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University of Warwick

UOA 54 - Italian

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

University of Warwick, UOA54, RA5a






The Department of Italian at the University of Warwick has capitalized on its success in RAE 2001 to advance the Department’s profile as a centre of research in Italian Studies. The Department has grown from four full-time research-active staff in 2000 to seven in 2007, and its postgraduate research population has doubled in that period. In 2006 the Department secured a new full post in Italian, to which Lines was appointed, replacing Caruso who had since 2003 held a post shared 50:50 with Classics. The formal link between Italian and Classics, unique in the UK, has been maintained in the form of a joint RCUK early career fellowship, to which Vanhaelen was appointed in 2007. Toninato was appointed to a post-doctoral research fellowship in 2007. All permanent full-time staff in the Department in 2000 have chosen to remain in post (Burns, Caesar, Gilson, Polezzi), ensuring the stability which allows a serious research culture to thrive whilst also facilitating the recruitment of new colleagues whose research complements the existing environment.


Individual research projects identified in RAE 2001 have reached completion and research activities have coalesced in three distinct areas: 

i)                    the reception of classical and vernacular authors in the Renaissance (Gilson, Lines, Vanhaelen); 

ii)                   the rise of the novel and development of reading cultures in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Caesar, Burns); 

iii)                 the literature of migration and mobility in twentieth-century Italy (Burns, Polezzi, Toninato). 




Institutional structures:

The University provides assistance in applying for and administering funding in the form of a substantial Research Support Services operation, including a dedicated Research Development Manager and Project Support Officer for the Arts Faculty. The University itself offers funding through sources such as the Research Development Fund (RDF) and North American Fund which support ‘pump-priming’ projects and conference activities. Two recent developments at University level, in which Caesar has been instrumental, enhance the scope of research based in Italian: i) the establishment, under Caesar’s leadership, of the University’s research centre in Venice, where the department organized a major seminar on Renaissance Aristotelianism (Gilson and Lines, 2007); ii) the formation of an Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) which promotes interdisciplinary research of international calibre and offers targeted funding.


The Faculty of Arts, which Caesar has chaired since 2004, includes the Faculty Research Committee, of which Caesar and Gilson are members, overseeing and promoting research activity in Arts departments. The Humanities Research Centre (HRC), in which Caesar plays a leading role, offers a range of resources, including funding and administrative support. In 2006-07 the three Modern Languages departments at Warwick secured funds to establish the Trans-National Resources Centre, providing an extensive bank of research materials, especially visual, which significantly enhances provision for postgraduate researchers in particular. The University Library holds substantial collections in Italian Studies and related areas, enhanced by the expertise of a dedicated subject librarian. Investment in electronic resources and the recent widening of periodical holdings have proved a significant benefit.


Research activities:

The Department runs research seminars in three strands: i) the Warwick Italian Seminar, consisting of individual seminars with external speakers; ii) the Birmingham-Warwick themed symposia, jointly organized with the Department of Italian Studies at Birmingham University; iii) the Departmental research forum, in which researchers (including postgraduates) in the Department present current projects. A further strand will be launched in 2008: the ‘Re-thinking’ seminars, in which two speakers and selected respondents re-assess prominent topics in Italian Studies. Books authored by individuals in the Department have been launched with round-table discussions bringing together experts in the fields of - to date - late twentieth-century Italian narrative (Burns), Italian travel writing (Polezzi), Pirandello (Lorch), cultural history of modern Italian literature (Caesar). 


Further series of research events include seminars and a BA-funded conference on Italy and the classical tradition (Caruso, 2005), and AHRC-funded workshops and a colloquium on mobility and identity formation in the contemporary Italian context (Burns and Polezzi, 2006-07). In total, staff in the Department have organized or co-organized seven international conferences since 2001, on themes including migrant writing in Italian (2002), the body in Italian culture (2004), and nonsense literature (2006). 


