Ombretta Frau Awarded Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship
In addition to her being a prolific scholar, Ombretta is an outstanding teacher and leader. She has developed the Italian program into one of the best (if not the best) liberal arts programs in the country.
The story behind Ombretta Frau’s first book, published before she arrived at Mount Holyoke College, points to her outstanding traits as a scholar: her imagination, perseverance, and willingness to take risks. When Ombretta and her soon-to-be co-author, then graduate students, discovered what they felt certain was a previously unknown notebook of Luigi Pirandello in Harvard University’s library, their advisor greeted their claim with skepticism. Nonetheless, in true “Frauian” fashion, she persisted, and the result was a critical edition, with introduction and commentary, of Luigi Pirandello, Taccuino di Harvard. The advisor, by the way, wrote the foreword to the volume.
From Pirandello her research shifted to little-known Italian women writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Her second book, Espatriata: Da Torino a Honolulu, is an edition (with a lengthy introduction) of the journal of Mantea, the nom de plum of the Italian noblewoman Gina Sobrero. Espatriata recounts Sobrero’s voyage—physical, emotional, and intellectual—from a restricted life in Torino in the late nineteenth century to an alien society in Hawaii with her new husband, who was a diplomat, member of Hawaiian royalty, and revolutionary politician. The work ends with the dissolution of her marriage and her return to Italy, events that marked the beginning of Sobrero’s career as a writer.
Work on Mantea drew Ombretta deeper into the world of Italian women writers of post-unification Italy, and, among other things, her subjects’ relationship with feminism. It also drew Ombretta deep into European libraries and archives. She emerged with a third book, Sottoboschi letterari, which explores, as one scholar summarizes, “the literary ‘underbrush’ (sottobosco) epitomized by the numerous women writers and intellectuals who played crucial roles in building Italian national identity.” Ombretta has continued in this direction in numerous journal articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries—in English as well as in Italian—while her research interests now include the relationship of women’s writing to material culture. And there is no sign of her slowing down. For good reason she has been described as one of the most accomplished and brilliant North American scholars in her field. Her international reputation has recently been affirmed by her appointment this spring as Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Facoltà di Lettere at the prestigious Sapienza University of Rome.
Nor is Ombretta a stranger to contemporary issues. In her blog on the Italian Huffington Post she has delved into such matters as cyber violence and sexism in Italian websites, gun violence in the United States, the teaching (or rather “not teaching”) of Ovid at Columbia University, and the Nobel Prizes of Dario Fo and Bob Dylan. Always alert to connections between the twenty-first and nineteenth centuries, in a book chapter called “La piccola posta: Twitter for the Nineteenth Century Woman” she discusses this form of writing through the lens of digital social networks.
In addition to her being a prolific scholar, Ombretta is an outstanding teacher and leader. She has developed the Italian program into one of the best (if not the best) liberal arts programs in the country. Her courses are innovative and stimulating; she is a dedicated advisor and mentor of both students and colleagues. So, too, the lengthy list of services she has rendered her department and the college includes chairing the Department of Classics and Italian, the Theatre Department, and the Romance Languages and Cultures Program, as well as serving on a number of committees. In short, as a model scholar, teacher, and colleague, Ombretta Frau is greatly deserving of this honor.