As D’Amato Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies (and a message to UNICO)
I have been the holder of the D’Amato Chair in Italian and Italian American
Studies at Stony Brook University, NY, since January 2008. The Chair was housed in the Department of European Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.
This past Summer, 2018, I stepped down. I am now a faculty member of the
Philosophy Department. The reasons for this decision are many and interconnected, and include academic, institutional, collegial and personal factors and aspects. But let me say that, looking back, perhaps it was just the right time to pass the torch on to someone else, younger, and move on.
I would like to express my gratitude to UNICO for having spearheaded the creation of the Chair, and for their continued support over this past decade for the first holder of this prestigious title. Much of the work I conducted was microscopic and institutional and may not be worthy of a hit-parade list, but there are some aspects, projects, events that I can quickly summarize for you as a memorandum.
During these past ten years, I have:
- Invited 48 individual speakers to lecture at Stony Brook (see flyers on this site).
- Organized 8 afternoon conferences.
- Organized 4 day-long conferences.
- Co-sponsored (with Calandra & Humanities Institutes) another 4 day-long conferences at SB and CUNY.
- Edited and/or produced in book form the Proceedings from 4 of the conferences.
- I published 6 books of criticism (though one of them already in press by late 2008).
- I published 2 books of poems (one in each language).
- Published three book-length translations (two in criticism, one in poetry).
- Published 21 articles (6 in Ital-Am topics, 9 in Italian studies topics, 6 in cultural studies and philosophy) & 2 book reviews.
- Read 59 papers at various professional meetings (20 on Ital-Am topics, 22 in Italian Area studies; the rest in theoretical issues that undergird all of the above).
- Been invited to lecture in 5 different countries, beside Italy. Of relevance is that the D’Amato Chair held 3-week seminars in Russia in 2013 and China in 2009
- Was the resident host university mentor to graduate, post-doc and junior faculty scholars interested in Italian American Studies, from Hungary, Poland, Russia, Spain and Italy. Promoted their publications on the subject in their respective countries.
- Was awarded a Bogliasco Foundation 5-week in-residence Fellowship in Genoa, 2011 (which allowed me to finish three of the above referenced books)
- Was awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship & Creative Activities, Oct, 2014.
- Recipient of the “Ambasciatore Award” from the Italian American Museum, Oct. 2012.
- Created and currently Direct a Series on Italian American culture for an Italian publisher – Editrice Zona, Genoa – with which three books already came out.
- Created and currently Direct a Series, Thinking European Worlds, for Davies Group (CO), evaluated and supervised publication of five books.
- Wrote and obtained small grants to support various activities from NIAF, and FAHSS (The Provost’s Office development grants).
- I have directed my Assistants – often undergraduates – to do archival work and have accumulated a substantial number of papers, articles, references, to kick-start the Italian American Archive Project.
There are many other activities that fall under the expected range of professional commitments within a university environment, such as participating in departmental activities and sitting on many promotion committees; notably, the D’Amato Chair headed the search committee for The Thaw Endowed Chair in American Art, and was a member of the search committee for the Tsante & Tsunis Endowed Chair in Hellenic Studies.
There were other objectives I had set out to achieve, but circumstances were not in my favor. Unico and other supporters of the Endowed Chair should know that when I came to Stony Brook and assessed up close what the situation was, I soon realized that, given that the Center for Italian Studies had already built a strong local or regional presence, my task was going to be to broaden the discussion and take it outside, in the states as well as abroad, in Italian studies but also to other disciplines.
As a researcher, thinker and teacher, my utmost commitment has been to educate, not just my students, but the broader public. In other words, my belief has been – for years, from even before coming to Stony Brook – to take the history and knowledge of our background to other fields, different constituencies, incorporating what I had learned in cultural studies, philosophy, anthropology, and in science, and these in a trans-national, comparative perspective, in order to give us a credibility and a visibility beyond the neighborhood or the dedicated associations.
