Italy Beyond Stereotypes: Alumna Amanda Rose Bush

Born and raised in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Amanda Rose Bush graduated from JCU with a B.A. in Italian Studies in 2010. She went on to earn an M.A. in Italian Studies at New York University and a Ph.D. in the same field at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is currently Coordinator of Lower Division Italian.

Amanda was recently interviewed by JCU’s Director of Web Communications, Berenice Cocciolillo.

What made you decide to come to JCU?
I came to JCU as a transfer student. I had declared a major in Italian at St. John’s University and spent my sophomore year at their Rome campus before deciding to apply to JCU. I had met JCU students, and they all spoke very positively of the experiences they were exposed to by studying in Rome.

JCU alumna Amanda Rose Bush

JCU alumna Amanda Rose Bush

What did you most enjoy about the Italian Studies major?
I enjoyed the process of learning a language to fluency and learning to think critically about all the cultural notions embedded within language itself. I enjoyed learning about Italian history through literature, film, and popular music. I loved being able to explore so many aspects of Italian culture and immerse myself in a different approach to life.

Which JCU courses and professors had the greatest impact on you?
I learned so much from all my professors at JCU and felt supported as both a student and an individual. The impact that many of my professors had on me, particularly Federica Capoferri, Carlos Dews, and Isabella Clough Marinaro, remains present even over a decade later. My exploration of literature with Professors Capoferri and Dews allowed me to better understand the socio-historical context presented in Professor Marinaro’s sociology course. I was deeply inspired by all three professors, who were extremely respectful and encouraging to students and served as a model for how one’s passions can become one’s research and ultimately, career.

What do you miss most about living in Rome?
I miss the diversity in all its forms: diversity of experience, thinking, race, age, language, and lifestyle, to name a few. I miss the Roman normality of speaking to strangers, exploring side streets, and prioritizing human connections. As an American, I think there is so much to be learned from Italian communities both in Italy and abroad, and far beyond the tag of “la dolce vita.” Italian cultures are so rich and have so many iterations throughout Italy and the diaspora. Even considering Italy’s experience with immigration and emigration, we can see how permeable culture is and how it is constantly evolving, and quickly!

Congratulations on earning an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Italian Studies! Tell us about your experience with graduate school.
My experience with grad school was one of immense personal and professional growth, one that (despite its difficulties) I would not trade for anything. I have always been interested in art and themes of social justice– during my master’s program, I was able to explore Italian writer Dacia Maraini’s novels and themes of autobiography and auto-coscienza (self-awareness) and their role in second-wave feminism in Italy. During my Ph.D., I took my research in new directions as I continued to explore the interplay between autobiography and literature in sustaining the mafia myth in Tommaso Buscetta’s depositions for the 1986 Maxi Trial. I then went on to look at how the pervasive myth of the mafia’s folkloric ties played out in popular representations of the mafia, whether it be in newspapers and magazines contemporary to the Trial, or in subsequent cultural productions as recent as Marco Bellocchio’s Il Traditore (2019), the first film to pose Buscetta as a title-character.

You recently published the article “Cosa Nostra in the YouTube Comment Section: Visions of Tommaso Buscetta, the Mafia, and Italian History.” How did you become interested in the interplay between contemporary media and the Sicilian mafia?
I wrote this article shortly after completing my dissertation and drew on my interests in these areas to see how this relationship plays out on user-generated content platforms. My interest in the interplay between media and Cosa Nostra was originally a way to explore the many misconceptions about Sicily that arise from the depiction of the mafia in media. When I first visited Sicily, I immediately fell in love with it. I wanted to understand how such a beautiful place that is full of inventive minds, kind-hearted people, generous communities, and a diverse array of traditions, populations, and beliefs could be so dangerously simplified and undermined in the public’s imagination. I turned to YouTube for my research in this case as I wanted to understand whether there had been an evolution in thought since the 1986 Maxi Trial.

You are currently Coordinator of Lower Division Italian at the University of Texas at Austin. Tell us what your work entails.
I took on this position in May of 2020 and worked for the first summer in my role to bring our lower-division Italian courses online in their totality. Throughout that process, I was able to learn more than I could have imagined about online, inclusive, and trauma-informed pedagogies through attending workshops at UT. I’ve also been welcomed into the world of open educational resources (OERs). We have long championed OERs as a university, but in Spring of 2021, I was asked to lead the development of a standalone OER for introductory and intermediate Italian. This project is immensely collaborative, and it’s been illuminating to be able to draw from my own and my colleagues’ experiences to create materials for Italian instruction that aim to reflect the contemporary realities of Italian speakers throughout the world. We are moving away from the “pasta-pizza” paradigm and aiming to use realia (materials produced in Italian, for Italian speakers) as the basis of our curriculum. Not only is this great because we can eliminate our costly textbook, but the resources we create will be open to educators throughout the world, as well as individual learners.

Tell us about a challenge you have faced as a professor and how you overcame it.
I am still very early in my career as a professor, and I think the challenges I’ve faced have mostly been due to “growing pains” during the pandemic. One of my biggest challenges, however, has been learning how to lead a team of Ph.D. students. Having taught throughout my Ph.D., I wanted to find a way in which grad students could grow as language instructors while managing the demands of coursework and research, fellowships, and individual projects. It’s been a challenge to understand and reconcile different schedules and individual interests while pushing forward with a new pedagogy. I’m still working on this challenge, but one great idea has been designing a supervised teaching workshop that will be offered in the Spring and will give our working team the time and resources they need to flourish as instructors while juggling multiple responsibilities.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes! My goal is to include as many voices as possible in our OER curriculum, so if that’s something you’re interested in (either as a contributor or a “tester”), I would be thrilled to hear from you! I would welcome connecting or re-connecting with the John Cabot community either via email ([email protected]) or on my LinkedIn page. With another exciting project on my desk– the development of an Internship Course specifically for students of Italian at UT – I am looking to grow and strengthen my network in order to place students with Italian branches of international businesses in mutually beneficial internships.