Dr Jennifer Burns
Teaching and research interests
- Post-war narrative fiction
- Political and ethical issues in literature
- Italophone writing
Tel: 024 7657 3096
MA, MStud, DPhil (Oxon)
Jennifer Burns studied English and Italian at Oxford University (1987-1991), and, after some time spent working for RAI (the Italian public broadcaster) in London, returned to Oxford to complete an MSt in Research Methods in Modern Languages (1994-1995) and a DPhil in Italian (1995-1999). Her thesis was on the topic of political commitment in literature (impegno), exploring the question of whether it is possible to identify new modes or notions of commitment in the writing of contemporary writers (1980 onwards), in a period in which public engagement with politics in Italy was generally perceived to have waned, and in which the relationship between literature and lived experience had been acutely problematized. This research was published in monograph form with the title, Fragments of impegno: Interpretations of Commitment in Contemporary Italian Narrative (1980-2000) - see below.
One example of contemporary writing with a strong ethical imperative which Burns explored in the above book was literature in Italian by writers who have migrated to Italy from other countries – predominantly African countries – and whose first language is not Italian. This emerging body of literature, perhaps best described as italophone writing, has remained the focus of her research since 2001. Concentrating on thematic and stylistic issues raised by these texts, though always retaining a consciousness of its ethical and political impact, she has examined the work of a number of writers in detail, moving from the earlier North African and Senegalese writers whose works were published in 1990-1995, to the wider and growing body of writers from North, West and East Africa, from Latin America, and from Eastern Europe. She has given papers at a number of conferences in the UK and USA on this topic, and has published journal articles and essays in edited collections examining this ‘new’ literature in Italian from various perspectives - see below.
The principal output of this extended research project will be a monograph entitled, Migrant Imaginaries: Figures and Themes in Italophone Narrative. This is a thematic study of immigrant writing in Italian from the earliest texts (1990) to those recently published, analysing the work of a number of authors - some centrally, some more peripherally – in order to develop an understanding of the concepts, issues, and literary figures and techniques which recur, in plural forms, in these texts and which appear to have specific creative and intellectual import in the consciousness of migrant writers. The themes discussed, in dedicated chapters, are identity, memory, home, place and space, and literature. A further chapter, thematic in a broader sense, looks at women and children, as figures (both conceptual and real) within the texts, and also as writers and readers of italophone narratives. This monograph is the first in English dedicated entirely to critical analysis of the broad range of immigrant novels and short stories in Italian, and will be published soon.
In addition to pursuing individual research in this area, Burns has built on connections between her research on immigration literature and Loredana Polezzi’s research on the literature of Italian colonial and economic emigration. As well as combining these areas of expertise to offer a module on this subject in the Birmingham-Warwick MA in Italian Studies, Burns and Polezzi organized a conference at Warwick in 2002, entitled ‘Borderlines’, which brought together scholars from around the world to discuss the impact of emigration, internal migration and immigration, as expressed in literary texts and cinema, on the notion of Italian national identity. Papers from this conference were subsequently published in a bilingual volume - see below.
Developing these connected research itineraries still further, Burns and Polezzi applied in 2005 for funding from the AHRC, under their special project on ‘Diasporas, Migration and Identities’. Their bid was successful, providing funding for a series of workshops in 2006-7, closing with a two-day colloquium (June 2007), on the topic of ‘Mobility and Identity Formation: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the “Italian case”’. These events took the specific case of Italy, and its multiple histories of migration outwards, inwards and within, and placed it in the context of concepts and studies of migration in other national contexts and in other disciplines, such as English, French and German Studies, Sociology, Law, Film and Theatre Studies. Viewed from these alternative perspectives, additional insights can be gained into the impact of mobility on Italian identities, and, reciprocally, light can be shed by Italian experiences and cultural phenomena on similar processes in other cultures and disciplines.
Fragments of impegno: Interpretations of Commitment in Contemporary Italian Narrative, 1980-2000 (Leeds: Northern Universities Press, 2001).
with Loredana Polezzi, Borderlines: Migrant Writing and Italian Identities (1870-2000) (Isernia: Iannone, 2003).
