The Humanities After World War II

By Adriano Iaria, University of Florence alumni, LPD Assistant

In this post I would like to explore the question raised in my previous blog post: are humanities, that is, art, history, and philosophy, necessary to better understand human rights? It seems a very difficult question to answer. I began my inquiry by going back to the period of Word War II and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which was discussed in NYU Florence’s recent conference “Public Humanities” on October 9-10 of last week. Article 27 enshrines that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.

December 10, 1948 the international community, one day after the approval of the UN Convention on Genocide, decided to set down a list of inalienable rights, which included the right to participate in cultural life and to enjoy the arts. Of course, in the aftermath of World War II,  the devestating effects were wide ranging  and people were not the only victims of that war. Monuments, manuscripts, and the arts in general were affected by the conflict, which lasted six years. If we think about the cultural heritage that was lost under the bombs, maybe it is easier to understand why the framers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decided to include the right to education and to participate in the cultural life of the community next to the right to life, liberty and security.

What is left of a people without the preservation of its cultural heritage? Can we talk about a people if there is no trace of its art, literature or philosophy? It is not just by chance that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded two months after the end of World War II. Educating people to remember, through the arts, literature and philosophy, is the first step to avoiding the perpetration of crimes and the violation of human rights. The collective reparation of human rights violations envisaged by, for instance, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights includes measures such as a public apology, and the construction of a commemorative building.

As the above has illustrated, the humanities in recent history has been an integral part of our understanding of human rights and deserves the protection and safeguard of the international community. They represent, therefore, a valuable subject of study in order to ensure the respect of human rights.

Public Humanities Conference Spotlight: Vittoria Chierici

By Erica Garbarini, NYU Florence student

Vittoria Chierici is an italian artist who has experimented with several different mediums to express her ideas about art history, movement, energy, and the industrial icons of America. Chierici began her work at the University of Bologna where she studied art history and got involved with two prestigious young artist groups called The Enfatisti and The Neo Conceptuals. After she graduated, Vittoria became interested in combining digital elaborations and painting and focused on creating large murals using this technique. The work she created from this period became extremely popular and traveled to shows all around the world including cities such as: New York, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Chicago, London, Tokyo,  and Vancouver. In 2004, she deviated from her specific style of studio art and began dabbling in all different art forms. She has designed sets for different contemporary dances, she has created documentaries and short films, she has participated in performance art, and she has written several essays and articles on various issues in art and about artists. And this Friday morning, Vittoria Chierici will be here at NYU Florence to speak and to display her work. Don’t miss this opportunity to discuss a career in various art forms with Vittoria Chierici as she participates in the Public Humanities conference!

Public Humanities Reflection

By Dina Juan, NYU Florence student

In the upcoming Public Humanities Conference, a panel of speakers will be discussing the role of the humanities in education and how this education can be utilized in making an impact in the world.

As a Liberal Studies student, I encounter the same question almost every day: “What on earth are you going to do with a Liberal Studies major?” This is often demanded rather than asked, as if my education were offensive to those who might not understand its purpose or value. In terms of achieving success, we are pressured to have chosen a stable, secure career path and have this one goal in mind by the time we begin higher education. While this is a practical approach some, including myself, simply could not find their one true calling after a mere eighteen years of living. This is what I’m doing with Liberal Studies. I’m searching for meaning not only in my life but in the general scheme of human life.

In my search for meaning in the humanities classroom, I encounter another question almost every day: “How is this relevant to me?” From Plato’s ideal society to Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality, my experience so far in a humanities-based education has taught me that there is always a multitude of answers to every question. There are no specific solutions to the problems of the world that we can find in studying philosophy and art history. Instead we are trained to understand the interconnectivity of humanity throughout the ages and out of this ambiguity create new answers for ourselves.

A humanities-based education prepares us for the world in training us to formulate our own bases for thought. This skill is crucial in tackling larger issues that require more than a specific solution. Learning how to view the world from different perspectives, whether it be of an eccentric philosopher from ancient Greece or of a wayward Mesopotamian king, is the fundamental step to understanding what exactly makes us human and how we can make this world more liveable for each other.

Humanities in Education

By Allison Reid, NYU Florence Student, NYU Class of 2016

As a student earning a degree in Global Liberal Studies from New York University, an academic focus in the humanities is of great interest to me. My degree emphasizes the importance of the humanities by incorporating a range of disciplines – such as sociology, philosophy, art history – into a foundation that will, in the words of Peter Brooks, provide me with “the ability to read critically the messages that society, politics, and culture bombard us with” (The Humanities in Public Life, 2).

