My Internship at the Medici Archive Project

Ventinove: A Guide at the Uffizi and a Student at the Pitti

Posted on Updated on

After returning from Lake Como, I went to work on Monday and excitedly chatted with my co-workers about all I had seen and done with my family. Jackie’s family was meeting her in Rome on Saturday and she was looking forward to showing them around on their first trip to Italy as well. All of us at the Archive agreed on how fortunate we were to be able to share our appreciation of Italy with our loved ones. What’s more, this week, two great opportunities came my way: the chance to take my family to the Uffizi Gallery on Tuesday evening, and then on Friday morning, seeing an exhibition at Palazzo Pitti with Sheila, Jackie and Ashley.

And the Petty family went to Pisa! Throughout the week my family traveled just outside of Florence while I was at work. At the end of my work days, it was fun to be able to show them around and teach them some Italian!
And the Petty family went to Pisa! Throughout the week my family traveled just outside of Florence while I was at work. At the end of my work days, it was fun to be able to show them around and teach them some Italian!

Although both experiences were great in their own right, their relationship to each other made them all the more special in my mind. I decided to take my family to the Uffizi on Tuesday night because during the summer the gallery is open until 11:00 PM, and I wanted to avoid the lines as much as possible. A summer in Florence is undoubtedly a hot one, and besides the fact that I had work during the day, I knew my brother and sister were not going to appreciate the Tuscan sun if we were standing in a three-hour line in 100 degree heat! Thus, I registered us for 7:00 PM tickets and met my family near Piazza della Signoria after my Italian class. I was so excited to show them one of my very favorite museums…but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also rather nervous. Because I am so passionate about art, I didn’t want them to be bored walking through the halls and galleries that I love so much.

Walking through the security room and passed the ticket booth, I led my family up three flights of very tall stairs, and into the first hallway. The Uffizi collection holds a vast number of objects that originally belonged to the Medici family, and the gallery, which is organized in the shape of a “U” has three long hallways (lined with portraits, classical sculptures and busts of Roman emperors) and galleries arranged in chronological order. Thus, I began by explaining the museum’s organization, making sure I hit the most important points I remembered from Liliana’s lecture of this space. Then, beginning with the Middle Ages, I took them through the Medieval galleries and explained the historical highlights while also emphasizing the most important characteristics of artwork during this period. My brother, Tim, smiled at me as I explained one of the works of art, an image of Christ on the cross by Giotto, and he later leaned in and said, “Caitlin, other people are listening to your explanations too!” which of course made me feel nervous, excited and proud all at the same time! I had a blast talking to them about my favorite pieces in the museum and telling them anecdotes about the artists or sitters, such as the story behind the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca (the Duke, Federico da Montefeltro, had lost his eye and the bridge of his nose in a jousting accident!).

One of my favorite paintings at the Uffizi - the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino
One of my favorite paintings at the Uffizi – the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino

My sister Nicole was curious as to why all artwork from the 1200’s-1400’s (from what I had showed them thus far) seemed to be religious in content. I explained how interesting that observation was; these individuals were working as craftsmen and as servants of God rather than as intellectuals with specific ideas and skills they wished to communicate and thus in many ways, the concept of an “artist’ had not yet emerged. That change began in the period we now refer to as the Renaissance. Tim and I spent some time up close with Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, and I told him how Leonardo, interested in botany, had painted each blade of grass, each type of plant, in a scientifically accurate way. My dad observed that our understanding of history largely refers to the history of the wealthy, (for example, all of these pieces of art had been commissioned by patrons who could afford it) and I responded by telling him about a scholar at MAP who was working on the history of the lower classes in Siena, specifically on lower class women, which is very exciting!

The best part was being able to share my passion, my emotional responses to artwork with my mom. Not only at the Uffizi, but at the Medici Chapels of San Lorenzo, I showed my mom works (both painting and sculpture) by none other than Michelangelo. Seeing how moved she was not only by the works themselves but by my love of them only reinforced how much I felt towards them. It was such a wonderful moment to be able to share with her. Back to the Uffizi, I had my family’s undivided attention for two and a half hours before their stomachs got the best of them and they needed an Italian dinner. I was really surprised and touched when my siblings approached me separately and told me how much they enjoyed the ‘tour’ I gave them. I was so fortunate to have the chance to share my passion with Tim, whose passion is for automotive engineering, and with Nicole, whose passion lies in scuba diving and oceanography. Plus, the fact that they enjoyed it made it all the more fun for me!

