Catherine Sama, professor of Italian and film media and head of the Italian section at the University of Rhode Island, recently won a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship. She plans to create the first fully annotated translation of European painter Rosalba Carriera’s correspondence for a book series dedicated to women writers from the 14th to 18th centuries.
Sama’s innovative approach to learning, along with her passion to bring the works of 18th century Italian women writers and artists to students, has earned her credit for expanding URI’s Italian undergraduate program into one of the largest in the country.
PBN: Do you think educators interested in changing the learning landscape should look first to technology?
SAMA: Educators interested in improving the learning landscape should incorporate technology as one of a variety of pedagogical tools. When technology allows us to create new products, pursue new avenues of inquiry or engage students in meaningful ways, I am an avid supporter. Last semester, my students in an advanced Italian literature course recreated famous medieval novellas by Giovanni Boccaccio into interactive, multitouch iBooks; they received an award in an international competition for their work.
PBN: How did you become interested in 18th century Italian women writers and artists?
SAMA: When I came to Rhode Island in the mid-1980s to pursue a Ph.D. in Italian Studies at Brown University, I discovered that Italian women writers were not considered part of the literary canon. Their works were not widely available (or even known), and they did not appear in our courses. With the exception of one visiting scholar during my time at Brown, we also had no female professors of Italian literature. I eventually discovered some excellent scholarship by American and British historians on a few women writers from the Italian Renaissance; I decided I wanted to follow this model for 18th century Italy, where my knowledge of French – the international language of the day in Europe – would allow me broad access to documents, correspondences, and printed material from the era.
PBN: Do you think the feminist messages in their works are still relevant?
SAMA: They will clearly state that they believe in equal rights for women and men, but they emphatically do not want to be associated with the word “feminist” because they think it marks them as being “anti-male.” Young women today are not happy that in the U.S. women still receive about 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, but they do not seem to be aware of or bothered by the inequality that still exists in our governmental representation, or in the world of high finance. When my students read the works of Italian women writers … they are surprised and impressed. •