To put this into perspective, my study in the humanities offers me the opportunity to analyze the utopian society suggested in 380 B.C. in Plato’s Republic, in order to interpret its application to Karl Marx’s 1848 socialist vision in the Communist Manifesto, while also using Marx’s theory on the relationship between the classes to create a model of economic reform in 21st century democracies.

When one’s educational foundation is in the humanities, there develops an intimate relationship between interpretation – of language, contexts, implications – and the application of a matured ethical viewpoint. That is to say, an education in the humanities allows individuals the ability to critically re-evaluate situations with a knowledge that is, according to Geoffrey Harpham, “engaged, connected, worldly, and interdisciplinary” (Human Rights in the Humanities).

My background in social and cultural foundations, therefore, grants a unique perspective on issues extending beyond my classes in philosophy and art history, in fields such as economic reform, political institutions, or sustainable energy solutions for the future. An education in the humanities does not limit my knowledge to the great works, but expands my possibilities to do great work in this world.


EU in Focus Series Student Working Group: Update

By Claudia Cereceda, NYU Florence student, 


As part of the EU in Focus Series, a student-working group was created for individuals who wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the European Union by participating in extra discussion groups that culminates into a trip to Brussels over fall break (October 25th-28th). Requirements included attending all three workshops with Professor Conti, Professor Lombardo, and Professor Giovannetti, attending two student working group meetings, and finally, presenting their findings on October 13th.

This semester’s student working group has been quite productive. Students were divided into two policy groups, immigration and environment, and asked to select a specific point of research within their selected policy groups.  So far, students have chosen an array of topics from the Dutch Integration Act to comparing various EU member states’ environmental policies to determine whether they are preventative or reactionary. This project has really given students the opportunity to explore their field of interest and they are all very excited for the presentations next week!


Human Rights and Humanities

By Adriano Iaria, University of Florence alumni, LPD Assistant

Have you ever thought about the definition of human rights? According to philosopher Jacques Maritain, one of the framers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “We all agree on the rights, as long as no one asks us why.”

Historically, human rights have been studied in law or public policy departments. However, some institutions such as Macalester College and Bard College study human rights in the humanities. Are art, history, and philosophy necessary to better understand what has been the  prerogative i of political scientists and lawyers for the last 60 years?

This week La Pietra Dialogues will investigate the current state of public humanities scholarship, how scholars working within the academy participate in engaged scholarshop with communities and cultural institutions, and how humanities can relate to human rights. Join us for the Public Humanities Conference, October 9-10. For further information click here.

How do the humanities influence the public perception of human rights? Throughout history, literature, poetry, movies and music have put emotion and momentum behind causes.  These forms of expression have helped to motivate and inspire communities to right wrongs against humanity.  Today, how do the humanities continue to bring an understanding of the human experience in light of current affairs such as the conflict in Syria, starvation in the world’s most impoverished countries, women’s rights, access to education, and many more?  How are modern day historians using stories of the past to keep society from reliving humanity’s mistakes?


Read more about Human Rights and the Humanities


EU in Focus: Reports, Interviews, Fact Sheets

Monday October 6 Professor Giorgia Giovannetti will present the last Dialogue in the EU in Focus series entitled The EU Economy in a Global Perspective (@ 6pm @ Villa Sassetti).

NYU Florence student Joshua St. Clair has written two very informative reports on the first two Dialogues –  A Question of Command on Nicolo Conti’s EU Institutions and Decision-Making Processes Dialogue and A Pocket History: Beethoven, Borders, and British Sitcoms on Davide Lombardo’s History of the EU Dialogue.

Jenny Yang and Alexander Lim, also NYU Florence students, produced fact sheets for both Dialogues, outlining the main facts that students need to know.

NYU Florence student Assia Dzhaparidze carried out an interview with Professor Lombardo to further explore his views on EU history.

Finally, read Professors Conti and Lombardo’s reactions to the Scottish Independence vote – There was More than the Independence of Scotland on the Line in the Scottish Referendum and The Victory of the Scottish ‘No’ Vote.

We look forward to seeing you all at the Dialogue on Monday !


Imma Vitelli: Eritrea to Italy

By Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence, NYU Class of 2018

Off the coast of Italy, people are risking their lives to flee conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. The voyage to get to Italy is a dangerous one, not only do they have to battle unforgiving deserts and a treacherous sea voyage, but they also are subject to the cruelty of people who capitalize on desperation. Imma Vitelli took the route that these migrants travel and documented what trials they faced.