This is the advertisement for the exhibition Sheila's took us to. There were no photos allowed in the exhibition unfortunately but it was wonderful!
This is the advertisement for the exhibition Sheila’s took us to. There were no photos allowed in the exhibition unfortunately but it was wonderful!

On Wednesday, when I was back at work and collaborating with Sheila, she mentioned that an exhibition on Carlo Dolci (an artist I knew almost nothing about) was opening at the Pitti Palace, and she asked if Jackie, Ashley and I would be interested in going with her. Naturally we all agreed and in consequence, we spent over three hours closely viewing this rather small exhibition! I walked around and stared at the various paintings, putting them into the context of schemas I already knew: style, technique, patron, sitter, and subject matter. But Sheila’s knowledge brought me into new territory. One look at a painting and she would dive into a discussion of the fabric depicted – how gold was woven into the material – or she would gaze up at the poor condition of a work and begin musing about the controversial restoration of the Sistine Chapel in the 1990s. Everything that she spoke to us about made me think more critically about what hung in front of my eyes, and because I had just given my family a tour of the beautiful works at the Uffizi, I began thinking about how much I don’t yet know about the history of these objects and what they depict. I found myself so much more eager to know everything about Renaissance Florence. In fact, I wanted to know about Florence from start to finish; I wanted to know its historical trajectory and especially, how it came to be the Florence Michelangelo knew – the Florence I know.

My experiences at the Uffizi and the Pitti galleries this week taught me a very valuable lesson: I was at a critical point in my academic career. A point at which I could teach the basics about the subject matter I was studying, but also a point that I needed to surpass in order to quench my curiosity, and to fuel my passion. Teaching would absolutely play a part in my future, and clearly Florentine history would too.

Ventisette: A Fabulous Find in the Archive

Posted on

Remember the research Sheila asked me to complete at the Kunst? Well, this blog post is all about that amazing, one-of-a-kind, totally unexpected project!

This is a self portrait of Federico Barocci, the artist whose painting is discussed in the letter Sheila and I found.
This is a self portrait of Federico Barocci, the artist whose painting is discussed in the letter Sheila and I found.

One day at the Archive, I was reading a volume of incoming and outgoing letters (from the Archivo Mediceo del Principato, in the Carateggio Universale, specifically, between the years 1694 – 1699). Sheila came over to see how my work was going, and after reading through some of the letters with me, we stumbled upon a very interesting document. Sheila is incredibly skilled at searching for keywords within archival material, and she immediately saw that this letter included the name Federico Barocci, the name of a well-known Italian Baroque artist. In reading through it together – although I must say, Sheila is the one who placed it in context for me – we realized that the author of this letter, a man who called himself a Pittore da Urbino, an artist from Urbino, was writing to Cosimo III de’ Medici about a painting he had gifted to the Duke’s mother, Vittoria della Rovere before she had passed away. He described this painting as a small portrait of the Duke’s grandfather, Francesco Maria II della Rovere, and he stated his purpose for writing as being one concerned with knowing whether or not the Duke’s late mother had received his gift.

Content alone this letter was a fascinating find, particularly for me. Going a step further, Sheila had me conduct a search for portrait paintings by Barocci in the Catalogo delle Opere on the Polo Museale Fiorentino website so that we could try to identify the painting to which this letter referred. Alas, we found it: a round miniature (diametro 8.4) in the Uffizi collection! The Polo Museale Fiorentino had summarized the known history of the painting, suggesting that it arrived in Florence in 1631 when Vittoria della Rovere came to the city. However, based on the letter Sheila and I held between our fingertips, it would seem as though this painting came into Medici possession in 1693 – a difference Sheila and I believed to be worth writing about.

Using the Polo Museale Fiorentino search engine, Sheila and I concluded that this miniature portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere was indeed the painting described in the letter.  What an amazing find!
Using the Polo Museale Fiorentino search engine, Sheila and I concluded that this miniature portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere was indeed the painting described in the letter. What an amazing find!

