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Students study, research abroad in Cambridge

Charitha Isanaka | Thursday, November 15, 2012

Graduate students in the Italian program in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures have the opportunity to work with leading academics at the University of Cambridge.

Zygmunt Baranski, Emeritus Serena Professor of Italian at the University of Cambridge, joined the Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters faculty in 2011 as its first Notre Dame Professor of Dante and Italian studies.

“The Italian sections are relatively small and this partnership with Cambridge ensures that students have contact with a broader range of professors, libraries and resources,” Baranski said.

Every year, one Notre Dame student goes to Cambridge and one Cambridge student comes to Notre Dame for a semester. This program is aimed exclusively for PhD students who are already writing a thesis in Italian. They will have an advisor who will help them with their research and they will maintain a link once they have gone back to their host institution, Baranski said.

Damiano Benvegnu, a current Ph.D. candidate in the interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Literature Program at the University of Notre Dame. He was the first Notre Dame graduate student to participate in the exchange. His dissertation research, “Primo Levi and the Question of the Animal,” investigates the animal imagery in the work of the Jewish-Italian writer Primo Levi, focusing on how his literature operates when the human/animal divide is at stake. He will defend his dissertation in May 2013.

“In this research I compare what has been considered the hyper-humanistic literary production of Primo Levi with the post-humanistic trend in contemporary philosophy,” Benvegnu said. “This comparison helps us to rethink not simply Levi’s literature and his Holocaust testimony, but also both the ethical and epistemological complexity of the human/animal divide(s) and the crisis of traditional humanism in the second half of the twentieth century.”

Benvegnu spent the 2011 Michaelmas Term (September to December) at Cambridge and was part of Trinity Hall College.

“I had the opportunity to work at the fantastic University Library there and to have almost weekly meetings with Professor Robert Gordon, head of Department of Italian at the University of Cambridge, and one of most prominent scholars in modern Italian literature,” Benvegu said. “The opportunity to work with him not only was incredibly enjoyable and stimulating, but helped me to better frame my own research and ideas.”

Beatrice Priest, a Cambridge student, came to Notre Dame last year.

“I learned a great deal from the graduate research seminars, made extensive use of the libraries, including the special Dante collections, and had many stimulating discussions with professors, post-docs, and other graduate students about Dante, the Middle Ages, and beyond,” Priest said.
“Additionally, the opportunity to teach American undergraduates Italian language was tremendously rewarding. I would thoroughly recommend the exchange program to anyone thinking of participating in it.”

Baranski stressed the importance of international partnerships.

“I believe that in academia there is a need to have international ties,” he said. “Since there is a limited number of faculty, we need to teach students the importance of collaboration so that there remains a healthy and proper exchange of ideas.”

Contact Charitha Isanaka at
cisanaka@nd.edu