Core Faculty

  • Giulia Centineo

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    Akash Kumar

    I came to love Italian through Dante. It was an early reading of the Comedy as a teenager that made me love poetry and I wanted so much to read it in the original language. As an undergraduate at New York University, I studied Comparative Literature but always kept coming back to Italian and eventually spent my junior year living in Florence. Immersing myself in the culture gave me a whole new perspective on my love of Dante, making the language of medieval poetry come to life in unexpected ways, from proverbs at my host family’s dinner table to cheers at a soccer game at the Franchi (forza Viola!). Though I had the best laid plans of going to law school, I couldn’t resist the allure of continuing to study Italian at a graduate level.

    As a graduate student in Italian and Comparative Literature at Columbia, I continued to study Dante, but in a global perspective, combined with Middle Eastern Studies, Classics, and the history of philosophy and science. My research has two main strands: the crossing of poetry and philosophy in medieval Italy by way of the multicultural transmission of knowledge (from Greek to Arabic to Latin to Italian), and the interactions between Western and non-Western culture in popular activities like game-playing and storytelling. I’ve lately been engaged with Digital Humanities as well, relaunching the website Digital Dante and thinking about the intersection of technology and literary studies for a new generation of scholars and students.

    What always brings me back to Italian and what animates my teaching is the endless complexity of cultural crossings that is at the heart of Italian culture and the continued vitality of ancient texts, right up to the stormy present. To paraphrase the great Italian philologist Gianfranco Contini, I truly believe that our modern impression of reading Dante is not one of coming upon a survivor of long centuries, but of catching up to someone who got here before we did.

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    Cynthia Polecritti

    Learning about Renaissance art as an undergraduate was my gateway to the fascinating world of Italian culture. My favorite courses in college were on Quattrocento art, the High Renaissance, and Michelangelo. A few years later, when I went to UC Berkeley as a graduate student, I moved in a somewhat different direction when I to began to study “popular culture,” especially preaching, peacemaking, and public ritual in the Early Renaissance.

    During this time, I had the wonderful opportunity to live for two years in one of the world’s most beautiful cities: Siena, Italy. The traditional neighborhoods and rhythms of life provided an incomparable chance to understand urban culture in depth and think about the many connections (and disjunctures) between the Middle Ages and Modern Italy. I also took advantage of my time in Italy to travel to as many old towns as possible, from Bergamo in the north to Syracuse in the south. Today, whenever I conduct research abroad, I try to add at least one new city to my lifetime travel list. Each visit teaches me something new that I can share with my students or bring to my research.

    As a History professor, I enjoy working on all of these facets of Italy. I am currently writing a book on street life in the 19th century, but still love to teach the rich and complex worlds of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. My two newest courses are on the long-term urban history of Rome and on Italy’s 19thcentury. The latter class introduced me to the astonishing world of Italian opera, which will now remain another lifelong interest. The culture of Italy is inexhaustible and infinitely rewarding. 

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    Tonia Prencipe

    I was born and raised in Italy and obtained a Laurea in Foreign Languages and Literature at the University of Bari.  I teach first and second year courses, including accelerated courses. Teaching is what gives me energy and inspiration. Teaching my native Italian language enables me to draw upon my own culture and personal experience as a foreign language learner as I teach my students to effectively communicate with me in my own language and, perhaps more importantly, to gain an appreciation for another language and culture. My interests include language acquisition, multicultural education, and child development in learning foreign languages.

    I also serve as the program director of a non-profit organization that serves the community and works to promote and preserve the study of Italian Language and Culture. I spend my free time reading books (I just finished to read the last book of Elena Ferrante tetralogy, My brilliant friend), hiking and trying to understand some of the American sports my daughter plays. I also enjoy travelling, cooking, theater, music and spending time in nature.

    Lecturer in Italian Tonia Prencipe has been awarded a grant from the Italian Consulate in San Francisco and the Department of Languages and Applied Linguistics, to teach a new course in fall 2015. Italian 100 is designed to provide intensive practice in oral and written Italian. The course will focus on key areas of vocabulary building and increased oral and written expression. Students will participate in class discussions, oral presentations, written reports, responses and essays. They will also experiment with different genres of writing, including, diaries, letters, blogs, text messaging, dialogues, short stories, memoirs, interviews, podcasts and media language.

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    Deanna Shemek

    The most common question I hear from Italians who meet me and learn what I do is, “Are you from an Italian family?” The answer, to their surprise, is no. I came to Italian not through my own heritage (which is Polish and German), but through the classroom. I began to study the language when I was in high school, taking a night class at the community college from the Italian mother of my best friend. I continued with Italian in college at the University of Nebraska Lincoln because, by a happy twist of fate, there was no space in the Spanish classes I thought I wanted to take! My fabulous Italian teacher encouraged me to study abroad, and a year at the University of Bologna inspired  a decisive turn in my life and career goals. Though I returned to Nebraska to finish my BA in English, newly energized by the interest of Italians in the American literature of the Great Plains, I was also determined to dedicate myself to studying Italian literature and culture. I earned my PhD in Italian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. Before my arrival at UC Santa Cruz as an Assistant Professor, I taught for two years each at the University of Pennsylvania and at Yale. I have been rooted in Santa Cruz ever since. 

    Students encounter me in literature classes at UCSC in both Italian and in English, on topics that range from contemporary fiction to opera, to the fourteenth-century writings of Petrarch and Boccaccio. They also contribute to my research on the Italian Renaissance. My favorite moments in teaching these materials happen when students discover that though the texts we are reading may have been written hundreds of years ago, they share many of our same concerns and are, in fact, full of ideas we still care about. Lately, I have turned to the Digital Humanities, in a project that aims to allow exploration of the Italian Renaissance through the letters, music, and art collecting of Isabella d’Este, the sixteenth-century marchesa of the city of Mantua.