And that is how I was given yet another incredible opportunity at the Archive: the chance to first transcribe this letter and then write an article about the information it contained. Seems simple enough, correct? Such a small piece of new information does not warrant that much extra research, right? Wrong! I needed to exhaust secondary source material on Barocci, his portrait paintings of Federico della Maria, and discern what had already been published in regards to this miniature painting. There was no better place to begin than at the Kunst, and so Sheila helped me search online for the books, articles and exhibition catalogs I would need to read at the Kunst.

I spent much of the following two weeks at the Kunst, reading sources that were both in English and Italian, compiling notes on each, and looking for extra information on art agency. Sheila had recently heard that a conference was being developed around the notion of art agency, and because this obscure artist had gifted a painting (by the hand of another artist) to the Duke of Florence, it could very well fit inside the schema of artist agency. Taking detailed notes, I spent a great deal of time writing and revising before I showed Sheila my first draft of the article. She was impressed with the way in which I opened the topic, but clearly, as a student with undergraduate writing experience, there was much work to be done. That would have to wait, however, because the following weekend, July 10-12, I was traveling to Milan for some art travel and to see my family, who was flying in for their first ever visit to Italy ever and who had come to see me in my state of complete bliss.

As so, I set myself up at the Kunst once more and got to work on all things related to Federico Barocci and this miniature painting!
As so, I set myself up at the Kunst once more and got to work on all things related to Federico Barocci and this miniature painting!

Venticinque: Archival Arrival

Posted on

Following the Feast Day of John the Baptist, I enjoyed my early morning walk to the Archive. It was my first day back at work since I returned from Sicily, and I smiled brightly knowing that the Italians would all be getting a late start after a long night of enjoying each other’s company. I thought about how, as an American college student, I come from a society that has a very peculiar relationship with alcohol, and how in many respects our frowning upon drinking prompts the ‘binge drinking’ culture that many young Americans partake in today. Italy has never really experienced this problem (although, one of my Italian teachers in Rome told me that many young Italians in Milan and in other northern, metropolitan cities are becoming more susceptible to the party scene common in northern European countries and in America). In the States, it can be such a controversy even to sip your parents’ drinks when you are out in public, but since being in Italy, I have seen how wine and other dinner drinks are used as conversation enhancers, rather than the means of turning oneself from an introvert into an extrovert. This is just one of the many aspects of Italy’s social framework that greatly interested me.

Often times after work, we interns would join the MAP staff for a glass of wine and aperitivo at a local cafe.  It was so wonderful to see how the conversation would flow as we sipped on our wine, and how different this social custom is from what I grew up seeing in America.
Often times after work, we interns would join the MAP staff for a glass of wine and aperitivo at a local cafe. It was so wonderful to see how the conversation would flow as we sipped on our wine, and how different this social custom is from what I grew up seeing in America.

As I signed in and walked towards the office, I realized that my internal musings on Italian culture were really very productive. Because I was spending more time at the Archive than I had originally intended (I had planned on working less hours and only four days a week) I was not often out in the piazzas during the day observing the Italians, nor was I yet embarking on my day trips outside of Florence. I truly appreciated the fact that I could spend so much time in the Archive under the direction of Sheila and the MAP staff, but small observations on more trivial aspects of Italy were, I thought, tremendously eye-opening, and I believe that they helped better inform my understanding of what “Italy” means.

Now, to get back on topic, it was time for me to once more envelop myself in all things archival, and I was glad that Sheila soon came into the office and asked if I wanted to go and have a coffee while we discussed what I had been working on. Thus, we walked down the street and stopped at a small café. First, we needed to discuss the Guide for Researching Women Artists, since I had been updating it during my time in Sicily. I pulled up the Word Document I had created, and thoroughly described each section while also explaining why I chose to organize the information in the way I did. Sheila had given me the names of three different women artists: one being a well-known artist, the other being slightly obscure, and the third being unknown. Using them as examples within the guide, I had included a variety of search engines and search results for each artist, while being sure to separate the instructional information from the concrete examples. I began to compile bibliographic references in the subsections as well.

All of this may sound confusing, and in honesty, each revision I made to the guide was a learning experience, because this level of specificity was one I had never before reached. Sheila was impressed with its organization and even more eager to show me how to complete the bibliographic material more thoroughly. We made plans to meet the following evening at the Kunsthistorisches in order to utilize their reference section. I cannot describe how excited I was for the opportunity to learn from Sheila in this capacity!

