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Florence Faculty Q&A: Dr. Ian Bickerton

  We recently sat down with Dr. Ian Bickerton, who teaches The American Idea of Italy: the 1880s to the Present at the CEA Global Campus in Florence, to discuss his background and study abroad scholarship, and what it's like for an Australian to teach American students in Italy.    

CEA Florence: Who are you and what do you do? 

Ian Bickerton: I was born in Perth, Western Australia, and educated at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, where I gained my B.A. with Honors in History. I received my M.A. at Kansas State University before completing my Ph.D. at the Claremont Graduate School in California.
 
I have been a member of the School of History at the University of New South Wales for the past forty years. I have taught history of the modern U.S.A., U.S. diplomatic history, and the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I have also taught at the University of California Santa Barbara, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and have lectured in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and Israel. In 1982 I participated in the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies run by Harvard.  I have been twice a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. 
 
My most recent publications include A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (6th ed with Carla Klausner), Unintended Consequences: The United States at War (with Kenneth Hagan), The Illusion of Victory: The True Costs of War, and The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Guide for the Perplexed.
 
CEA: What do you think is most special about the course you teach at the GC?

IB: It places the Italy that Americans have imagined, visited, written about, painted, and made movies about over the past 150 years in an Italian and American historical context.  Because I am not American or Italian, my students gain a somewhat different if not unique, and at times challenging, perspective on both histories.
  
The course provides my students an opportunity to glimpse—however briefly—the landscape that Henry James, John Singer Sargent, Bernard Berenson and many others walked, and they can experience first-hand the wonder and joy of seeing the great works of the Renaissance that have captured the imagination of Americans over time. Through their exposure to a brief exploration of the history of Italy and the United States through the twentieth century in a small, interactive, classroom environment while they are here in Florence, my students will hopefully sense more profoundly the two differing ways of viewing the world, and see how they have created an ongoing indissoluble link between the two countries and their cultures. Hopefully, my course will assist them to locate themselves within that process.
 
CEA: What do you hope students will say about your course at the end of the semester?

IB: I have no idea of what my students will say about my course at this stage; they and I are still getting to know each other!  But I hope at the end of the course they will say that I have opened their minds to new ways of seeing, and thinking about, the world—especially about Italy and the way Americans perceive this country.  I hope they will say that they now understand and appreciate how Americans have seen and experienced Italy and Italians over the past century and a half, and that they feel they are in a position to make their own informed assessment not only of Italy, but of those Americans who have rushed to judgement before them.  That is to say, I hope they will say that they have learned to think critically and historically about why and how Americans have viewed Italy and its culture and history in the way they have. 
 
It would be good if they also added that they enjoyed the process, because unless I have engaged and enthused them to use their own experiences here as students abroad to explore Italy and Italians beyond the provincial, popular, stereotypes held by the majority of non-Italian Americans in the US, I will have failed. Above all, what I would most like my students to say is that I cared about them, their education and their futures.
 
CEA: What book are you currently reading?

IB: I am currently reading Whoops; Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay by John Lanchester.  This is a brilliant, very accessible, and highly amusing explanation of the world-wide current financial crisis, and should be read by everyone who owes anybody anything—especially the current generation of students who will be paying for their debts, and that of their parents, for the rest of the their lives!!!  I have already worked out a tremendously exciting and brilliant way to avoid paying my own debts while reading this book—trouble is, no one will go along with my idea! 
 
I am also reading a wonderfully evocative and beautifully written book about the American occupation of Naples during World War II titled, Naples 44 by Norman Lewis.  I was unaware of this book until it was suggested to me by my CEA Florence colleague Martino Traxler and I am finding it an absolutely fascinating read.
 
CEA: What is your favorite restaurant in Florence and what is the best dish there?

IB:  My favorite eating place in Florence is Trattoria Mario, or simply, Mario’s, near the central market. You do have to wait outside as there are no advance bookings, and you sit wherever Fabio places you in communal tables. The conversations that follow are frequently memorable!  I have no favorite dish as each day has its own more-or-less set menu. What remains constant is that the food is delicious, traditional and fresh, the price is right, and the desert is biscotti and vin santo.  Who could ask for more?

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