To that end, I poured an inordinate amount of energy in trying to create a Masters’ and a Doctorate in European Studies, reasoning and strongly believing that the only way to promote critically Italian and Italian American studies was to place them in a broader set of concerns and possibilities, linking them to issues of migration, citizenship, nation-building, culture in its broadest sense (including cinema, critique,
historiography, music, colonial and gender and race studies), the history and dynamics of Europe and the Mediterranean. I had secured the support of faculty from seven different departments, and in 2014 even ran for the Chairmanship, believing this would help me realize that goal.
Unfortunately, I did not get the support I needed, both within and above my department. On top of that, by 2015 the Department of European Languages, Literatures, and Cultures was experiencing structural departmental problems (we were put under receivership for two years), to which by 2016 there were added budget problems in the College of Arts of Sciences. Thus, for example, whereas in 2012 and 13 we ran four courses a semester in Italian American subjects, tallying over 180 students, when the above problems started chiseling away, that number dropped, we could
not staff those courses, and now we can barely offer one or two. Not to speak of the dire situation in which Italian finds itself in, with Instructors who have been there for decades being let go and senior faculty members retiring at the same time. Up to last Spring, no signs from the administration about bringing in new blood. I won’t even mention my other major project, the Italian American Archive, for which I received no sympathetic nods or any other form of support both within and outside
the university. And no support from various Italian American service organizations.
There is, however, hope, as I understand the financial health of the university is improving, and we finally have a new Dean. I believe I have given a solid example of what can be done to advance a field (even when support and encouragement is not available), and laid the foundation for a discourse that can grow, provided we can look beyond simply protecting the name of Columbus and recoiling when the M-word is uttered. We need to educate our students destined for other professions (this is what inter-disciplinary entails; more than that, the field must be trans-
national, as Italians have emigrated to all four corners of the globe); we need to expound relentlessly on the reality of how both Italian and American social history are made up of a web of different, often contrasting, and occasionally troubling experiences.
In my last paper on this subject, read at Naples in October, I urged the Italian American intellectuals to take stock of the very different strains that inform our common ancestry and how we ought to have – once again, but for the last time, comparing to the rich variety of critical and ideological positions within other ethnic groups — Italian American associations or departments that actually engage a number of constituencies that can reasonably be termed conservative, liberal, progressive, democratic, fascist, anarchic, indifferent; and to have the courage for a real exchange about who we have been, who we are or might wish to be, how we have to change our rhetoric in some guise. Being white is not enough, as some of the best writers, thinkers and even Miss Italia are not some idealized “Italian” but are rather Jewish, Africans, Venezuelans, Romanian, and so on. As I
have been teaching for years, Italians are socially and historically multiethnic, multilingual, heterogeneous, hybrid. Italian Americans doubly so, because the American component is as rich and layered as that from any other country.
Our goal remains – and I said this at the UNICO National Convention in San
Francisco 8 years ago, and then at many AAIS and AISA meetings since — that of educating the non-Italians who, at a time of utter confusion despite the avalanche of information available, know little or care even less about “us”. My dream about creating the Italian-American Archive – see above, and tab on this website — was about providing an extensive array of existing but hard to find or ignored, professionally prepared documents – in print or manuscript form – and images and so on about the history of some 25 million people who contributed to and shaped America. It was intended for the researchers working at the major Networks and newspapers, and college students everywhere, as much as for the Italian Americans
But I have to be true to my professional, critical and ideological beliefs, and with no prospects within the department I was in, I needed to take my work where I can attend to these goals in the few remaining years of my career. I need to work where there is already a real graduate program. To that end, therefore, I believe it is the right thing to do to step down, migrate to another field, thank everyone who genuinely believed in my endeavors and supported me in any way as I was going about teaching, networking, doing conferences, editing publications, and planning activities. Be reassured I will continue to show what an Italian immigrant from Calabria and then a naturalized American from the Bronx can still do to improve the understanding of a remarkable, extremely complex but ultimately proud, and rich heritage.
NY, September 18, 2018. Rev. 2020.