I joined the Department of History at West Virginia University as an Assistant Professor in 2009 and became an Associate Professor in 2014; I was also the 2015-16 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Rome Prize Fellow in Modern Italian Studies at the American Academy in Rome.
I earned my M.A. (1999) and Ph.D. (2007) from the Department of History at the University of Chicago. I concentrated in modern European history, under the direction of Dr. Michael Geyer. From 2007 to 2009, I was a postdoctoral fellow at George Mason University.
Approach to History
My intellectual pursuits are constantly evolving. As an undergraduate, I studied classical philology, archaeology, ancient history and philosophy. This in turn led me to the study of the classical tradition and modern representations of antiquity, particularly in the context of twentieth-century Europe. This trajectory culminated in my first book, Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy, which examines the importance of the idea of Rome (romanità) to the political culture of Mussolini’s regime. Drawing on a wide range of archival, published and visual sources, this work offers both a deep “reading” of romanità and a political-intellectual history of the institutions and individuals through which it was developed and promoted.
As a consequence of studying Fascist political culture for so many years, I have become increasingly interested in its enduring traces in contemporary Italy. To this day, it is not uncommon to encounter monuments and buildings erected by Mussolini’s regime across Italy, and the Fascist period is increasingly being cast in nostalgic and valorizing terms by the mass media, intellectuals and politicians. While such revisionism has opened up productive new debates, it also runs the risk of whitewashing a dark episode in Italy’s recent past and legitimizing voices hostile to pluralism and liberal democracy. My current research goes back to the immediate aftermath of Mussolini’s regime in 1943, in order to understand how the process of exorcising Fascism (or not) conditioned subsequent conceptions of its legacies.
As both these projects suggest, as a historian I am particularly interested in the politics of commemoration and the practices – including museum display, archaeology, monumentalization, education, architectural preservation and destruction – through which they are expressed. I share the belief that “history is historical” – that our reconstructions of the past are themselves historically contingent, and tell us at least as much about ourselves as they do about prior events. This emphasis – along with a belief in the complexity and contingency of human action – opens a space for public engagement; see for example my recent talk on controversial monuments for the World Monuments Fund. As historians, we have a responsibility to challenge facile or preconceived narratives, and through nuanced and responsible analysis to show that “it was NOT ever thus.” This role is essential for a strong, open and progressive society.