Thanks to the contributions of the celebrated Buffalo Division of the 92nd Infantry, which became the first Black unit to see combat in Europe when it was deployed to Naples in July 1944, African American soldiers figured prominently in the U.S. invasion, liberation, and occupation of Italy in the Second World War. They also figured prominently in the Italian imagination, becoming a subject of fascination, even obsession. In my paper I argue that African Americans in occupied Italy were made to symbolize a pervasive sense of national disgrace, “the synthesis of all the pain, all the horror, all the misfortune that the warfront had dragged through a devastated Italy,” in the words of one commentator. My claim is that, after twenty years of Fascist rule, with its insistence on Italian racial supremacy, the racial dynamics of the Allied occupation not only troubled but also radically transformed Italian thought and society.
Charles Leavitt IV is an associate professor of Italian in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Leavitt is a scholar of modern and contemporary Italy, with a particular research focus on the literary and cultural history of the post-war period. His work explores the efforts of artists and intellectuals to construct Italian histories, identities, and cultures with their creative and critical interventions across diverse media. Investigating these efforts through both formal and contextual analysis, he draws on and seeks to contribute to scholarship in literature, film studies, and history. While his disciplinary home is Italian Studies, his work adopts a comparative approach, tracing both the transnational configuration of cultural trends that have shaped the Italian scene and the routes of exchange that have conveyed Italian contributions to global culture. He is especially interested in the ways Italian writers and filmmakers have embraced international agendas and audiences when addressing local and national concerns.
This event is free and open to all.
Complimentary lunch will be available for 30 minutes AFTER the lecture (until 12:30 p.m.) while supplies last.