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On sabbatical 2012-2013

Wright Hall 219
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063, USA


Anna Botta
Professor of Italian Language and Literature
and Comparative Literature
Departments of
Italian Language and Literature
and Comparative Literature

Junior Year Abroad-Geneva Director 2011/2012

Among the fifty-five cities described by Italo Calvino in his Invisible Cities is Baucis, an abandoned city whose inhabitants fled their homes years ago and now live in houses perched on stilts. Calvino writes, “with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining [their city], leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence.” I've always cherished this image, not only for the strong autobiographical connections it has with Calvino, but also for how it illuminates my own personal and academic life. The study of comparative literature fascinates me not only because it gives access to unfamiliar cultural worlds but also, and foremost, because it gives me a convenient observatory from which I can observe my “Italianity.” Like the inhabitants of Baucis, I find estrangement the optimal position for understanding a culture, particularly one’s own.   I consequently strongly believe in the importance of teaching Italian as a foreign language and culture and the unique contribution a study abroad experience brings to a student intellectual development.

Although I was born and raised in Italy, my training in comparative literature started at the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and continued at the University of Turin in Italy (Laurea in Lingue e Letterature Straniere Moderne), in France, England and the Netherlands before I finally landed in the United States, where I received a Ph.D. in comparative literature and literary theory from the University of Pennsylvania. Here at Smith, I shuttle between the Italian department and the comparative literature program with forays into Film Studies.

For Italian I teach courses related to the modern and postmodern period and tend to stress an interdisciplinary approach (works of fiction are analyzed in conjunction with theoretical, philosophical and sociological essays).  My favorite author to teach remains Italo Calvino, and I use his multifaceted works as a springboard to reflect on the complexity of our millennium.  A course on Galileo and Calvino, for instance, examines the sharp distinction between literary and scientific discourses which has resulted in the so-called “Science Wars.”  The course “Traces of Dust” inquires how dust and micro-matter (atoms, bits, pixels) have come to dominate and reshape our postmodern imagination.

My other area of interest is Italian cinema.  My first-year seminar, “Style Matters: The Power of the Aesthetics” investigates the ongoing dialogue and tension between neorealism and stylized aestheticism which has dominated Italian cinema since the postwar period (Film Studies web site).  

For the courses I teach in Comparative Literature, see my profile on the Comparative Literature Program webpage (Comparative Literature web site).  Three courses “Europe on the Move: Narratives of Migration,” “The Mediterraneans,” and “The Postmodern Novel: Open Encylopedias” can also be taken as courses which count for the major in Italian Lang. and Lit. (If written work is done in Italian) or in Italian Studies.

In my writing, I’ve explored, and keep exploring, several areas of research which are deeply connected and influenced by my teaching: contemporary Western literary theory, modern and postmodern literatures, European migration studies, and Italian literature and cinema. My most current project is a study of the Mediterranean and its plurality of identities (Liquid Modernity and Solid Mediterraneans).

Copyright © 2005 Smith College  |  Last updated November 16, 2012

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