Researchers at all levels participate frequently in major conferences and seminars in the subject area by giving papers, chairing sessions, and acting as respondents or round table members. This activity has resulted in individuals developing essays for edited volumes, or editing such volumes. Examples include a volume on migrant writing and Italian identities (Burns and Polezzi, Borderlines, 2003), and essays by Burns and Gilson in volumes on Italy in the 1970s (Speaking Out and Silencing, 2006) and on Dante (Le culture di Dante, 2004) respectively. Postgraduate researchers have also been productive in these areas: Ross co-organized with Polezzi the conference on the body from which a co-edited volume was published (In corpore: Bodies in Post-unification Italy, 2007), and Ross’s conference on Eco in 2000 resulted in a co-edited volume (Illuminating Eco, 2004). 


The Department has maintained a particularly high level of involvement in the SIS, with both staff and postgraduates taking on key roles: Burns is its Honorary Secretary (2002-08) and Caesar a recent member of its Executive Committee (2002-07); Ross and Mitchell served consecutively as the postgraduate representative on this committee (2001-08); Gilson was the Editor of its Bulletin in 2002; Polezzi and Ross organized the SIS interim conference in 2004. Caesar’s involvement in the academic programming of SIS biennial conferences has led to a number of research collaborations, including workshops and a co-edited volume: Trends in Contemporary Italian Writing (2007). Similarly, the Department has a strong relationship with the IGRS in London: Caesar is Chair of its Advisory Council, and Burns, Polezzi and Ross have co-organized conferences there. Gilson was elected in 2004 as a Council Member of the Dante Society of America, and the arrival of Lines in 2006 brought contacts with a number of international learned societies: Medieval Academy of America, Renaissance Society of America, Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy. 


Research profile and interdisciplinary activity:

The Department has since 2001 extended research contacts at three levels: within Warwick, within the UK, and overseas. At Warwick, Gilson, Lines and Vanhaelen are closely involved with the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance (Lines is its Director of Graduate Studies), Caesar with the Centres for Research in Philosophy and Literature and for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and Polezzi and Toninato with the Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies. The recruitment of Caruso and subsequently Vanhaelen to posts shared with the Department of Classics and Ancient History has formalized a significant research collaboration building on the research of Gilson and Lines in Renaissance reception of classical scholarship. The appointment to a post-doctoral fellowship of Toninato, previously a researcher in the Department of Sociology, has consolidated inter-faculty collaboration, underpinning the interdisciplinary research in migration and mobility carried out by Burns and Polezzi. Research in areas of Italian history and culture being undertaken in other departments – History (Butters, Davies, Molà), History of Art (Avery, Bourdua, Cooper), Film Studies (Dyer and subsequently Gundle) – provides significant research interlocutors for researchers in Italian and contributes to forming a broader culture of expertise in Italian Studies.


In the UK, Italian at Warwick is in close partnership with the Department of Italian Studies at the University of Birmingham, with whom it runs a joint MA programme in Italian Studies and a series of research symposia. This partnership has facilitated access for postgraduate students and staff to the resources – human and bibliographic – of two important institutions and has created a solid base of research activity in Italian Studies in the West Midlands. Extended research dialogues have also been developed with colleagues in Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, and Oxford.


In Italy, Caesar has forged links with colleagues in comparative literature in Turin, establishing the foundations for a joint research degree; Lines and Vanhaelen maintain close research contacts, as former fellows, with Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Renaissance Studies in Florence; Polezzi is part of a research network on Italian colonialism. In the USA, Gilson collaborates with UC Berkeley, and Caesar is involved in two international research networks in the areas of literary culture and the novel and comparative literature. Various staff have organized and co-organized panels at the annual/biennial meetings of the MLA, AISLLI, Renaissance Society of America, Medieval Academy of America, and American Historical Association.


Research income:

N.B. Caruso held a 50:50 post shared between Classics and Italian, and is returned as a category B member of staff in UOA59 Classics.


  • In the ‘Diasporas, Migration and Identities’ programme, Burns and Polezzi were awarded a Networks and Workshops Grant of £9,916, and Toninato a Small Grant of £9,124 (2005);
  • Study leave awards, totalling £33,528, to Caruso (2003), Caesar (2003), Burns (2004).


