July 02, 2007

History faculty member set to spend year in Italy

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — It's an once-in-a-lifetime chance for Holly Hurlburt, assistant professor of history at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

From later this month until June 2008, Hurlburt will be in Italy as a Villa I Tatti Fellow through the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies. She will be free from her usual academic responsibilities to immerse herself in researching Renaissance culture and politics.

"It's daunting," she said about her upcoming adventure. "The community of scholars associated with the I Tatti Fellowships is a 'who's who' of my field."

Daunting, but exciting, and Hurlburt is up for the challenge. She leaves for Venice next week, mere days after giving a final exam to her intensive four-week "History of Western Civilization to 1500" summer class. She'll spend two months in Venice before going to the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti, which is in Florence.

Hurlburt will have office space in the Villa I Tatti and access to the Renaissance library housed there. She will live nearby in an apartment owned by Harvard that is part of a former convent and is attached to an historic church. As one of about a dozen fellowship scholars, she will be part of an intellectual community that can inspire and challenge each other throughout the fellowship term. Besides the other I Tatti scholars, guest scholars and visiting lecturers make regular appearances as well.

I Tatti scholars are typically those who have held their doctoral degrees for less than 10 years. The center is aimed at post-doctoral researchers who are still in the early stages of their academic careers. The fellowship is neither renewable nor repeatable – scholars may participate as fellows in the program only once. The fellowship description states that fellows are chosen for their "demonstrable scholarly excellence and promise" as well as the intellectual importance and relevance to the Renaissance of their proposed research projects.

Hurlburt's research focuses on "questions of empire and gender," with the last monarch of Cypress, Queen Catherine Cornaro, as her subject. Cornaro, a Venetian native, ruled Cyprus from 1474, after the mysterious deaths of her husband and infant son, until 1489, when she was forced to abdicate in favor of the Republic of Venice.

Hurlburt said she hopes that her time spent in Italy participating in research activities represented by Harvard University will help raise awareness of SIUC.

"I hope I can help raise awareness of what our faculty are doing," she said, noting the support she has from SIUC's College of Liberal Arts makes her feel good about her career path. "It's one of the reasons I want to stay with SIUC," she said. "This institution obviously supports research."

History Department Chair Michael Batinski said he is always excited to see history faculty develop into productive scholars. "If scholarship means the merging of research with teaching in a mutually enriching manner, Hurlburt represents the best of that tradition," he said. "Last year, after years of research in Italy, her first book was published. In recognition of that achievement and her promise as a scholar, she received the Harvard fellowship to continue her work in Italy. In turn, she brings the results of her scholarship to the classroom in ways that make her an outstanding teacher."

Batinski said Hurlburt has been active in college activities as well, praising her for her role as chair of the College of Liberal Arts Council and as a member of the search committee charged with hiring a dean for the College of Liberal Arts.

"On behalf of our colleagues in the department, I congratulate her for her splendid contribution to the University community," he said.

Hurlburt joined the history faculty at SIUC in 2000. She earned her master's and her doctoral degrees from Syracuse University in 1995 and 2000 respectively. Her bachelor's degree is from the University of Virginia in 1993. Her scholarly interests include medieval history, early modern and modern Italy, women and gender history and socio-cultural history. Her book, "The Dogaressa of Venice, 1200-1500: Wife and Icon" focuses on the private and public identities of the dogaresse, wives of the elected doges of medieval and early modern Venice. It was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2006.