Academic enthused by US research project

A University of Strathclyde modern languages lecturer has spoken of her recent research stint in the USA, which she described as ‘the highlight of my career so far.’

Since October last year, Katharine Mitchell, who lectures in Italian, has spent time at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, and California State University, Long Beach, to carry out work for a special issue of the journal Italian Studies of the diva in modern Italian culture, which she is co-editing with Professor Clorinda Donato of CSULB.

Divas and female spectators in early post-unification Italy

Her current research project focuses on divas and female spectatorship in early post-unification Italy (1861-1914), a period that saw the rise of female literacy and women’s access to education and the professions as never before. Her research also addresses how the stage and theatre auditorium were forums for traversing gender confines for women spectators (as well as for men), whose only other means of exploring their sexuality was through the reading of novels.

Prior to her USA research, Katharine was a Royal Society of Edinburgh European Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Bologna, where she completed archival work in Italy’s theatre archives which was conducted in the summer of 2012 and winter of 2013 under the auspices of a British Academy Small Research Grant.

A 7,000-word article was completed on this topic during a three-week visiting fellowship at Seton Hall’s Charles and Joan Alberto Institute of Italian Studies. During her stay in New Jersey, Katharine also gave a public lecture, entitled ‘Suffering Opera Heroines and Desiring Divas in Italy’s Late Nineteenth-Century’, and taught several undergraduate classes in Italian.

Katharine then flew to Los Angeles to take up a Visiting Scholarship position at CSULB alongside Professor Donato. Speaking of her research project, she said:

“I presented a talk on my current project to students and faculty, and completed an 8,000-word chapter for a forthcoming edited collection on readers and spectators in Italy in the long 19th century. My chapter is entitled ‘Evenings Out: Female Spectators of Opera and Theatre in Late 19th Century Italy’, and draws on much of the archival work I carried out in theatre archives in Italy in 2012 and 2013.

The chapter argues that the modes of listening to, and watching, female artists performing live from the 1830s onwards prompted an unprecedented engagement on behalf of female spectators - to the extent that it opened up new ways for them of feeling and thinking about their sexual, social, and economic selves in late 19th century Italy following the rise of female literacy and better access to education.

Career highlight

The USA experience is one Katharine reflects on with much fondness. She said:

My experience of carrying out research in the US has, without doubt, been the highlight of my career so far. The staff and students in the two modern languages departments in which I was based were extremely welcoming and friendly, the libraries of these institutions are excellent.

In addition to her publications, Katharine also collaborated with Dr Danielle Hipkins (Exeter), who was based at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, on a co-authored 7000-word chapter entitled ‘Le traviate: Suffering heroines and the state of Italy between the 19th and 21st centuries’ for a forthcoming volume on representations of prostitution in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

At the end of her stay, Katharine held a book launch of her recently published monograph Italian Women Writers: Gender and Everyday Life in Fiction and Journalism, 1870-1910 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), which she presented to students and faculty members at UCLA.