British Academy: 

  • Small Grants of £3,721 to Polezzi (2000-01) and of £1,456 to Burns (2001);
  • Overseas Conference Grants, totalling £800, to Burns (2001, 2006);
  • British Conference Grants of £1,400 to Burns and Polezzi (2002) and of £750 to Caruso and Tarantino (2006).


The Modern Humanities Research Association provided subventions for the publication of Burns’s monograph (2001) and Gilson’s co-edited volume (2004). 


Internally, the Humanities Research Centre and Research Development Fund have made several awards for conference organization and participation, notably £8,090 awarded from the RDF to Gilson and Lines for their workshop on Renaissance Aristotelianism (2007).


The practice of bidding for external research funds is promoted at Warwick and within the Department by means of various mechanisms: 

  • The Research Development Manager for the Faculty generates strong working relationships with researchers which ensure the dissemination of targeted funding information. Support is provided in preparing and administering funding bids, thus encouraging ambitious bids which might otherwise appear unmanageable within a relatively small department.
  • The IAS and RDF provide funding and support aimed at ‘incubating’ research connections internally so that they develop into major external bids.
  • The Department is developing strategies to incentivize research bids, centred on teaching relief and leave.
  • The Departmental Research Committee, established in 2007-08, will work to identify emerging research strands and create the conditions in which researchers can develop projects which will attract funding.


Staff and students


Staff development:

Well-developed appraisal and mentoring systems provide guidance for all staff, established and new. Support within the Department for early career researchers, in the form of close mentoring, reduced teaching and administrative loads, and a culture of inclusion, has been demonstrably effective in the development of the research careers of staff who were early career at the start of the census period and have now been promoted to the levels of Reader (Gilson) and Associate Professor (Burns, Polezzi). Toninato and Vanhaelen have, in turn, benefited from these arrangements, both being closely involved in funding bids and research activities alongside more experienced colleagues: Toninato with Burns’s and Polezzi’s AHRC-funded workshops and Vanhaelen with Gilson’s and Lines’s seminar on Aristotelianism. 


Support for individual research, including leave:

All academic staff have an individual office and networked laptop computer. The University offers academic staff one term of study leave for every six of service: staff in the Department have taken a total of ten such leaves since 2001, some in conjunction with AHRC-funded leave. The Department ensures that staff have one day a week in term-time free of teaching, and have individual funds of £500 p/a available for research purposes. An emphasis on research-led teaching, at undergraduate and MA levels, allows teaching to enhance research activity, and a flexibility of approach within the Department enables researchers to structure their working time in accordance, as far as possible, with the stages of development of a research project.


Contribution of other staff and researchers:

Almost all language teaching fellows in the Department are actively engaged in research projects and are encouraged to participate in seminars and conferences. The Department’s Language Co-ordinator, Tarantino, has active research interests in comparative literature in the Renaissance period and in contemporary Italian narrative, and has co-organized conferences in these areas at Warwick (2006) and Oxford Brookes (2003). During the census period, she has co-authored a volume on English Renaissance Theatre, and co-edited two on contemporary Italian narrative and on nonsense literature, in addition to publishing articles and essays in refereed publications.


Lorch is an Emeritus Senior Lecturer in the Department and continues to participate actively in research activities. Her monograph on Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (CUP, 2005) was launched in the Department with a round-table discussion. 


The creation of the joint post with Classics to which Caruso was appointed in 2003 formalized research contacts between Gilson and researchers in Classics. Caruso’s seminar series in 2005 on ‘Italy and the Classical Tradition’ extended this link. Following Caruso’s departure (2006), Lines and Vanhaelen have built on this interdisciplinary research collaboration to develop a major research strand for the Department.


