome, Livorno and Trieste. This gave visibility to a behavior that was considered ‘irregular’, and hence deviant. The segnorine were blamed for compromising the integrity of Italian pride, male honor and bloodline, while refusing to comply with bourgeois gender roles and regulationist standards. Being treated as a danger for public order, they were subjected to forms of collective violence and even internment. Above all, they were demonized for having intercourse or simply fraternizing with foreign soldiers, especially when African American.

My paper focuses on the tropes and practices centered on the experience of the segnorine from a cultural history perspective, pointing out some specificities of the Italian case: the fact that clients were ‘allied enemies’; the fact that a number of them were ‘racial aliens’; the derogatory representation of prostitutes as internal migrants, coming from Southern Italy. I argue that the media hype surrounding the segnorine was the mirror of the contradictions that characterized the post-fascist transition. Democratic postwar reconstruction conflicted with sexist genderization and (post)colonial racism addressed to Black troops, as well as to the stigma associated with the meridionali. A gender/race/crime intersectional approach to prostitution shows a recovery narrative genre and a self-absolving discourse that acted below and above the nation, pushing those who had injured its honor out of the boundaries of the local and national community of ‘good Italians’.

Respondent: Molly Tambor, Long Island University

04/08/2022 Italian Academy, Columbia University
5:15 PM
Transidioma Afloat: Communication, Power and Migration in the Mediterranean
Marco Jacquemet, University of San Francisco


One consequence of European unification has been the transformation of the Mediterranean Sea into a defensive moat to stop the flow of unwanted migrants. In this techno-political moat, the communication networks of “Fortress Europe” have established, through interception and monitoring technologies (and their corresponding speech acts), a buffer zone surrounding EU territorial waters. This paper documents how maritime encounters between state authorities, migrants, and fishermen are shaped by the multiple languages and channels of communication that traverse the Mediterranean Sea. It explores how the communicative landscape of the area is undergoing rapid change due to late-modern cultural globalization, creating ways of speaking more similar to the linguistic exchanges that emerged out of the Middle Ages than to those of modern nation-states. Moreover, it discusses how these hybrid exchanges are situated in a political and military context where the EU and its member states impose a survival test on refugees and migrants, and often contribute to serious and irreversible human rights violations. After reviewing a decade of humanitarian and security missions in the Mediterranean (from Mare Nostrum, to EU-led Triton, to EUNAVFOR MED) this paper discusses how in 2018 the Italian government decided to close Italian ports to international rescue operations. By constructing and broadcasting a discourse of “humanitarianism as a business,” which reframed humanitarian search and rescue missions in Mediterranean waters as businesses profiteering from refugee flows (the infamous “water-taxis” trope), anti-immigrant, sadopopulist political players managed to mobilize and find the consensus of a large section of the Italian population, already increasingly worried about its place in a rapidly mutating world and increasingly ready to find scapegoats in the migrants and refugees washing up on their shores.

Respondent: Silvana Patriarca, Fordham University

05/13/2022 Italian Academy, Columbia University
5:15 PM
Intellectuals Displaced from Fascist Italy: Why a Website Rather than a Book?
Patrizia Guarnieri, University of Florence (Italy)


The website Intellettuali in fuga dall’Italia fascista/Intellectuals Displaced from Fascist Italy, available both in Italian and English, is an open access work-in-progress published by the Firenze University Press ( This digital resource draws from original research that took place primarily in Italian and foreign archives, and is also indebted to continued contact with the descendants of Italian intellectuals who were exiled or expatriates during the Fascist era. For each of these exiles I have endeavored to reconstruct the story of a life on the move, rather than a general biography, with detailed analysis as well as a time line of mobility and a map. I have also sought to give a face to each story through the use of photos, and my contacts have made it possible for me to assemble a photographic archive of intellectuals in exile that has now reached close to a thousand images. We are working to implement a database with extensive information that enables users to perform their own quantitative web research.

In my talk I would like to discuss both the content of this research as well as its digital form. What are the effects of cultural contamination on exiles who were displaced from their homeland and transplanted elsewhere? What were the effects of these departures and arrivals—as well as returns to the homeland, if they did occur—after years of life abroad? I focus upon the difficulties inherent to this line of inquiry while also meditating upon the possibilities of communicating those issues through a website rather than a book, even if I myself am usually more comfortable with the traditional book format.

I therefore seek to share with the seminar my process of both undertaking this research in connection with the much more diverse public made possible via the web, and discovering innovative ways to deal with this peculiar phenomenon. The intellectual migration from Italy (as well as within Italy) during the Fascist ventennio was subjected to intentional erasure under the regime, and then to a kind of “historiographical removal.” A website allows not only to continuously add names, stories, faces that had been erased from the scenery, and to connect lives that had been broken, but also it allows us to confront the cover narratives that we took for certain and were instead misleading.

Respondent: Marcella Bencivenni, Hostos Community College, CUNY