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Dr Jennifer Burns


Director of Graduate Studies
Tel: +44 (0)24 765 73096
Email: j dot e dot burns at warwick dot ac dot uk

Humanities Building, University Road
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL


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).

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. 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 published widely in this area, including a recent monograph: Migrant Imaginaries: Figures in Italian Migration Literature (2013). 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 figures, concepts, 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.

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. This collaboration began with 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. In 2006-7, Burns and Polezzi secured funding from the AHRC (under the 'Diasporas, Migration and Identities' theme) to organize a series of workshops 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. From insights revealed by these workshops, Burns then developed, in collaboration with colleagues at Bristol, St Andrews, and QMU, a major research project examining Italy's multiple histories of migration and mobility, and establishing this framework of enquiry as a model for research and study in Modern Languages more broadly. According to this model, languages are viewed most productively in terms of translation and multilingualism, and nations in terms of transnational identities. The project, 'Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures' was awarded funding in 2013 by the AHRC under its 'Translating Cultures' theme, and runs from January 2014 to December 2016.

A separate strand of Burns's research, developing since 2010, has been an investigation into the literary cultures of northern Italy in the late nineteenth century. This focuses on Milan and the scapigliatura movement, and examines practices of cultural activity and mediation in the context of the imagination of progress and modernity which developed rapidly in the years immediately before and after Italian unification. Working with Ann Caesar and with Gabriella Romani (Seton Hall University, USA), this project has developed through seminars and conferences, and has produced a co-edited volume on The Printed Media in Fin-de-Siecle Italy.

Research interests

  • Migration literature in Italian
  • Post-war narrative fiction
  • Late nineteenth-century literary cultures
  • Political and ethical issues in literature
  • Cinema

Teaching and supervision

PhD students supervised (bold = current):

  1. Elio Baldi, 'Images Within and Outside Italy of Calvino as Critic', 2013-
  2. Giulia Brecciaroli (with Fabio Camilletti), 'Urban Representations in Italian Literature from the 1950s to 1970s', 2014-
  3. Simone Brioni, 'The Somali Within: Questions of Language, Resistance and Identity in "Minor" Italian Writings', 2009-2012.
  4. Marco Cavietti (with Fabio Camiletti), 'The "Warburg Paradigm" in Italian Culture, 1960s-1970s', 2014-
  5. 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.
  6. Dominic Holdaway, 'A Return to Cinema d'impegno? Cinematic Engagements with Organized Crime in Italy, 1950-2010', 2008-2012.
  7. Linde Luijnenburg, 'Representations of the "Black Other" in postwar Italian film comedies', 2013-
  8. Giacomo Mannironi (with Ann Caesar), 'Education and Disobedience in the Eighteenth-Century Venetian Novel (1753-1769)', 2011-2015
  9. Mariarita Martino Grisa' (with Loredana Polezzi), ‘An Analysis of Scopophilia in an Intersemiotic Context: Four Italian Case Studies’, 2007-2011.
  10. Marta Niccolai (UCL, with Anna Laura Lepschy), 'Italian Intercultural Literature: Exploring Identities', 2005-2009.
  11. Gioia Panzarella, 'Spreading Italophone Migration Literature: A Dialogue with Contemporary Italy', 2014-
  12. Charlotte Ross (with Ann Caesar), 'Representations of Science, Literature, Technology, and Society in the Works of Primo Levi', 2000-2004.
  13. Gabriele Scalessa (with Fabio Camilletti), 'Between Medicine and Spiritualism: Scientific Subjects in Late Nineteenth-Century Italian Narrative', 2011-
  14. Annunziata Videtta (with Loredana Polezzi), ‘Re-visioning Representations of Italian Migrant Women in Textual Renditions of the Italian Presence in Britain’, 2004-2008.
  15. Georgia Wall, 'British Italian "Stars"', 2014-
  16. Kate Willman (with Fabio Camilletti), 'Unidentified Narrative Objectives: Journalism, History and the Twenty-First-Century "Novel"', 2012-
  17. Liz Wren-Owens, ‘The Reclamation of Socio-Political Engagement in the Works of Leonardo Sciascia and Antonio Tabucchi', 2002-2006.

Administrative roles

Head of Italian

Academic Director of Graduate Studies for the School of Modern Languages and Cultures



Fragments of impegno: Interpretations of Commitment in Contemporary Italian Narrative, 1980-2000 (Leeds: Northern Universities Press, 2001).

Migrant Imaginaries: Figures in Italian Migration Literature (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013).

Edited books

with Loredana Polezzi, Borderlines: Migrant Writing and Italian Identities (1870-2000) (Isernia: Iannone, 2003).

with Ann Hallamore Caesar and Gabriella Romani, The Printed Media in Fin-de-Siècle Italy: Publishers, Writers, and Readers (London and Oxford: MHRA, Maney and Legenda, 2011).

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', Annali d'Italianistica, 20 (2002), 369-83.

'Lupus in fabula: The workings of fear in Italian Migration Narratives', Italian Studies, 68.3 (2013), 429-48.

Article in web journal:
‘Facts, Fictions, Fakes: Italian Literature in the 1970s’, New Readings, 6, 2000.


MA, MStud, DPhil (Oxon)


Undergraduate modules


Postgraduate modules