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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 Molly Tambor

Luca Abbatista

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

02/04/2022 Online Meeting
3:15 PM
Are Italians Brown? Categorical Miscegenation and Queer Italia
John Champagne, Pennsylvania State University, Erie


Critical race theorists increasingly propose that race and sexuality do not represent discrete, even if intersecting, identities. Rather, via a re-reading of Michel Foucault’s notion of biopower to account for race, they suggest that the modern period is characterized by what Rey Chow has called “categorical miscegenation.” Race and sexuality are “mutually constitutive operations,” (Pérez) and for the most part “indistinguishable and undifferentiable from each other” (Puar, paraphrasing Chow, 206). This essay brings these insight to a discussion of three “Italian” novels from the early twentieth century. These novels raise interesting questions around Italian racial identity and homosexuality. On the one hand, they describe how some Italian men did indeed travel to so-called “primitive” locations to “live” their homosexuality and whiteness simultaneously. On the other, they recount a process whereby some Northern European subjects came to Italy to “become” white and homosexual. That is, Italy was imagined as what we might call, after Hiram Pérez, “brown.” Such an analysis helps us to begin to specify the “difference” that Italian homosexuality – long neglected as an area of historical interest in the Anglophone world – represented.

Keywords: homosexuality, race, fiction, Italy, primitivism

Respondent: Vetri Nathan, University of Massachusetts, Boston

02/11/2022 Online Meeting
3:15 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 Online Meeting
12:00 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

03/25/2022 Online Meeting
12:00 PM
Heroin in Italy: A Historical Perspective
Vanessa Roghi, Independent Scholar


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

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


This paper explores communicative practices in the Mediterranean area resulting from the interaction between local populations, migrants, and digital communication. It examines the Mediterranean as a transidiomatic environment: a multilingual space shaped by the communicative practices of groups of people, either territorially defined or deterritorialized, who communicate using an array of both face-to-face and digital communicative technologies (Jacquemet 2005, forthcoming). My claim is that the communicative landscape of the area is undergoing rapid change due to late-modern cultural and linguistic globalization, creating ways of interacting more similar to the communicative exchanges that emerged out of the Middle Ages than to those of modern nation-states.

In this context, I will analyze three transidiomatic events: the writing of multilingual, grammatically unorthodox text messages by a Tunisian migrant to his Italian friend; the communications between an Italian Coast Guard operator and a Syrian refugee on a sinking boat in the middle of the Mediterranean; and the use of creative, nonstandard Italian (including mottos that feature intransitive verbs treated as transitive) by Italy’s grassroots movement for migrant rights.

These hybrid exchanges are situated in a political and military context shaped by two opposing forces: the European Union and its member states, on one hand, and pro-migrant groups, on the other. The EU has made a practice of opposing refugees and migrants based on populist (and racialized) views and attitudes, which often contributes to serious and irreversible human rights violations. Meanwhile, pro-migrant groups advocate for a different Europe, open to linguistic impurity, cultural mixing, and political solidarity.

Respondent: Silvana Patriarca, Fordham University

05/06/2022 Online Meeting
12:30 PM
Exporting Leonardo Sciascia to the Arab World: Notes on The Night Bird
Amara Lakhous, New York University


In 2013, I left Italy where I had been living for many years and where I had written fiction in the Italian language in my own way. In Paris then New York, I felt I was at last ready to write about Algeria in Arabic with freshness and insight. I then started writing a new novel, The Night Bird, in Arabic.

After much reflection, I had decided that the crime novel, or Leonardo 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 in the way, obstinately, of all attempts to achieve change and progress. The general sense among Algerians is that the regime in power since 1962, the year of Algerian independence, 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 felt that the similarity between Sicily and the Arab world was unmistakable, in both their positive and negative aspects. As a result, I have been strongly influenced by Sciascia. My ambition has been, and still is, to make the best possible use of my creative experience in Italian and my relationship with Sciascia, so as to inject new life into Arabic literature, both in style and vision.

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 historian’s archival investigations, 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 politician Aldo Moro in 1978).

Respondent: Francesca Corrao, LUISS Guido Carli (Italy)

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