How do you study something Ugly?

In my Italian Studies teaching, I design each course around a different societal problem.  For example, “Fascism and Neo-Fascism” confronts hatred, “Mediterranean Ecocriticism” takes on climate change, “Feminist Lens” grapples with misogyny, and “Italy and East Africa” addresses racism.  Then, working backwards, class discussions provide the common intellectual space for students to debate what a better world would look like, and then to determine the specific skills sets – both technical and emotional – that they must develop to get there.  Articulating what students should ultimately be able to do is more than a pro forma exercise—it’s a chance to build courses around what matters most. 

How do you craft an amazing story?

In my courses, students collaborate on multimedia projects, like ePortfolios that include photojournalism, podcasts, and Youtube videos, built over the course of the semester.  Here they build digital literacies: how to tell a story across different online formats, and how to hone their voices in a global, public forum. Put succinctly, my Italian Studies courses place students’ hearts and professional aspirations at the center in two ways: first, by focusing on issues that they care about, and second, by teaching marketable skills for their future careers.  At stake in this dual approach is genuine student engagement during the courses and successful preparation for life after graduation.  

How can you tell if a student is learning?

I base this dual emphasis on engagement and professionalization on the findings of my 2018-2019 pedagogic research for the Language Learning Innovation for Teaching (LIFT) program at the University of Oregon, as well as my 2014-2015 Cornell University Teagle fellowship research (contribution since published in Doing Research to Improve Teaching and Learning: A Guide for College and University Faculty). Assignments that provide autonomy, community, and authenticity promote engagement with course material as well as long-term commitment to social inquiry and research. 

 

For over fifteen years, I have taught internationally at private and public universities in the United States, France, and Italy.  Working with students from a variety of racial and religious backgrounds has taught me that short, frequent assigments emphasizing role play and perspective switching make for a consistent and reassuring course structure.  This predictable structure creates a reassuring context to engage with political and politicized topics. 

 

Most recently, I was awarded the Robert F. and Evelyn Nelson Wulf fellowship by the Oregon Humanities Center for my course, “Fascism and Neo-Fascism.”  The Wulf Professorship supports the development of new undergraduate courses that identify, examine carefully, and respond critically to ethical issues that confront individuals and society. Building cases for multiple perspectives on the same issue alongside one’s classmates helps students to approach debate not as a combative battle waged with lung capacity but as a civil community-building enterprise.

 

I plan to continue to research the questions raised by my research on the intertwined functions of engagement and professionalization throughout my career, evaluating the classroom applications of new digital platforms as they emerge.

What is at stake in the humanities?

At a time when humanities matriculations are flagging, honoring these two core tenants increases enrollments and improves retention.  It attracts students from many different parts of campus to advance their personal and professional goals by enhancing their impact with the power of the arts.

RL 407/507: Mediterranean Ecocriticism

Ecocriticism is a body of theory exploring human-land relationships.   Our course centers on Mediterranean ecocriticism to highlight environmental debates that are specific to Northern Italy and France.  Theorists like Serenella Iovino, Bruno Latour, and Michel Serres will guide our analysis of Slow Food activism, COP-21 performance art, and wine-making during climate change.  Because this course aims to prepare you for leadership in the field, our projects teach professionalization.  You will learn the five stages of grant writing through modules with visiting experts.  Public speaking labs provide practice to give a compelling talk.  By the end of this course, you will have a fellowship application and a conference paper ready for submission, helping you to launch your professional trajectory into the wider world.

Supported Award-Winning Student Research by Yasmin Diaz Mendias for the UO Food Studies Graduate Research Grant (2020-2021)

ITAL 491/591: Italy and East Africa (taught in Italian)

 “La mia casa è dove sono,” “My home is where I am.”  Italo-Somali author Igiaba Scego’s famous assertion evokes our seminar’s focus: the cultural enmeshment of Africa and Europe. This advanced seminar, taught in Italian, uses art and historiography to connect Fascist Italian imperial projects in Ethiopia and Somalia with current migration and diaspora in multi-ethnic Italy.  Two projects teach strategies for listening and connection, key tools for engaging with multiple perspectives.  In the Listening Series, you will introduce recorded lectures by Igiaba Scego, Gaia Giuliani, and Achille Mbembe, then lead our discussions of their talks.  For the Writing Project, you will develop writing skills for forging professional networks.  By corresponding with postcolonial artists and directors, you will learn how to create connection in writing.  Ultimately, this course prepares you to collaborate on scholarship across borders.

 

 

Museums and monuments serve as touchstones for our debates. For the final project, students curate a museum exhibit to examine the problematics of the colonial archive and historical memory.

