Life on a Fulbright: Fieldnotes from Naples

BY JENNY KREIGER, PhD candidate, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan, and Fulbright Fellow, 2014–2015

Since October, I have been living in Naples, Italy, where I have been conducting my dissertation research with the help of a grant from the US-Italy Fulbright Commission. The Fulbright Program supports academic exchange programs for American and international students, faculty, and researchers, and Italy is just one of many countries that participate in a bilateral Fulbright Commission.

A view of Naples from a hilltop castle. That very straight street at the lower left is one of the Roman decumani, still in use as a main road today.

A view of Naples from a hilltop castle. That very straight street at the lower left is one of the Roman decumani, still in use as a main road today.

The beauty of the Fulbright program is that it gives me the time and resources to do my research abroad while encouraging me to serve as a “citizen diplomat,” representing my country and learning about my host country at the same time. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture of Naples, so I rented a room in an apartment with Italian roommates. As it turned out, these were not just any roommates: they are the managers of an experimental theater company (TeatrInGestAzione; see link below). Their principal project every year is Alto Fest, a performing arts festival that puts artists into unusual venues in Naples—terraces, garages, kitchens, even the airport—offered for free by the owners. Artists come from around the world to create and adapt works for these spaces throughout the city, encouraging audiences to explore and connect with Naples on an intimate level. In our day-to-day life in this rooftop apartment, my roommates show me how the arts and cultural heritage can be used for social development and urban renewal in a concrete and personal way.

My roommates are not the only young Neapolitans using culture and heritage to change their city for the better. Through my research on the catacombs of Naples I have come into contact with the people of La Paranza, a social cooperative organization that is developing the catacombs and other heritage sites of the Rione Sanità as tourist destinations and sources of employment and local pride. La Paranza organizes concerts, art exhibitions, and other special events in addition to regular tours of the catacombs, and their programs attract locals and visitors alike. Centuries ago, the catacombs were important sites of cult and memory, and in their modern context the catacombs continue to shape local identity and daily life.

A view of one of the main galleries in the Catacomb of San Gennaro. That central arch is big enough to accommodate a city bus!

A view of one of the main galleries in the Catacomb of San Gennaro. That central arch is big enough to accommodate a city bus!

Finally, I want to share a few words about my research itself. My dissertation examines three major Italian catacomb complexes (in Rome, Naples, and Syracuse) to learn about the funerary industry in late antique urban contexts. Specifically, I am looking at inscriptions, paintings, and architecture in catacombs for clues about how funerary labor was organized, how laborers balanced customization and “mass production” in their work, and how materials (like marble slabs) were recycled and traded for funerary use. In practical terms, this has meant visiting sites, museums, and archives to study surviving materials and analyzing what I find using an array of philological, art historical, and archaeological methods. One of the broader goals of my dissertation is to consider the roles that ordinary workers played in the shaping of ancient culture, and it has been an invaluable part of this process to get to observe small organizations shaping the culture of a major modern city.

For more information on the Fulbright Program, TeatrInGestAzione and Alto Fest, or La Paranza and the Catacombe di Napoli, follow the links below.

On the Fulbright Program in general: http://eca.state.gov/fulbright/about-fulbright/funding-and-administration/fulbright-commissions

The US-Italy Fulbright Commission site: http://www.fulbright.it

TeatrInGestAzione site (in Italian): http://www.teatringestazione.com/tiga/chi-siamo/

Alto Fest 2015 call for applications: http://www.teatringestazione.com/altofest/open-calls/

La Paranza, “Who we are” (in Italian): http://www.catacombedinapoli.it/chisiamo.asp

Catacombe di Napoli main site (in Italian): http://catacombedinapoli.com

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