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By Sydney Conrad

Sydney Conrad of Charlotte, a PhD candidate in Italian Studies in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at UNC, was assisted by three FLAS fellowships awarded by the Center for European Studies.

Sydney ConradReflecting on my FLAS experience, there is only one way to describe it: extraordinary! I received the FLAS summer fellowship in 2011 and 2012 followed by the academic year fellowship in 2012. I learned Portuguese in Oporto, Portugal, at a language school called FastForward. There, I was able to experience the culture, history, and current social and economic problems of Portugal, which enhanced the language learning process and my connection to the country. The activities and friendships that I made at the school allowed me to obtain a very high level of Portuguese. Thanks to the FLAS fellowships I was able to use my new skills and knowledge to develop my research for the dissertation. Academically, the FLAS program made it possible to pursue a complex project that allowed me to demonstrate the connection between social sciences and literary studies. Because the Portuguese language is becoming more influential in the world, I feel there will be many opportunities professionally to use my language skills. I have already translated documents from Portuguese to Italian, Portuguese to English, and worked as a tutor in Portuguese in the Loudermilk Center for Excellence, and I will teach a beginner class in Portuguese in the Fall 2014 semester. The FLAS fellowship was the perfect opportunity for me, a person who had a background in politics and economics trying to add the cultural dimension to my studies.

Sydney Conrad
Sydney Conrad at Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca), the western-most point in continental Europe, located in the municipality of Sintra, Portugal

In terms of my background, as an undergraduate, my primary major was in Global Studies, which consisted of concentrations in international politics, Western Europe, and a language requirement that I satisfied with courses in Spanish and French. I complemented my language studies by participating in the French and Spanish houses, which were immersion programs to enhance one’s language skills by using the language in the dormitory and partaking in various activities in the language. From the very beginning of my studies, I learned to use languages as a way to enhance my education and knowledge about a particular region besides just striving to speak a language. Once I returned to graduate school, I continued my higher education in Italian Studies. It was my secondary major as an undergraduate, and I had studied in Italy where I took courses in history, politics, and culture. Given my background, I would say that my perspective has been greatly shaped by social sciences, but at the same time, Italian Studies has allowed me to add the cultural and historical dimension to the political and economic themes that I learned from Global Studies.

Entering into Italian Studies represented in many ways a continuation of my earlier education. Throughout graduate school, I have expanded my research of Italy, placing it within the European context of the 19th and 20th centuries and how that context shaped Italy. My dissertation project, which is coming to an end this year, really represented the bridge between literary studies and social sciences. At the graduate level, I became truly fond of Italian Futurism, which scholars consider to be the first avant-garde in Europe; it was not only an artistic movement but also political. In Italy, Futurism had its own political party, which later aligned with the Fascists in 1920. The founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, launched his movement on February 20, 1909, on the front page of Le Figaro with “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.” Futurism symbolized the modern world, representing the machine, velocity, and scientific discoveries. Futurist art was to be inspired by these aspects rather than the reinterpretations commonly found in Classicism, Naturalism, and Realism. The Futurists were fighting for the right to pursue art in their own way because as art became ascribed to the marketplace, outside forces such as academies, critics, and consumers held the power to define art. In essence, the rise of capitalism created a problem for the 20th century artist who wanted to pursue his work without constraints and still be able to make a living. Therefore, Futurism became embroiled in advancing not only a new style of art but also a dialogue that would promote innovation/creativity, delegitimize those institutions, people, and mechanisms that were defining art and stifling creativity, and creating a lasting society that embraced innovation. In this regard, Futurism is viewed as a social movement, and the dissertation tries to highlight the elements and activities of the movement that led to Futurism’s spread across the globe.

Port wine vineyards in the Douro River Valley in the city of Pinhão, Portugal (photo by Sydney Conrad)

The dissertation takes into consideration the Futurist movement in Italy, Russia, Spain, and Portugal as examples of the spread of certain communicative strategies that were developed by the Italian Futurists. Marinetti and the Italian Futurists developed innovative ways to sell their movement, and I’ve narrowed these communicative strategies to the activities that surrounded the manifesto, theatrical space, and literary journal. What emerges from these communicative strategies is that the Futurists had a way of conflating Futurism with nationalism in their Futurist activities, also exploiting the political system, de-formalizing the theater experience for broader appeal and effectively using the inherent instructive quality of theater to educate the people, and establishing a network of Futurist supporters and movements through literary journals. This particular study is only the first step in understanding social behavior and politics. Just as the Futurists politicized aesthetics, using art as a way to bring people into politics is very similar to how social media has increased political activism, and this relationship is one I would like to continue to study.

The FLAS fellowships were vital in my understanding of Futurism in Portugal because all of the primary texts were in the original language. Furthermore, there is little research on Portuguese Futurism in the English language; therefore, it would have been impossible to understand the nature of the movement in Portugal and how it related to Italian Futurism. It turns out that Portuguese Futurism is most similar to the Italian movement compared to other Futurist movements. It was important to include Portuguese Futurism in the project in understanding how Futurism expanded across the globe because the movement arrived in Portugal and from there went to India and South America. Besides the ability to read primary sources, the summer fellowships gave me the necessary speaking skills to engage professors about my research and acquire other resources from the library system in Portugal. The academic year provided me the time to go through many primary texts, background information, and even translate vital documents of the movement to be included in the dissertation. Because of FLAS, I will introduce documents and themes that have rarely been discussed, demonstrate that literary studies has a place within the field of social sciences, decentralize Futurist studies from Italy to understand its international dimension, and start to understand what the 1900s can tell us about the current state of affairs.

Each year, the US Department of Education awards Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) funding to Global Area Studies Centers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. FLAS funds are awarded in a competitive process open to graduate and advanced undergraduate students to pursue foreign language and area studies for professional purposes.

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