She details that just to leave a country such as Eritrea, which can sometimes be viewed more as a prison than a nation in the eyes of it’s citizens, is the first battle. From Eritrea, if you can manage to successfully accomplish an escape and fund your trip to the next leg of the journey, you must hope you are not kidnapped and held for ransom. If you can make it through Sudan, where refugee camps are filled with traffickers, kidnappers, rapists and gangs of militia, the next stop is Libya. Crossing Libya is just as dangerous, and the hope is to make it to Sirte or Tripoli, where, if you’ve survived some of the driest desert in the world, you will board a “ship” to cross the Mediterranean. The ships are constantly wrecking. On October 13, 2013 a ship carrying 366 migrants sank and all passengers drowned. Vitelli interviews the father of one of the victims, who had helped fund the boys’ escape.

This crisis is now receiving the attention of the Italian Navy. There are Naval ships constantly being sent to retrieve immigrants out of the Mediterranean, who are not always alive. Sometimes the Italian ships can become hearses, transporting bodies to shore. The issue now, once the “lucky” ones make it to shore, what happens to them? Government centers are filling at an unprecedented rate and churches are now opening their doors to accommodate these immigrants. Italy is struggling with this crisis and is requesting the EU’s assistance in what they view as a European problem, not strictly an Italian problem. Imma Vitelli’s articles offer personal accounts from people along the route from Eritrea to Italy. It is a heartbreaking, cruel, and honest account of the crisis that is flowing.

Map of Eritrea to Italy:,17.5410101,5z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x166d5a3f9dba8565:0x17c208f02f120efa

Full Vanity Fair Report:

Introduction to Esraa Abdel Fattah

By Kevin Ditzler, NYU Florence student

Esraa Abdel Fattah is an Egyptian political activist that has had an involved role in Egyptian protests and activism since 2005. Read about her beginnings in her interview with the Cairo Review of Global Affairs. Dubbed the social-networking phenomenon “Facebook girl”, Abdel Fattah has been a modern pioneer in the use of social networking for activism and change. Read about her thoughts on the use of social media and the role of youth in contemporary activism in her Harvard Political Review interview. Also, this video shows an inside look into her explanation of how she used social media during the 2011 Egyptian elections.

Critically acclaimed for her activism, Abdel Fattah has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition to this, Glamour magazine named Esraa Abdel Fattah a woman of the year in 2011 for her activism during the Egyptian Revolution. Abdel Fattah has also partnered with the organization Vital Voices to help raise awareness for the increasingly volatile political situation in Egypt.

Although some members of the media report that activism in Egypt has tapered off in the past couple of years, the country’s turbulent situation is still being met with activism today, and still at the forefront of this activism is Esraa Abdel Fattah. She details the contemporary activism in her own article written for the Washington Post here.


Esraa Abdel Fattah will be on campus for a Dialogue on October 2 @ 6pm @ Villa Sassetti. RSVP

Poetic Justice with Jennifer Clement

By Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence, NYU Class of 2018

Last night’s dialogue was an enlightening experience.  Discussing Prayers for the Stolen provided a platform to not only discuss the literary richness of the text, but also to discuss the efforts to end the trafficking of humans, particularly women and girls. The room was overflowing–with extra chairs being brought in to make room for the abundance of guests–and silently attentive as Jennifer Clement captivated the audience with readings from her novel.

Clement spoke about her poetic approach to telling the stories, which, to her, creates a more “human” and intimate form of sharing the tales of the lives of the people she works with. Clement answered many questions regarding her literary process and explained her line-by-line approach. She related that her eleven years of research were dangerous, as she often was talking to the women involved with the drug cartels–the “hidden” women of Mexico. She discussed the idea of contrast, the idea of balance, and the idea that within beauty there is ugliness, and that pain and joy can work together hand in hand.

The conversation regarding the basis of the book, the trafficking of girls in Mexico, led to an informed discussion on how to change the problem, what to do next, and the fact that men need to join the conversation. Clement has worked with different organizations regarding the trafficking of women. From 2009-2012 Clement was president of one of the oldest human rights group in the world, PEN Mexico, an organization that believes writing is a strong form of protest and assists in protecting those who write daring pieces that challenge social constructs. That is what Jennifer Clement’s novel, Prayers for the Stolen was: a challenge to society. It challenged the role of women in Mexican literature, it challenged the world’s “sweep it under the rug” attitude, and it challenged the idea of a faceless victim, victims who are statistics rather than real people who’ve gone missing.

I personally found the dialogue to be very rewarding, as a fan of Clement’s work this dialogue allowed me to ask her questions about her character’s motivations, her work on Widow Basquiat, and, the highlight of my night, her writing down something I said in her little notebook. Jennifer Clement was a gracious and eloquent guest. She was informative and insightful during her dialogue, and I can not wait for the workshops.

See the Facebook photogallery of the Jennifer Clement Dialogue