I was greatly impressed by the vastness of the Kunst's resources.  I felt as thought I could spend a lifetime here with my nose in these books!
I was greatly impressed by the vastness of the Kunst’s resources. I felt as thought I could spend a lifetime here with my nose in these books!

When we returned to the Archive, I showed Sheila the list of documents I had ordered, which ones I had already looked through, and the one I was currently scanning. She sat down with me and we began looking through it together. Sheila helped me to discern the words that I did not understand – whether due to illegibility or because I did not yet have the vocabulary. I am not doing justice to Sheila in saying that she is an excellent mentor, for she is far more than that. Sheila was an incredible, intellectual resource, an eloquent and compassionate teacher, and a passionate, disciplined, impressively accomplished scholar. Every interaction I had with her benefited me greatly in archival skills, writing, researching and data collecting techniques, and in the pursuit of my passion. When I expressed concerns about my proficiency in Italian, she did not worry in the slightest but helped me to format the research to my current abilities. One of the best lessons she taught me was that no one came into the archives knowing what he or she were looking for, how to seek it out, and how it could revolutionize a field of study. A scholar was meant to go to the archive with a passion, a topic, an interest; and it was the archive that dictated the entirety of that scholar’s future career.

This was the very beginning of the pile of source material that Sheila and I used for the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists. It grew substantially as we continued working!
This was the very beginning of the pile of source material that Sheila and I used for the Guide for Conducting Research on Women Artists. It grew substantially as we continued working!

When Sheila and I met at the Kunst on Thursday evening to compile a more extensive bibliography, she showed source material, dictated the citations to me and then gave me time to finish taking down notes. She graciously spent hours with me looking through these books and choosing the most important sections – showing me how she arrived at those conclusions. I learned so much. By the time I returned home that evening I was both exhausted and exhilarated. Sheila tasked me with continuing this work at the Kunst while also conducting a very specific type of research there…but I will touch on that in a later post! Additionally, I would continue my work at the Archive by looking for correspondence between Cosimo III de’ Medici’s court and that of London and/or any references to medicine or the natural sciences.

Ventiquattro: Feast Day in Florence

Posted on

This blog post deals specifically with one evening and a small piece of knowledge that I became aware of. Regardless, it was an important evening for me because it made me very pensive for the following months, and even now as I reflect on the summer as a whole it has stayed with me.

The day I returned from Sicily was a holiday in Florence – the feast day of San Giovanni, or John the Baptist – and therefore the Archive was closed. The Florentines greatly enjoy celebrating their feast days in a display of magnificence: parades in Renaissance attire and a grand display of fireworks in the evening. I met Mimi and Ashley on the opposite side of the Arno for an aperitivo (the Italian equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet) before the fireworks started, and while we waited for the sky to darken and the show to begin, we talked about how the internship was going and what our plans were for the future.

Working with Mimi was incredibly eye opening. She had studied British Literature as an undergraduate at Oxford and was pursuing research concerning John Milton’s journey to Italy as a project for her graduate work at Cambridge. Ashley had come to the realm of scholarship in a very interesting way, first working as a high school history teacher for ten years before deciding to go for a doctorate at the University of South Florida; and now she was working on research concerning Anna Maria Lusia de’ Medici. Still an undergraduate, I was eager to hear about their respective career paths, and I was intrigued when they both agreed that taking time off before graduate school was one of the best decisions they had made. Mimi had done her gap year at Princeton, and Ashley had gotten much work experience under her belt before pursuing her Ph.D. She cautioned us against thinking that graduate school was the same type of education we were used to: it was harder, not only in terms of content but in terms of self-endurance, self-doubt, and self-awareness.

Ashley’s sentiments were reinforced by conversations I had with multiple scholars at the Archive throughout the summer: graduate school was intensive for the simple reason of weeding out the students who were not willing to go the extra mile; it was a shock to no longer be the brightest student in the room or to not understand the course work as well as the other students; and it was terrifying and lonely to receive less guidance and positive feedback from professors. Over and over I was told that this information was relayed to me not to scare me away from this path, but because I needed to be absolutely sure it was the path I wanted to take – that it was a path I was capable of withstanding. Well, this hit home, and I had a very difficult time coming to terms with it throughout the summer, and even now.

