From JCU Student to Professor: Alumna Fiamma Mozzetta

Born in Cordoba, Argentina, and raised in Rome, alumna Fiamma Mozzetta graduated from JCU in 2016 with a B.A. in History and a minor in Communications. She holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Music from Goldsmiths University. In Spring 2024, Fiamma will return to JCU as a faculty member, and join the Communication and Media Studies Department to teach the “Popular Music and Mass Culture” course.

Fiamma Mozzetta
Fiamma Mozzetta

Tell us about your background.
I grew up in a multicultural environment: my father is Italian, while my mother was born in the U.S. to Argentinian parents and grew up between North and South America. So, in addition to pasta and pizza, it often was sloppy joes and empanadas. I went to Liceo Virgilio – on the other side of the Tiber River from JCU – where I obtained two high school diplomas (Spanish and Italian), mostly focusing on Spanish history, literature and culture.

What brought you to JCU?
In 2012, after my high school diploma, I was still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life and did not want to make a decision I would regret along the way. Back then my English was embarrassing, to put it mildly. Despite my U.S. family (not least my U.S. citizenship) and the efforts of my English professors in high school, I had disregarded the language completely. I decided to take a gap year and the plan was to spend six months in the U.S. and six in Argentina. I went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to live with my aunt and grandma while studying English at one of the local schools. After a while, I grew tired of the peace and quiet of U.S. suburban life and felt it was time to start university. JCU came in handy: I was motivated to continue working on my English, to study history, and to do so back home.

You have a B.A. in History from JCU and a Ph.D. in Music from Goldsmiths University. What made you decide to change your field of study?
In a way I did not change it: I lingered in the spaces between the two. I feel my personal and academic paths have been very organic in this. Looking back, it makes so much sense that my current research now focuses on the intersections of history and popular music (from heritage and memory to social identity). As a teenager, I absorbed my mom and oldest brother’s musical tastes, which often made me question my experience with that music: was I really able to fully consume, understand, and enjoy music from a historical period so culturally and artistically distant from my present? However, these questions remained in the back of my mind and it really did not occur to me that pop music could be an area of academic concern.

The real turning point was the “Popular Music and Mass Culture” course I took with Professor Peter Sarram in Spring 2015, the year before my graduation. I just felt at home with the readings. From then on, combining historical research with popular music felt natural. I wrote my B.A. thesis on the relationship between musicians, audiences, and the urban environment, with a focus on “CBGB,” a music venue in New York City, and the “no wave” and “2-tone” scenes. My M.A. thesis investigated the impact of the commodification of nostalgia, contemporary intertextual practices (i.e., pastiche, covering, digital sampling), and the role of physical and digital preservation in the construction of memories, narratives, and heritage. My Ph.D. focused instead on contemporary forms and dynamics of pop historical consciousness in Italy, the U.K., and Argentina.

How did your studies at JCU help you in graduate school? What JCU classes and/or professors had the greatest impact on you and why?
A lot of professors played a pivotal role during my studies at JCU. For obvious reasons, Professor Peter Sarram’s classes impacted me the most on an academic and personal level and were the ones that gave me the tools to pursue a graduate career in Popular Music Studies. Professor Gene Ogle has been very valuable, and his classes helped me approach historical phenomena and issues more confidently. He has always been supportive, especially as my first reader. I also really enjoyed all the art history classes I took with Professor Karen Georgi, whose academic curiosity and rigor I always admired. Last but not least, the Frohring Library was instrumental during my time at JCU, and it especially provided an emotionally safe space at various stages over the last 10 years.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am collaborating with the Italian encyclopedia Treccani writing various entries for a music encyclopedia project, and I am the current Conference Lead for Encounters 2023, a yearly interdisciplinary conference organized by The Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-east England (CHASE). Also, Professor Peter Sarram and I are working on a paper on the use and representation of Italy’s troubled past by the Italian hip hop collective P-38.

In Spring 2024, you will start teaching at JCU. How did this opportunity come about?
The Communication and Media Studies Department was aware that I was doing a Ph.D. in popular music and that, at the beginning of 2023, I was going to defend my doctoral thesis. Meanwhile, they realized there was a growing demand for the “Popular Music and Mass Culture” class. The department approached me, and we discussed the role. Following the teaching demonstration, they then recommended me to the University.

How does it feel to teach at the same university you attended?
JCU has been a big part of my life and academic career. I earned my B.A. here and made many friends and connections along the way, but I have also gained professional knowledge working in the Frohring Library as a student assistant and eventually as part of the staff. Coming back to teach feels comforting and rewarding, and also slightly intimidating. It will bring back some sweet memories, but it will also be challenging to think of myself as the competent authority figure now.

What is your teaching philosophy? What do you hope students will take away from your classes?
As a newbie, I recognize that there is so much for me to learn from my soon-to-be colleagues. However, I always thought teaching and learning were not a matter of “depositing” knowledge, but an individual and collective process. My hope is to motivate students to explore beyond topics and grades so that at the end of the course they will be able to think critically and creatively and develop mental maps they can successfully use in their daily lives in all sorts of contexts.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Play loud!