Research students and studentships:

The Department has been particularly successful since 2001 in recruiting postgraduate research students (three were registered in 2000; six in 2007). Eligible PhD applicants are strongly encouraged to apply for funding from the AHRC, and two have been successful since 2001. The Department bid successfully to the University for a succession of fully funded PhD studentships, to which Ross (2000-03), Mitchell (2003-06) and Martino (2006-09) were appointed. The University also provided initial funding to secure the recruitment of two strong PhD candidates: Cappuccio (to MA initially, 2005-06) and Hajek (2007-08). The joint Birmingham-Warwick MA programme in Italian Studies has proved successful in ensuring progression of talented MA graduates to postgraduate research degrees. 

Success in PhD recruitment has been measured also in terms of the quality of the students’ experience of postgraduate research. There are three levels of training provided by: 

i)                    The Graduate School: training in using Library and IT resources, and in broad professional and academic skills. 

ii)                   The Faculty of Arts: cross-disciplinary training provided through a programme of seminars on both skills and subject-specific knowledge, such as topics in critical theory and cultural history. The Doctoral Fellowship competition organized by the HRC offers an additional development opportunity: Ross (2002) and Wren-Owens (2005) won these fellowships.

iii)                 The Department: PhD students are encouraged to engage in an active research dialogue from the outset, both formally, through the departmental research forum, and informally, through discussion with experienced colleagues. The provision of shared offices for PhD students facilitates this, as does their participation in the organization of seminars/conferences in their specialist area. This research environment is enhanced by the Department’s partnership with Italian Studies at Birmingham, which has helped to establish a substantial postgraduate community.

The success of the Department’s postgraduate research provision can be measured by outcomes: of those who completed PhDs in the census period, four have moved into permanent posts in Italian Studies in the UK (Hipkins at Leeds then Exeter; Ross at Birmingham, Treveri Gennari at Oxford Brookes, Wren-Owens at Cardiff). Monographs derived from the PhD theses of all four are forthcoming or in press.



N.B. Current position is addressed first, followed by research objectives and potential to develop.


Current position:

In RAE 2001, the Department identified itself in large part according to its potential: three of the four core staff (Burns, Gilson, Polezzi) were at an early stage of their careers. The current position is that this potential has been realized, in the form of important monographs published by all three and the establishment of highly-regarded research and publication profiles. Caesar has established herself both as a leading scholar in readership and reading cultures in Italy (and beyond) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and as a prominent figure in Italian Studies in the UK. As projected in 2001, numbers of both staff and postgraduate students have grown (by 75% and 100% respectively). Overall, the published output since 2001 of returned staff in the Department has included four monographs, one co-authored volume, nine co-edited volumes, around sixty essays and articles, and several substantial encyclopedia entries. Output in terms of less tangible research activity – conference participation and organization, seminar presentations, etc. – has been sustained in the same period. These outputs have appeared in highly respected publications and institutions in the UK, Europe and USA. The Department can now claim, therefore, to be a major presence in Italian Studies (and in related areas, such as Renaissance Studies) on an international scale. 


The profile of the department achieved since 2001 can be summarized, in terms of staff research activities, as follows (N.B. outputs submitted under RA2 are not included):


Burns: publications include a co-edited volume on migrant writing in Italian, articles on immigrant writing and on literature in the 1970s; has developed a network of scholars on migration in the Italian context; interests in narratives of exclusion have led to a new project on narratives of transgression at the end of the nineteenth century;
Caesar: in eighteenth-century literary studies, she has published essays on the development of the modern novel in Italy; in comparative literary studies, she has published on the Gothic and the Italian fantastic, Virginia Woolf and the Italian novel, and death in contemporary fiction; in modern Italian studies, her work has focused on Pirandello;

Gilson: publications include edited volumes on literature and science and on theatre, articles and essays on scientific questions in Dante and on the Dante commentary tradition; has extensive international research contacts and is regarded as a leading scholar of Dante;

Lines: publications include an edited volume on science and the universities in early modern Europe, articles and essays on Italian Renaissance philosophy and contexts of learning;  winner of a prestigious fellowship to Villa I Tatti and well connected with intellectual historians in Europe and the USA; 

