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Report from Rome

Editor’s Note: History Department professor Paul Arpaia is only the second IUP faculty member to win the Rome Prize. (Daniel Perlongo of the Music Department was a Rome Prize winner in both 1970 and 1971 in musical composition. He took leave from IUP and was resident at the American Academy in Rome from 1970 to 1972.) Arpaia will file dispatches to IUP Magazine throughout his year at the Academy.

Happy New Year… in Rome

A new academic year always seems to set the college community apart from the rest of the world. We spend the last week of August each year as if it were New Year’s Eve. And why not? After all, a new year really is about to begin for us students, faculty, and administrators.

So during that time of year, we cast off the detritus of the old year and make resolutions about how we will improve ourselves over the upcoming academic year. It matters little that some of our best intentions come to naught by the first weeks of September. It just goes to show that for the IUP family (and for people at colleges across the U.S.), 27 August 2007 is like 1 January 2008 for everyone else.

This state of affairs became even clearer for me as I realized that my new year 2007-2008 would mean leaving behind the knolls and dales of Indiana for the hills and vales of Rome, Italy. As the winner of the Rome Prize in Modern Italian Studies, I am spending the academic year living and researching at the American Academy in Rome. Dedicated to the advancement and enrichment of American culture and scholarship, the Academy sponsors research and artistic activity in Rome for approximately thirty fellows in the Arts and Humanities. 

I had always dreamed of spending a year at the Academy, perched on the Janiculum hill above the Vatican City, along the eastern side of the historic center of Rome. To be chosen as a post-doctoral fellow at the Academy means having the opportunity to do research in Rome. And, what a dream! I am living for a year among a community of artists, landscape artists, visual filmmakers, designers, photographers, musicians, architects, poets, literary scholars, Medievalists, Renaissance scholars, archaeologists, and Classicists. We are all meant to bring something to the Academy, and I bring my own expertise in modern Italian history. My project is to research a book project on Luigi Federzoni, a cultural and political figure whose career spanned the first fifty years of the twentieth century, when Italy went from a constitutional monarchy to a fascist state to a republic.

As my “old” year came to a close, I found myself trying to imagine what I would need over the next year in Rome. The AAR had given us a list of things most Americans cannot live without, but I was still left puzzling over which books I would need and which I had to leave behind. Fortunately, Scott Moore, my colleague in the History Department who does lots of research travel, showed me how to scan books and documents. I was able to bring a digitized copy of my books and thus bring a library with me on my computer’s hard drive. And so, I spent the end of the year scanning documents and books I would need to consult and saving them to my computer.

As “New Year’s Eve” approached, I was still working on sorting out my visa with the Italian Consulate General in New York, preparing for my departure, and trying to put my mind in the proper frame. Despite the fact that I applied for my visa over a month before I needed to leave, the Italian Consulate General had only given me a first interview on August 27, less than a week before I had to leave. I received assurances that I would get my visa in time, but I was left biting my fingers as my mind’s eyes nervously watched a ball dropping slowly from a building above Times Square to usher in the New Year.

I knew I was ready to leave when the time came. I had a pile of clothes, computer equipment, and American appliances, all waiting to be stuffed into two large suitcases. I had said my good-byes to friends and family and given out my contact information. When the New Year loomed larger than usual in my mind, I tried to imagine myself living on the Academy’s compound in the large villa that dominates the highest point in Rome. I’d been told living in the Academy is a bit like dorm life—something I approached with as much trepidation as a first-year student at IUP.  Fortunately, no one shares a room; but still, I’d been told by former fellows to expect communal living. So long as no one objects to my making my pot of tea at 5:00 a.m., when this farm boy still gets up, there should be no problem! 

In any case, an exciting year awaits me, filled with sponsored trips to archaeological sites in Sicily and Tunisia, lots of research in Roman archives, and heaping plates of my favorite dish: pasta! In the meantime, I've set up a blog for our History majors so that they can look over my shoulder (so to speak) as I work on my book project. Of course, everyone is invited to read it if they want to see what we historians do. The address is http://janiculum.typepad.com/weblog. And, I’ve promised IUP Magazine that I will send more installments from the hill for the next few issues.

Happy New Year! Or, as they say in Rome, Buon Anno!