“American Literature First”, Remarks by DCM Kelly Degnan at University of Urbino

November 29, 2017
(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon.
I would like to thank Rector Vilberto Stocchi and Professor Piero Toffano for hosting us today.

I am very happy to be here today to help inaugurate a new course in American literature.  I want to congratulate Adjunct Professor Giuliana Gardellini who is with us today and who will teach the new course in Anglo American literature here at the University of Urbino.

Since I know many of you are fluent in English, or want to practice your English skills, I will make my brief remarks in English.

This new course is a major accomplishment for both the U.S. Mission to Italy and the university.

One of the U.S. Mission to Italy’s priorities is supporting and promoting American Studies in Italy.  American Studies has historically been a key channel for connecting with Italian youth and universities in Italy, and sharing American values, history, and culture.

When I arrived in Rome two years ago, I heard about the decline of American Studies as an academic discipline at Italian universities.  Despite the strong interest by undergraduate and graduate students in studying American literature and history, many universities have not been replacing retiring senior American Studies faculty members or promoting junior faculty for budgetary and bureaucratic reasons.

At the U.S. Embassy in Rome, we explored different ways in which the U.S. Mission could assist to help revive American Studies and re-energize course content across Italy.

As you may know, we decided to grant a special fund to support eight new temporary adjunct professorships, four in American History – one each at the universities of Trento, Macerata, Naples L’Orientale, and Pavia, and four in American Literature -(one each at the universities of Pisa, Urbino, Genoa, and Bari.

We chose the universities based on our assessment that this seed support could lead to the establishment of additional American Studies teaching positions, fully funded by the University.  The presence of energetic partners, like those of you here today, was also an important factor.

The University of Trento inaugurated the first new course in American history in February, and the University of Macerata launched the second in October.  Our other university partners will be launching their courses this coming year.  We have been thrilled with the progress so far.

This American Studies Initiative is the result of a successful joint effort by the U.S. Mission to Italy, AISNA (the Italian Association of North Americas Studies), and the Centro Studi Americani.  AISNA has worked with the universities to establish the teaching positions and incorporate the new courses into the curriculum.  The Centro Studi Americani has administered the funds and amplified the program in partnership with AISNA.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that we have just renewed the grant to continue funding adjunct professorships in the eight universities for the academic year 2018-2019.  And I am even happier to report that we have added two more universities to the roster:  the University of Florence for American Literature, and the University of Cagliari for American History.

I am also pleased to highlight a dedicated American Studies page on the U.S. Embassy website which offers updates on the American Studies Initiative, provides links to American Studies conferences, organizations, and events, and serves as a general resource for students and professors.  Please pick up a book mark with the webpage address, use this valuable resource, and share the news with your friends and colleagues!

We have been gratified to see the outpouring of support and enthusiasm for this initiative from the American Studies academic community, and most importantly, from students.  The ultimate aim of our initiative is to grow American Studies in Italy by underscoring the tremendous interest in the field here, and to encourage universities to prioritize funding to renew adjunct professorship positions in American literature and history.

In fact, we were delighted to learn this fall that the University of Naples L’Orientale has approved a new tenure-track position in American History and International Relations.  We have high hopes that other universities will follow the University of Naples’ excellent example and that American Studies teaching positions will begin to reopen throughout Italy.

Your presence and support here today is a wonderful, positive step in that direction.

Grazie a tutti!