A partnership between the University of Cambridge and Notre Dame’s Italian program in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures is giving graduate students at both institutions the opportunity to work directly with leading scholars in their areas of interest.
“Our aim is to enhance the preparation of our students by providing them with direct access to international scholarly networks while they are still working on their degrees,” says Theodore Cachey, the Albert J. and Helen M. Ravarino Family Director of Dante and Italian Studies and professor and chair in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.
The exchange program is spearheaded by Zygmunt Baranski, who is Emeritus Serena Professor of Italian at the University of Cambridge, where he taught for nine years before joining Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters faculty in 2011 as its first Notre Dame Professor of Dante and Italian Studies.
“Before I left Cambridge, we formalized the collaboration between the departments, and one element is the graduate exchange,” Baranski says. “This collaboration allows students to work with experts in their fields of research. Italian is a subject that is taught in relatively small departments—we have six on the faculty at Notre Dame, which is large for North America, but we can’t cover everything, so this helps ensure people get a breadth of perspective.”
Damiano Benvegnu, a student in the College’s Ph.D. in Literature Program, and Beatrice Priest, who is writing her dissertation on Dante at Cambridge, were the first students to participate in the exchange. Benvegnu studied at Cambridge during what it calls the “Michaelmas Term” from October to December 2011.
“I was affiliated with the Trinity Hall College, one of the oldest colleges in the whole university,” Benvegnu said. “I focused on my research on the Italian writer Primo Levi and the kind of animal imagery he displayed in his literary work. I spent almost all my time there working and taking advantage of the magnificent university library.”
During his stay, Benvegnu had weekly meetings with Professor Robert Gordon, head of the Italian Department and one of the most important Primo Levi scholars in the world.
“My meetings with Professor Gordon, beyond being an incredible intellectual experience, helped me to better frame my dissertation,” he says. “Moreover, I had the chance to discuss my work with several members of my own college, Trinity Hall, coming from different fields. These informal but very stimulating conversations gave me the opportunity to refine my own research and consider it from unusual but fruitful perspectives.”
Priest was equally impressed with her experience in South Bend. “Participating in the flourishing research environment at Notre Dame was hugely beneficial to my research,” she says. “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.
“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.”
In spring 2013, another Notre Dame graduate student will go to Cambridge, Cachey says, and the intent is to expand graduate exchange opportunities in the near future.
“This is the first of what we hope will be a series of select student exchange arrangements with top graduate programs in the world.”