Polezzi: publications include co-edited volumes on migrant writing, the body in Italian culture, modern languages pedagogy, plus a special issue on mobility and translation; articles and essays on travel writing and literature of Italian colonialism; has an established profile in the areas of travel writing, translation studies, Italian colonial studies;

Toninato: publications include articles on Romani nomadic identity, the uses of literacy and cultural memory; participated in and organized seminars and conferences in the areas of Italian and Social Studies, and collaborated in high-profile projects on creolization and Italian migration;

Vanhaelen: publications include articles in highly-regarded journals on Ficino, and on the revival of Plato in the Renaissance; winner of a prestigious fellowship to Villa I Tatti; research interests and potential collaborations cement the department’s reputation for scholarship in the reception in Renaissance Italy of ancient philosophy and literature.


Research objectives and potential to develop future research:

The overarching priority for 2008 onwards is both to continue to build on the reputation the Department has established since 2001 and to refine it by honing specialisms. The Department will capitalize on the international agenda of Warwick University to enhance the scope of research activity in the department. Within this agenda, there are three key strategic elements: i) postgraduate research culture; ii) individual scholarship; iii) collaborative research and the development of networks or clusters. 


i) The three developing research themes outlined in the introduction will be instrumental in postgraduate expansion in two ways: a) the inclusion of project-specific studentships in major funding bids; b) the reputation for excellence in specific areas which will attract emerging scholars. There is evidence that the theme of migration and minority cultures has attracted postgraduate researchers: Toninato (PhD and post-doctoral) and Videtta (PhD) work in this area, and recent consolidation within the Department of expertise in the area of Renaissance studies will similarly boost recruitment. 


ii) The principal element in the Department’s strategy remains to create the conditions in which individual scholarship at the highest level will flourish. Individual future projects include a new monograph by Gilson on Dante’s reception in sixteenth-century Italy, and completion of the following monographs already in preparation:

  • Burns: figures and themes in immigrant literature in Italy;
  • Caesar: the rise of the modern novel in Italy;
  • Lines: the cultural ties of the University of Bologna in the Renaissance;
  • Polezzi: representations of Africa in contemporary Italian writing;
  • Toninato: the rise of writing amongst gypsies;
  • Vanhaelen: a critical edition of Ficino’s Parmenides commentary.


iii) Synergies identified between the research interests of individuals in the Department have had tangible outcomes, in the form of Burns’s and Polezzi’s AHRC-funded workshops series and Gilson’s and Lines’s seminar on Renaissance Aristotelianism. The Department will exploit the increase in the amount of ‘pump-priming’ funding available within the University to nurture these synergies over the next five years. Projects include:

  • Caesar is involved in a research group at Warwick on the long eighteenth century, which has links with the Clark library (UCLA), and is seeking external funding to consolidate this collaboration. She is organizing a conference on eighteenth-century literary culture in Venice (2009).
  • Burns’s new project on late nineteenth-century narrative has significant correspondences with Caesar’s work in this area, leading to collaborative initiatives, including a conference in the USA in 2008.
  • Burns, Polezzi and Toninato are applying for Leverhulme International Network funding to strengthen their collaboration in the area of migration culture with colleagues overseas.
  • Gilson and Lines will, building on the interdisciplinary discussion between the scholars invited to the Venice seminar, seek funding from the AHRC to expand this project.


As illustrated here, the Department has achieved breadth of scholarship in Italian Studies whilst also maintaining significant depth in its internal research collaborations. The salient feature uniting all researchers in the Department is a research methodology which combines close textual analysis with careful attention to questions of reception, intellectual context and cultural history. This approach offers a distinctive model of literary scholarship, exploiting the tools and materials privileged by cultural studies whilst insisting on the precision and rigour associated with traditional literary criticism. The Department values highly this approach and will seek to maximize its possibilities, in both individual and collaborative scholarship, in the next five years. 





Recognition of work

Burns: monograph cited as core text to which ‘Postmodern Impegnoconference (London, 2006) sought to respond.

Gilson: earlier monograph (2000) received review essay in L’Alighieri, n.s. 18 (2001); earlier essay (1999) republished in critical anthology in Dante the Critical Complex, ed. by Lansing (2003).