I am forever the student who works industriously. From an early age teachers and fellow students discouraged me from pursuing academics: dyslexia made me ‘slow and stupid’ and I was not going to ‘make it.’ Because of this, I never saw myself as one of the brightest students in the room, and so I knew that when I got to graduate school, coming to terms with that would not be an issue. What did scare me, however, was the thought of professors not offering help, guidance, and feedback. The mentors I have had throughout my academic career created such a strong support system for me, one that only made me want to strive further, to be more passionate, and to try for opportunities I thought were out of my reach – the Salisbury being one of them. The prospect of losing that type of support was nerve-racking and I wondered if I did indeed have what it takes to pursue this difficult road.

While I watched the fireworks that brightened the sky in John the Baptist’s honor, I thought about this conversation, and I felt a tremendous amount of pressure regarding a future I was always certain about. But, I also thought about how happy the pursuit of art, culture and scholarship makes me…and not for a second did I think that this was something worth sacrificing due to fear. I had much to think of, but I refused to discourage myself from something so dear to my heart. After all, that was the reason I was in Florence watching these fireworks.

The fireworks were almost as incredible as the insights I made during the conversation with my co-workers this evening.  And so, it was a truly spectacular first night back in Firenze.
The fireworks were almost as incredible as the insights I made during the conversation with my co-workers this evening. And so, it was a truly spectacular first night back in Firenze.

Diciannove: Saved by Sheila

Posted on Updated on

My second week at MAP witnessed the return of all those who had been out of the office for conferences, travel, or vacation. This was the week in which we interns truly saw the office dynamics; that is, how these various individuals worked together, and where we should place ourselves within the social framework. Everyday, Ashley and Sam invited us to lunch at il Giova, and remarkably, our group lunches quickly became the time for discussion: What was happening in the EU? What did the Greek referendum demonstrate? And Germany’s response? As Americans overseas, how did we find out about the legalization of same-sex marriage? When Italians ask where we are from, do we respond “The States” or with our specific state? What does that say about nationalism and regional identity in America? Often times, Sheila and Hannah (one of MAP’s Research Fellows currently working on her Ph.D. at Oxford) would join us, making the discussions all the more dynamic.

This is the little place where we had lunch everyday. We became fast friends with the owner and she enjoyed helping us with our conversational Italian!
This is the little place where we had lunch everyday. We became fast friends with the owner and she enjoyed helping us with our conversational Italian!

I was very happy when Sheila returned from travel because I wanted to show her what I had done thus far, but more importantly I wanted her advice as to how I should proceed. Sheila taught afternoon classes twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and this worked well for us considering the afternoons were when I had Italian classes. Over the weekend, I had emailed her an update on the work I had completed, so when she came into the office we sat down together and looked at the research I had done. Seeing that I had exhausted all secondary sources on Martin Lister and Anne, Sheila showed me how to conduct online research in a more creative way; one that would yield primary source material, e.g. birth records, marriage contracts, and wills. She then took me to the resource center. Ashley had already given Mimi, Jackie and I a demonstration of how to use this area, but because I wanted to cement the process in my mind, I was glad Sheila was showing me once more, this time with a concrete example of what to look for. First, she took me to the room in which all the reference books were shelved. These books were indexes of the various collections of documents and their respective call numbers. For instance, Sheila had found the letter from Martin Lister to Cosimo III de’ Medici in the collection of incoming letters. As I would be looking for a response letter, Sheila suggested that I look in the Archivo Mediceo del Principato, specifically in the Minute di Lettere e Registri. Lister’s letter was written in 1693, so within this collection, I would look at subtitled sections such as correspondence between Firenze (Florence) and Londra (London, because Martin Lister was British) and in all incoming letters specifically from 1693 and in the years following. Later, after Sheila had left the Archive for the day, I went back to these reference books and complied a list of volumes to order. I have copied the list below (annotated with a few notes I made throughout the internship) to give an idea as to how these volumes are cataloged:

 

In the Archivo Mediceo del Principato

Minute di Lettere e Registri

  1. Cosimo III e Gian Gastone
  2. 1690 Apr. 15 – 1699 Mag. 29, v. 315. (page 9 of catalog)

(Letters to and from London were not as frequent in this volume between 1693 and 1695 in particular)

Carateggio Universale

  1. Cosimo III << Particolari Diversi >>
  2. 1638 Gen. 21 – 1693 Dic. 14, f. 1133. (p. 26)
  3. 1694 Gen. 9 – 1699 Dic. 27, f. 1134.

