University of South Florida

College of Arts & Sciences

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NEW ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES INITIATIVE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA

For as long as she can remember, Dr. Patrizia La Trecchia, an Associate Professor in the Department of World Languages, has been interested in environmental issues. The seeds were planted back in her childhood when her passion for nature was nurtured during recurren tvisits to her grandparent’s farm in Southern Italy. Experience on the fields provided firsthand exposure to agricultural practices. Outdoor activities and insights into the world of farming, its rewards and its hardships, spoke deeply to her and helped form her values. Her liberal arts scholarly background (Cultural Studies and Film Studies) gave her a chance to develop critical thinking and obtain a broader view ofthe world.

mountainside village under blue sky

“My paternal grandfather emigrated to Venezuela, and upon returning to Italy, he purchased a piece of land where vineyards and olive groves had been planted along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cilento National Park. Wine and olive oil were the two staples of the farm. I have never shared before that most of my knowledge about food and agriculture derives from those observations,” explains La Trecchia. “Today, I spend my time connecting with young farmers and communities of peasants who are reappropriating traditional farming. These marginalized communities are at the center of the food sovereignty movement. They are engaging in the agroecological transition through alternative food networks in areas that are considered peripheral within the global food discourse. While creating local food systems that meet their food needs, they are imagining new ecological and social relationships rewriting the national food narrative.”

Upon finding an opportunity to come to the United States to teach Italian first at the Ohio State University and subsequently at the University of Pennsylvania, she expanded her research to Italian Studies, Food Studies, and Environmental Humanities, while maintaining a cultural studies multidisciplinary perspective. In fact, while academic disciplines tend to have their own constructs, narratives, and boundaries, she has always believed in the need to decolonize the curriculum.

“We are at a time of globalization and geographical mobility, where the way in which we produce research and deliver education needs to be reframed within the changing structure and role of educational institutions,” explains La Trecchia. “Civic engagement, environmental concerns, global citizenship, and intercultural skills are keywords of higher education today, and environmental concerns about the food system transcend geographic and political borders and can be explored within a multidisciplinary perspective.”

She has tackled the study of the food system from different perspectives. Her latest essay “Political Ecologies of Food Through Film: ‘Agropoetic’ Cinematic Style in Ermanno Olmi’s Terra Madre,” was published in Studies in European Cinema. Her intervention during the pandemic, “Italian Farmers and Migrant Farmworkers: Food Activism and Food Justice in the Time of COVID-19,” appeared in Gastronomica: The Journal for Food Studies. Her next book, Foodscapes of Resistance and Resilience in Italy: Visual Politics of Food Justice, will be published in the Routledge Environmental Humanities Series. This work is the product of years of intense social study in food systems, Environmental Humanities, and visual communication of just sustainability. It came to be shaped by a sense of urgency to narrate the environmental violence that is enacted both against racialized human bodies, and against nature, and, with this, the entanglement between abuses of human and nonhuman rights.

green coastline by blue sea

“Practices of cultivating the earth, exploiting the earth, violations towards both human and nonhuman life, and migrant farmworkers are brought together to change the discourse within food activism, and remove the obstacles for the creation of an environmental public awareness. To date, no humanities scholar has explored in any depth the intersection of environmental humanities, food activism, and visual politics of food justice, in the context of the Italian food system and the global environmental impact of agricultural practices,” she continues.

Dr. La Trecchia recently spearheaded the Environmental Humanities Initiative at the University of South Florida (USF) under the auspices of Dr. Charles Stanish, Executive Director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture and the Environment. She is also the creator and founder of the initiative; however, the institute is offering its space for her to invite scholars and scientists as part of the Environmental Humanities Keynote Speaker Series at the university, that will benefit both the academic and the local community. 

The guest speakers will also contribute to the new course she is offering in Fall 2022, ITA 4930 Environmental Humanities. The course is the first course in the Environmental Humanities at USF. Environmental Humanities courses and scholarship have emerged in several institutions of higher learning, bringing together scholars not specifically trained in the natural sciences, but committed to environmental thinking and practice within and beyond the academy.

"I am thrilled to be teaching this course within a transnational perspective regardless of the generic ITA 4930 prefix, and want to have this course added to the USF Course Catalogue as soon as possible. The course emphasizes intercultural competence addressing some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. In fact, the project of the Environmental Humanities aims at critiquing the hegemonic narrative of the Anthropocene and its developments that have normalized the toxic costs of industrialization. Repressed and hidden stories, sounds, and images of the areas and the people that have not been included in the dominant narrative of economic growth are reconstructed, brought to the foreground, and interwoven with their ecological and agroecological dimension.”

Dr. La Trecchia will use part of an instructional grant she received from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI) through the Consulate General of Italy in Miami to support instruction and the implementation of interdisciplinary collaborations that have the potential to have a significant impact on student learning and teaching excellence.

“This initiative has the potential to lead to a new academic center and curricular program. Over the years, I have worked to establish professional relationships with colleagues in departments and universities all over the world where there are Environmental Humanities laboratories, cohorts, or initiatives. Humanities scholars from different disciplines are at the forefront of the response to climate change and sustainability efforts, acknowledging the link between environmental degradation and social inequality. They also strive to find points of contact between the nature-culture separation that underlies traditional conceptions of scientific and humanistic disciplines.”

The scope of the EH Initiative at USF is to bring together faculty from different colleges, schools, and departments, across all the university’s three campuses, whose research include environmental studies, food systems, agroecology, history, philosophy, cultural studies, ethics, feminist studies, human rights, environmental justice, religion, ecology, governance, sustainability, human dimensions of science and technology.

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The College of Arts and Sciences is the intellectual heart of the University of South Florida. We are a community of teachers and scholars united in the belief that broadly educated people are the basis of a just, free, and prosperous society. By focusing on the big questions facing all of humanity, we prepare students for successful, socially responsible personal and professional lives. By conducting innovative, interdisciplinary research and scholarship, we advance knowledge in ways that prepare us to address complex social and scientific problems and enhance the quality of life for people and communities.