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Transnationalizing Modern Languages


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Press release, 18 September 2013


£1.8million for new research on Italian cultures and the study of Modern Languages

A new research project looking at how modern Italian culture has developed around the world, in which researchers in Italian at Warwick (Jennifer Burns and Loredana Polezzi) take a central role, has been awarded £1.8million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). From the insights it develops into transnational Italian cultures, the project will forge a new framework for the discipline of Modern Languages as a whole, one which puts the interaction of languages and cultures at its core.

In the 150 year history of Italy as a nation state, communities identified as Italian have formed in many parts of the world, while in the past 30 years Italy has also become a destination country for migrants from a variety of national, religious and ethnic backgrounds. This mobility and interaction with other cultures around the globe will come under the spotlight over the next three years through the work of academics from the Universities of Bristol, Warwick, St Andrews and QMU in the first study of its kind.

The project will look at the Italian communities established in the UK, the US, Australia, South America, Africa and at the migrant communities of contemporary Italy. It will focus on the cultural associations that each community has formed.

Researchers will examine a wealth of publications and materials – journals, literature, life stories, photographs, collections of memorabilia and other forms of representation – from these communities identified as Italian, looking at different types of linguistic and cultural translation and examining the impact they have on notions of national identity.

They will study community groups who experience translation, both linguistic and cultural, on a daily basis. This research will develop our understanding of how people respond creatively to living in a bi-lingual or multi-lingual environment. Activities such as photography, drama, and creative writing will invite school students and adult learners to explore vernacular practices of translating culture.

Professor Charles Burdett, who will be leading the project at the University of Bristol, said: “Italy offers an exceptionally rich example for any study of cultural and linguistic translation owing to its global history of migration. Thanks to the funding from the AHRC, we’re able to carry out extensive analysis to form a geographic, historical and linguistic map of Italian mobility.”

In order to extend and disseminate across disciplines the model developed in relation to Italian mobilities, the project will work closely with researchers from the different subject areas of Modern Languages and other arts and social science disciplines. Through its inter-disciplinary approach, its harnessing of new resources, and its establishment of new research frameworks which locate translation and mobility at the centre of the study of contemporary cultures, the project will act as a model for language disciplines and as a means to enhance public understanding of the role of Modern Languages in the context of globalization.

As well as a series of books developed for academic and non-academic readers, the results of the study will be shared at two international conferences and workshops, plus a series of exhibitions in the UK, Rome, Melbourne, Addis Ababa and Buenos Aires. A website will act as a central hub for the research and there will also be an App developed to showcase work carried out by secondary schools as part of the project.

The following institutions and organizations are partners in the project: Co.As.It Italian Assistance Association/ Historical Society; Monash University; the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute; the Altreitalie Center on Italian Migrations in the World; the ACLI Association, São Paulo; the Italian Cultural Institutes of London and Addis Ababa, the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh; and Drummond Community High School.

The AHRC awarded the grant under their Translating Cultures theme to address the need for better understanding and communication between and across diverse cultures. It looks at the role of translation, understood in its broadest sense, in the transmission, interpretation and sharing of languages, values, beliefs, histories and narratives.

Theme Leadership Fellow for Translating Cultures, Professor Charles Forsdick said: “The projects will provide urgently needed contributions, from an Arts and Humanities perspective, to our understanding of some of the most pressing issues in the 21st century world: multilingualism, mobility, and the crossing of borders.

The aim in each project is to interrogate, analyse and demonstrate the central place of languages and culture in contemporary life, whether in localized contexts or in wider globalized frames.”


Click here for the AHRC Press Release on its themed large grants.