(Lettre and Minute)

  • Look not only for Martin Lister’s name but for any reference to Britain (London, John Place, other foreign ministers, etc.).
  • Page 53: Barocci document

Relazione con Stati Italiani ed Esteri

  1. Inghilterra
  2. Francesco Terriesi (p. 140)

1688 Gen. 2 – 1691 Apr. 10, f. 4214

  1. Jacopo Giraldi

1700 Feb. 2 – 1702 Dic. 30, f. 4215

(The volume was extremely large and because it was all minute, I am not sure how to scan it correctly for Lister’s name. I am going to revisit this one later)

  1. Lettere di Diversi dall’Inghilterra a Cosimo Principe Ereditario Poi Granduca ed al Segretario Apollonio Bassetti, con Minute di Risposta.
  2. 1688 – 1690, f. 4246. (p. 141)
  3. 1691 – 1699, f. 4247.
  4. Avvisi
  5. 1697 Lug. 26 – 1702 Set. 10, f. 4191a. (p. 142)

Carteggi dei Principi e delle Granduchesse

  1. Ferdinando di Cosimo III, Gran Peincipe
  2. 1689 – 1691, f. 5877. (p.)
  3. 1691 – 1693, f. 5878
  4. 1693 – 1694, f. 5879
  5. 1695, f. 5880.
  6. 1697, f. 5882.

Sheila also demonstrated how to order the specific volumes online and suggested that I always place orders a day in advance, or at least before 9:30 in the morning, because after that it takes until 10:30 the following morning for the order to be processed. Sheila and I then returned to MAP’s room, and she began explaining the second project she wanted us to work on together: the guide for researching women artists.

This guide, one that would be published online as a resource for university students, was a project she had been thinking about for a long time. Her previous intern, Gabriela, had already begun writing a list of guidelines, but because they were only in note form, the project was still in a very early stage of development. Looking at it together, Sheila described what she was looking for: this guide needed to address the differences in how to conduct research on women artists. What are the steps that need to be taken? What questions need to be asked, and how do they differ from research questions asked for male artists? I am very sure Sheila could see the spark in my eyes as she discussed this project, and in explaining myself, I told her about the work I do at HWS as a Teaching Fellow for Art History, as a Writing Colleague and as a Study Mentor. In the fall semester, before I went to Rome, I worked as a Writing Colleague for Professor James Capreedy’s FSEM on Law in Ancient Athens. Because many of the students were having difficulty with thesis statement development and with essay organization/structure, I had created and presented ‘writing guidelines’ that Professor Capreedy then posted online. Likewise, as a Teaching Fellow, the professors in the Art History department asked me to create PowerPoint presentations for Art History Terminology as well as for Formal Analysis paper writing. I truly enjoy organizing guides, and Sheila was excited to know that these experiences at HWS would help me in this endeavor.

Throughout the week, we continued working together, whenever she had a moment to spare from her own research. I had also given her a breakdown of the travel I was undertaking in Italy and throughout Europe, and she wished me well on my upcoming trip to Sicily, one I would leave for on Thursday evening.

Diciotto: In Italian

Posted on

I knew when I started working for MAP that supplementing my internship with Italian classes would be essential, and because I had such a positive experience working with the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, I thought it would be a great idea to continue my lessons through their school based in Florence. Once again, my professor, advisor and mentor in all respects, Liliana Leopardi, helped me establish a connection with the school, and she even arranged for my one-on-one lessons to be with a teacher who had experience with the archives. That is how I met Benedetta, an older Italian woman who was practically everything I could ask for in a teacher at this stage of my skillset. As exhausting as it is to learn another language – especially when beginning in your 20’s – working with Benedetta never failed to inspire my hope of eventually being fluent in this beautiful language.

Towards the end of my semester in Rome, I had become quite sick with a virus that affected my inner ear. As a result, I was most keen to begin with the lessons I was out of commission for during the semester. Thus, on the first day, I brought my book from Rome, and I showed Benedetta the topics that I struggled with the most: futuro semplice, condizionale, pronomi diretti e indiretti, imperfetto and verbi riflessivi al passato prossimo. Oddio! That looks like a lot doesn’t it?!