Chapters/essays in books:
- ‘Borders within the text: authorship, collaboration and mediation in writing in Italian by immigrants’, in Borderlines: Migrant Writing and Italian Identities (1870-2000), ed. by J. Burns and L. Polezzi (Isernia: Iannone, 2003), pp. 387-94.
- 'A Leaden Silence? Writers' Responses to the anni di piombo', in Speaking Out and Silencing: Culture, Society and Politics in Italy in the 1970s, ed. by A. Cento Bull and A. Giorgio (Oxford and Leeds: Legenda and Northern Universities Press, 2006), pp. 81-94.
- 'Provisional Constructions of the Eternal City: Figurations of Rome in Recent Italophone Writing', in Imagining the City, ed. by C. Emden, C. Keen, and D. Midgley, 2 vols (Oxford, New York, Bern: Peter Lang, 2006), II, pp. 357-73.
- 'Outside Voices Within: Immigration Literature in Italian', in Trends in Contemporary Italian Narrative 1980-2007, ed. by G. Ania and A.H. Caesar (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), pp. 136-54.
- 'Re-thinking impegno again: Reading, Ethics and Pleasure', in Postmodern Impegno: Ethics and Commitment in Contemporary Italian Culture, ed. by P. Antonello and F. Mussgnug (Oxford, New York, Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), pp. 61-80.
‘Language and its Alternatives in Italophone Migrant Writing’, in National Belongings. Hybridity in Italian Colonial and Postcolonial Cultures, ed. by J. Andall and D. Duncan (Oxford, New York, Bern: Peter Lang, 2010), pp. 127-47.
‘Founding Fathers: Giorgio Scerbanenco’, in Italian Crime Fiction, ed. by Giuliana Pieri (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011), pp. 27-47.
Articles in journals:
- ‘Recent Immigrant Writing in Italian: A Fragile Enterprise’, The Italianist, 18 (1998), 213-44.
- ‘Telling Tales About “impegno”: Commitment and Hindsight in Vittorini and Calvino’, MLR , 95:4 (2000), 992-1006.
- ‘Code-Breaking: The Demands of Interpretation in the Work of Pier Vittorio Tondelli’, The Italianist, 20 (2000), 253-73.
- 'Exile within Italy: interactions between past and present "homes" in texts in Italian by migrant writers', in Annali d'Italianistica, 20 (2002), 369-83.
Article in web journal:
PhD students supervised
Simone Brioni, 'The Somali Within: Questions of Language, Resistance and Identity in "Minor" Italian Writings', 2009-2012.
Andrea Hajek, 'Narrating the Trauma of the Anni di piombo: The Negotiation of a Public Memory of the 1977 Student Protests in Bologna (1977-2007)', 2007-2010.
Dominic Holdaway, 'A Return to Cinema d'impegno? Cinematic Engagements with Organized Crime in Italy, 1950-2010', 2008-2012.
Giacomo Mannironi (with Ann Caesar), 'L'obbrobrio del mondo: The Professional Criminal and Italian Realism, 1760-1870', 2011-
Mariarita Martino Grisa' (with Loredana Polezzi), ‘An Analysis of Scopophilia in an Intersemiotic Context: Four Italian Case Studies’, 2007-2011.
Marta Niccolai (UCL, with Anna Laura Lepschy), 'Italian Intercultural Literature: Exploring Identities', 2005-2009.
Charlotte Ross (with Ann Caesar), 'Representations of Science, Literature, Technology, and Society in the Works of Primo Levi', 2000-2004.
Gabriele Scalessa (with Fabio Camilletti), 'Between Medicine and Spiritualism: Scientific Subjects in Late Nineteenth-Century Italian Narrative', 2011-
Annunziata Videtta (with Loredana Polezzi), ‘Re-visioning Representations of Italian Migrant Women in Textual Renditions of the Italian Presence in Britain’, 2004-2008.
Kate Willman (with Fabio Camilletti), 'Unidentified Narrative Objectives: Journalism, History and the Twenty-First-Century "Novel"', 2012-
Liz Wren-Owens, ‘The Reclamation of Socio-Political Engagement in the Works of Leonardo Sciascia and Antonio Tabucchi', 2002-2006.