Nicola Carpentieri joined our department as Assistant Professor and Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies this fall. He comes to UConn after having held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona and Research Associate position at the University of Manchester following his Ph.D. at Harvard University. Born and raised in Italy, he became aware of linguistic diversity and the multiple registers used to address people during his childhood. His mother, a high school teacher of literature and Latin, encouraged his curiosity for languages, particularly dead ones. This said, when it came to choosing a field of studies, he did not go with the classics. He felt a need to engage with a question that was too often ignored. “In school we learnt that Italian literature was born in Sicily, that there were Provençal troubadours”, he said. But where did these troubadours come from? While a mainstream academic discourse conveniently neglected the Arabic literary tradition in Sicily, Nicola was intrigued by the cultural overlaps and intersections of the medieval ages. Over the years, he has honed a research focus on medieval Arabic poetry in the Western Mediterranean, within a broader interest in Islam in the West and in the transmission of medical theories on psychosomatics from Greek to Arabic into Latin. The working title of his upcoming monograph reads “From Imru ‘l-Qays to Dante: the Poetry and Poetics of Muslim Sicily”.
This semester he is teaching two Arabic courses: one in advanced composition and one special topics class. “People suggested to offer more modern courses – and I am going to. Next semester there will be a course about Arabic cinema”, Nicola said. Nevertheless, he found that his students are actually fascinated by the medieval material. They are covering folktales, science, and songs this semester, which has resulted in a 50% increase in enrollment in one of his classes. Starting out with only two students, he is now working with five, and they are eager to learn more about medieval cultures and literatures. The enthusiasm Nicola sees in UConn’s students has been a pleasant surprise for him.
When I asked him about his biggest academic accomplishment, he was hesitant to reply. It is more of an ongoing undertaking, he says, of trying to make knowledge available beyond academic circles. So he would love to be asked for cool facts about the history of medicine at the next dinner party if he is not busy talking about music or playing his flamenco guitar. We saw this side of Nicola at our beginning of the year BBQ. One colleague mentioned later with a smile: “There are not many people who show up to their first social event on a new job with a ukulele.”