Spotlight FWS | Cultural Identities/Cultural Differences: Writing Italy

Irene Eibenstein-Alvisi (Romance Studies, PhD 2003) wants to take her FWS students on a tour of Italy. More specifically, she wants the students in “Cultural Identities/Cultural Differences: Writing Italy” to participate, virtually, in the Grand Tour, a rite of passage for affluent Americans and Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In “Blogging Italy,” Eibenstein-Alvisi guides us through her 21st century version of the Grand Tour, as it plays out in her FWS.

Three literary texts, set in three Italian cities, written by three non-Italian authors, provide the textual foundation for “Writing Italy.” As Eibenstein-Alvisi notes, the original audience for these fictions—Henry James’s “Daisy Miller,” E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice—brought a base of knowledge to the reading, either because they had participated in the Grand Tour themselves, or because they had read travel journalism about Italy (including pieces written by these same authors).

The blog assignment described in “Blogging Italy,” helps contemporary Cornell undergraduates fill in gaps in cultural knowledge. As a longtime teacher of Italian, Eibenstein-Alvisi knows that cultural context is essential to language learning and to writing about literary texts. She writes:

…many of the skills necessary for good writing in English are the same ones that an L2 language instructor should cultivate in students. Acquiring cultural competency as a requisite for language learning. Determining how to ask probing questions. Knowing how to arrange information in order to create a narrative. Communicating what has been learned in a way that prioritizes fundamental concepts over details.

The blog is designed to be both an individual assignment—each student researches, in sequence, a topic related to Rome, Florence, and Venice—and a collective resource. When writing their papers about each city, students are required to cite the blogs written (and illustrated) by their classmates.

Eibenstein-Alvisi, who also mentors graduate student FWS instructors in Romance Studies, has been using the blog assignment as part of her FWS since 2017. On several occasions, she has presented the blog to colleagues through the Faculty Seminar in Writing Instruction. The natural evolution of the blog that occurs whenever one re-uses a writing assignment took on new dimensions during the pandemic year. “Blogging Italy,” originally published in the 2020 edition of Teaching Italian Language and Culture Annual was republished in a special edition devoted to virtual teaching. You can read it here:

Blogging Italy | Irene Eibenstein-Alvisi (Romance Studies, Cornell University)


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