This is the wonderful place where we took Italian lessons in Rome.  I am still in touch with the teachers there - they were absolutely amazing
This is the wonderful place where we took Italian lessons in Rome. I am still in touch with the teachers there – they were absolutely amazing

Well, it was a lot, but luckily I understood these topics in their most general sense. What I needed was guidance as to how to apply them practically in speaking, and how to comprehend them in reading. Before my tests in Rome, some of the other students and I would often ask Liliana for help, and in these meetings I was able to see how each of us differed in our approach to language learning. One of the students I worked with had an intuitive understanding of the language, but he often second-guessed himself. For me, the language was not intuitive at all. I needed to have a concrete definition of the rules, examples of how to apply them, and an understanding of why they worked the way that they did. That is a lot of ask of any language, especially when as a foreigner, there is no way I could ever understand completely. Thus, the inner working of my brain frustrated me immensely during Italian 102!

This time, in Florence, I was taking Italian not as a course or for a grade, but because I genuinely hoped to learn, and that difference greatly affected what I was able to take away from the experience. Benedetta and I spent a few of the sessions strictly speaking aloud in Italian. More often than not I was lost in our conversation, or I could not complete a thought back to her, but the effort I put forth helped me remember forgotten words, or pick up the phrases she often repeated. By the end of the first month I was walking into cafés, restaurants, grocery stores, museums and churches with ease, knowing that my small talk skills had improved tremendously!

And here is the scuola in Florence.  Although it is 20 minutes from the Archive, it is close to the Kunst and even closer to the Duomo
And here is the scuola in Florence. Although it is 20 minutes from the Archive, it is close to the Kunst and even closer to the Duomo

Shortly after we began, I started assigning myself homework – not much fun after full days of Italian immersion, but still very important. The more challenging parts of my lessons with Benedetta (the vocabulary, the new concepts and the application of them) I will return to in a later post, but for the moment, I was pleased with the progress of my speaking skills, and I hoped they would continue to improve throughout the summer.

Diciasette: The Archives and Me

Posted on

This post is particularly important to me. I hope in writing it, I can accurately describe why my position at MAP was so difficult for me to reflect upon as it happened, and how it began to shape my life in such a personal way. The honor of winning the Salisbury prompted me to question myself in many ways, and although my intention in these blog posts was not originally to narrate the personal growth I underwent throughout the summer, I do believe it is incredibly important for me to explain the presence of this growth as it relates directly to the work I completed at MAP, particularly in the beginning.

How had I been given such an incredible opportunity despite the fact that academic pursuits present such a challenge for me? This was the question I asked myself the most, and it was easy in the first week of the internship – when I was completely inexperienced in the realm of archives and sixteenth century Italian paleography – to chalk my struggles up to dyslexia. I watched how beautifully Jackie read documents aloud, and even when she struggled to decipher a character, she logically concluded its identity by virtue of its position within a word, phrase, or placement on the page. Mimi, sitting next to me, conducted research online, with databases I had never navigated before, and I tried to memorize her line of inquiry as she jumped from an article to an index to a birth record site and back to the archive homepage.

Of course, this internal questioning stemmed from the fact that I hoped to perform my role at MAP to the best of my abilities, and I worried that the pace at which I was learning Italian would not be adequate, nor would the research I was able to conduct. And in all honesty, it took me until the last day of my internship to realize just how significant those worries were. So, please forgive me for jumping ahead, but I hope it will provide a bit of clarity.

Sheila took me to lunch as a thank you on the last full day of our working together, and during out two hour conversation, I told her how grateful I was for the experience because in so many ways, I felt that MAP had given me more than I could give in return. She looked at me a bit puzzled and asked me to elaborate, and ultimately, when I explained my self-assessment of my abilities, she responded with two thought provoking comments: first, that my internship amounted to one of the most successful internships MAP has facilitated (she said this in reference to the versatility of experience which will become clearer as I continue posting); and second, that brilliance and innate genius – though crucial for the pursuit of scholarship – come after passion and determination.

It took me a long time to realize, but what she said about my internship was true: my Italian language skills, my ability to decipher paleography, and my researching practices were not stellar when I began the internship, but they steadily improved. And yet, even more significantly, I made strides in organization, versatility, adaptability, and most of all, reaffirmation of my passion. In those attributes the answers to my self-questioning became clear.

The glorious city I called home for the summer
The glorious city I called home for the summer