UC Santa Cruz professor receives $200,000 grant to fund summer institute in Venice, Italy

UCSC professor of English and comparative literature Murray Baumgarten has been awarded a $195,452 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund a summer institute for college and university teachers in Italy. Titled "Venice, the Jews and Italian Culture: Historical Eras and Cultural Representations," the institute is scheduled to take place in Venice from June 19 to July 21, 2006.

The five-week interdisciplinary program will explore the cultural, intellectual, and historical experience of Italian and Venetian Jews through the study of literary, artistic, and dramatic works. The institute is designed for the professional development of college and university teachers in various fields of study--including European culture, literature, art, history, Holocaust studies, Italian studies, and Jewish studies.

Baumgarten will serve as codirector of the institute along with Shaul Bassi, associate professor of literature at the University of Venice. The program will have its headquarters in the historic Jewish ghetto of Venice and include tours of Renaissance art and architecture, as well as a visit to the only concentration camp established by the Nazis in Italy. Optional instruction in Italian and Hebrew will also be available to participants.

"The University of Venice has been very hospitable to us, and they have offered us space to meet in," Baumgarten noted. "Their dean is also very interested in seeking a cooperative arrangement with UCSC in language studies--they teach 32 languages."

Baumgarten explained why he decided to create a summer institute that would focus on Venice.

"The Jewish community in Venice is an important but neglected piece of Jewish and European history," he said. "Having been expelled from most of Western Europe, Jews settled in Venice in 1516, and though they were sequestered in a ghetto, the Jewish community flourished in business and the arts. Jews were eventually allowed to become traders with the Middle Eastern world and had an integral role in early capitalism. They also built five synagogues in Baroque styles and changed the culture by introducing music and composers into the synagogue."

"Fifteen years after Gutenberg invented movable type, Venetian Jews with the help of Christian companies became involved in publishing books, and one-third of all Jewish books in the 16th century were published in Venice," Baumgarten added. "So the Jews of Venice became an important source of Jewish culture all over the world."

Baumgarten noted that one aspect of the project is to put together a Venetian Jewish anthology that includes significant documents, commentaries by scholars, and pieces by a variety of renowned Jewish authors. "Many famous writers visited Venice and wrote about it," said Baumgarten. "We will collect those documents and excerpt them--that will be a source for the teachers to use when they go back to the classroom."

NEH grants for summer institutes and seminars are awarded annually to offer teachers the opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of current scholarship in the humanities. Baumgarten's project is one of 20 summer institutes funded nationwide this year through competitive grants totaling more than $3 million. Overall, the NEH awarded almost $20 million to fund 124 projects for 2006.

"The humanities convey the story of civilization, and NEH grant recipients tell that story," said NEH chairman Bruce Cole. "NEH supports projects that are rigorous, wide-ranging, and substantial in their examination and illumination of the great events and great ideas of the past."

Twenty-four teachers will be selected from around the country to participate in the Venice institute, and each will receive a stipend of $3,600. For more information, go to: http://humwww.ucsc.edu/jewishstudies/nehvenice.html or contact UCSC's Jewish Studies Program at (831) 459-1225.