 

 

RL 407/507: Fascism and Neo-Fascism

How do you study something ugly? This course teaches argumentation and empathy in tandem to counteract the divisiveness of Fascist rhetoric. Debate labs show how to appeal to your audience’s logos (head), ethos (gut), and pathos (heart). Two in-class debates give you the opportunity to practice these techniques. Annotation exercises deconstruct Fascist propaganda and speeches, revealing how dictators manipulate emotion to maintain control. Critical reading exercises then extend these lessons to Neo-Fascism, teaching you to distinguish between fake news and trustworthy sources. Ultimately, this course teaches how to interpret primary sources and to craft compassionate arguments. Together, these two skills will prepare you to deliver a convincing case for ethical actions in real world scenarios.

ITAL 150: Modern Italian History through Food

This course uses food as a lens to introduce you to modern Italian history, from Unification in 1871 to the present day.  Lectures explore topics like the birth of Neapolitan pizza, Futurist food, and the G-8 pesto debate.  To encourage lively conversations between students, each lecture also includes four, 10-minute discussion labs.  Labs provide time and space to digest the lesson materials, and also offer a small-group setting where you can get to know your classmates.  Using the digital collections of the Barilla Gastronomic Library, you and your classmates will analyze cookbooks, recipes, and menus alongside Italian novels and films.  You will even engage in the culinary arts yourself, bringing historical photographs and recipes to life with a Futurist food “happening” at the Holy Palate tavern of Milan.  

Winner of the OHC Wulf Professorship in the Humanities (2019-2020)

ITAL 305: Cuisine in Italian Art, Music, and Literature

From Dante’s infernal Circle of the Gluttons to Artusi’s patriotic nationalist cookbook, Italian culture is written in garlic and oil.  This course, taught in Italian, provides 20-minute lectures coupled with guided art analysis on subjects like Baroque feasting through Arcimboldo’s food portraits and Enlightment caffè culture through Puccini’s lyric operas.  Close readings of historical cookbooks and recipes will show how playwrights and painters prepared their daily minestra.  Final group projects emphasize the art of food.  Acting as museum curators, you will lead the class through the artistic merits of three historical menus drawn from the Barilla Digital Archive.  By studying masterpieces from the Renaissance to the present day through the lively and accessible theme of food, you will conclude this course with a knowledge of modern Italian history and culture that is as memorable as it is delicious.

Winner of the UO LIFT Grant (2019-2020)

ITAL 319: Eco-Italy: Introduction to the Green Humanities

This interdisciplinary course bridges the arts and the sciences, introducing you to human-land relationships across Southern Italy and North Africa.  Together, we will explore the Green Humanities in the greater Mediterranean: we will analyze activist artwork inspired by earthquakes and volcanoes.  We will read investigative reporting on the eco-mafia and discuss the meaning of their slogan, “Trash is Gold.”  Materials emphasize long-form journalism and documentary film, because these forms of writing and filmmaking craft compelling stories to support sustainability across government and industry.  So too do assignments: you will create an online portfolio exploring environmental themes, including a weekly photojournal, a mini-podcast series, and a Youtube video.  By the end of this course, you will be able to speak about ecological phenomena in vivid, human terms.

Winner of the UO Sustainability Teaching Award (2021-2022)

ITAL 151: Feminist Lens: Italian and French Women in Film

“Feminist Lens” focuses on films produced by Italian and French female directors, introducing you to the brilliant women behind the cameras from the 1970s to today.  Activities emphasize the real world stakes of cinema: we will analyze European receptions of Hollywood’s #metoo movement, then co-design the trigger-warning system for use in our class.  Questions of gender roles and violence from Fascism and Nazism inflect Lina Wertmüller’s Pasqualino Settebellezze (1975) and Liliana Cavani’s German trilogy (1974-1985). Intersections of sexuality tangle former Maghreb colonies and multi-ethnic metropoles in Claire Denis’s Beau Travail (1999) and White Material (2010).  Ultimately, assignments provide a toolkit for analyzing cinema (angles, frames, and shots) as well as the history of Southern European feminism, from second-wave feminist groups like Rivolta Femminile to third-wave alliances like Féministes indigenes.

Winner of the OHC Wulf Professorship in the Humanities (2019-2020)

RL 407/507: Fascism and Neo-Fascism

How do you study something ugly? This course teaches argumentation and empathy in tandem to counteract the divisiveness of Fascist rhetoric. Debate labs show how to appeal to your audience’s logos (head), ethos (gut), and pathos (heart). Two in-class debates give you the opportunity to practice these techniques. Annotation exercises deconstruct Fascist propaganda and speeches, revealing how dictators manipulate emotion to maintain control. Critical reading exercises then extend these lessons to Neo-Fascism, teaching you to distinguish between fake news and trustworthy sources. Ultimately, this course teaches how to interpret primary sources and to craft compassionate arguments. Together, these two skills will prepare you to deliver a convincing case for ethical actions in real world scenarios.