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  • The Forest and the Trees: Some Notes on the Study of Multiculturalism in Italy
  • Mario Materassi (bio)

In discussing the present state of American studies in Italy, specifically as it concerns the question of multiculturalism, three salient features must be considered. First is the particular character of American studies in Italy, which is predominantly of a literary nature and does not yet exhibit the variety of interdisciplinary approaches that are found elsewhere with the discipline. Second is the impact that prevailing generational ideologies have had, and still have, on the research conducted in Italy. Third is the peculiar role that Italian specialists in the non-mainstream aspects of American culture can play within the large picture of American studies, vis-à-vis today’s push toward national or group self-affirmation.

Italian academic institutions do not recognize American studies as an independent discipline, with the partial exception of the University of Rome, where the Dipartimento di Studi Americani offers courses on subjects relating to all of the Americas. Yet even in Rome, as elsewhere in Italy, the study of United States culture is virtually restricted to the study of its literature: while four members of the department teach literature, only one teaches history. In fact, most of the academic members of the Italian Association of North American Studies (AISNA) teach American literature as part of the offerings of the English or the modern languages departments. There are over forty historians in the association but very few scholars in disciplines other than history or literature. Political scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, architects, [End Page 110] musicologists, and specialists in the visual arts constitute less than five percent of the approximately 250 members of the association. Moreover, the specializations of these scholars as Americanists are not necessarily mirrored in the courses they teach in their respective departments.

This state of affairs is necessarily reflected in the scholarly output of the Italian Americanists. A look at the index of Studi Americani, the pioneering magazine founded in 1954 by Agostino Lombardo and discontinued after 1978, reveals that in its twenty-five years of life, Studi Americani published 294 essays on literature, compared to a mere fourteen on history, one on music, and one on epistemology. Nor has the situation changed significantly in more recent times. Of the twenty-nine essays published in the first five issues of the RSA Journal, the yearly magazine of AISNA founded in 1990, all but three are on literature, the exceptions being one essay on history, one on philosophy, and one on anthropology.

Equally indicative are the data offered by Methodologies of Gender, the 600-page proceedings of the 1991 AISNA conference. Although the titles of the eight workshops indicate a wide spectrum of interests (“Representations of the Body”; “Methodologies of Gender Representation in Literary and Historical Narratives”; “Strategies of Subject Representations”; “Gender, Class, Ethnicity, Race, Immigration”; “Gender and the Canon”; “Gender and War”; “Gender and Politics”; and “Gender and Religion”), thirty-six of the forty-five papers presented by Italian scholars deal with literature. Only three focus on sociological problems, while the remaining six address questions regarding art, religion, political science, Native American history, the film, and comic strips.

In comparison. the proceedings of the 1993 AISNA conference, entitled “Technology and the American Imagination: An Ongoing Challenge,” show a slight increase in papers of a nonliterary character read by Italian participants. Moreover, owing to the theme of the conference, several papers on literary subjects made use of nontraditional critical methodologies, thereby contributing to the debate on the expansion of the traditional boundaries of literature. Still, literature predominated, as thirty-one out of forty-five essays concentrated on literary texts.

Interestingly, the only Italian magazine devoted to Native American studies is entitled Native American Literatures. Moreover, Acoma, a [End Page 111] new journal in Italy dedicated to the study of border cultures in the United States, focuses primarily on literary works, despite the strong leftist leanings of the editorial board and, as a result, the predominately sociological approach of contributors. Mention should also be made of the volumes published under the auspices of a national research project on Jewish American culture; with the exception of one essay on architecture and one on...

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