Honours and fellowships

Gilson: Elected Council Member, Dante Society of America, Harvard (2004-07).

Lines: Deborah Loeb Brice fellow at Villa I Tatti, Florence (Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies), 2005-06.

Vanhaelen: Deborah Loeb Brice fellow at Villa I Tatti (as above), 2006-07.


Visiting lectureships

Gilson: Visiting Fellow, Keio University, Tokyo (March 2005).


Keynote/plenary addresses, invited participation in conferences

Burns: London.

Caesar: Turin, Rome, Washington D.C.

Gilson: Notre Dame, Berkeley, Oxford, Bristol, Manchester, Dublin.

Polezzi: Swansea, Palermo.


Editorial contributions

Burns and Gilson are members of the Editorial Board for Italian Studies (2007-10 and 2006-09 respectively); Gilson was Reviews Editor (2004-07).

Caesar: member of Peer Review Committee of the IGRS publications series; editor for 1860-1918 of Oxford Companion to Italian Literature (2002).

Lines: member of Editorial Board, Cursor Mundi Monograph Series (UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies); contributing editor, Penguin Custom Editions: The Western World.

Polezzi: guest editor, Special Issue of The Translator, 2006; joint editor, Warwick Studies in the Humanities (Ashgate, 2002-5); member of founding editorial board of Translation Studies, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education.


Refereeing and evaluation

Caesar: member of research panel for AHRC, 2005-06; referee of research grant applications in Malta, USA, Australia.


Staff have also refereed research grant applications for AHRC (Burns, Caesar), 

British Academy (Caesar, Polezzi), Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences (Caesar, Gilson), Swiss National Science Foundation (Lines), US National Science Foundation (Gilson).


Staff have refereed articles/proposals for the following journals and publishers:

Feminist Review (Burns), Italian Studies (Caesar), Journal of Pirandello Studies (Caesar), Journal of Travel Writing (Polezzi), Modern Italy (Burns, Polezzi), Romance Studies (Caesar), Science and Education (Lines), Translation Studies (Polezzi), The Translator (Polezzi), CUP (Gilson), OUP (Caesar), University of Toronto Press (Lines), Routledge (Polezzi).



Staff have contributed reviews/review articles to:

Annali d’Italianistica (Burns), Incontri (Polezzi), Italian Culture (Burns, Polezzi), Italian Studies (Burns, Caesar, Gilson, Polezzi), Journal of Gender Studies (Caesar), Journal of Travel Writing (Polezzi), Journal of Romance Studies (Caesar, Polezzi), The Medieval Review (Gilson), Modern Italy (Burns, Caesar), Modern Language Review (Burns, Caesar, Gilson, Polezzi), Renaissance Quarterly (Lines), Renaissance Studies (Gilson), Speculum (Gilson), THES (Polezzi), The Translator (Polezzi).


Professional service to the subject community


  • Panel member, Italian, RAE 2008.
  • Panel member, Philip Leverhulme Prize for European Languages and Literatures.
  • Member then Chair (from October 2007) of Advisory Council of IGRS.
  • Modern Languages Representative for Academic Awards Committee of British Federation of Women Graduates.
  • Member, West Midlands Higher Education Authority on Modern Languages.
  • Member, Executive Committee of Society for Italian Studies and holder of Research portfolio (2002-07).
  • Chair of Faculty of Arts, University of Warwick.


Burns: Honorary Secretary to the SIS (2002-08); member of advisory group for study of literature, LLAS Subject Centre.

Lines: member, Program Committee, Medieval Academy of America (Miami, 2005).


External assessing for appointments

Caesar: two Chairs in Italian in UK and upgradings in USA, Australia, Malta.


External examining for research degrees

Burns: Bath, Bristol, UCL.

Caesar: RHUL, UCL (twice), Edinburgh, UEA, Slade School of Fine Art, Melbourne (twice).

Gilson: Manchester.

Polezzi: Antwerp, Bath, Leeds.