Undergraduate Research Accomplishments Accomplishments: Art History Major Returns from Fieldwork in Italy
Art History Major Returns from Fieldwork in Italy

Samm Crosier - College of Visual and Performing Arts

In Fall 2022 Samm Crosier (Art History Major, Religious Studies Minor), received a grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research to conduct field work in Italy for her project "Palermo Revisited: The Politics and Poetics of Islamic Heritage in Contemporary Italy." Palermo Revisited is a project about the current treatment and usage of Islamic heritage, architecture and other artifacts in Palermo, Sicily. Palermo has a large number of Arab-Norman artifacts that can be seen all around its historic core. For centuries Sicily was one of the top trade routes in the Mediterranean, therefore, it was exposed to many cultures, including those of North Africa. Additionally, Sicily used to be under Muslim rule between the years 831-1091. Throughout the years many Islamic buildings were built and artifacts were created. These were made by Muslim artisans or by Christian architects and craftsmen who were influenced by Moorish design and aesthetics. With almost a thousand years since the end of Muslim rule a lot can be done to these beautiful artifacts. Today, the Italian government has turned these “Islamic” or “Islamicate” (i.e., influenced by Islamic heritage) sites into tourist destinations.

While profit is made out of preserving and displaying these cultures, there is a big divide between the treatment of these artifacts as touristic treasures and the endorsement and promotion of those immigrants who come to Italy from the Muslim majority North Africa. Samm's research explores how these monuments and touristic sites are seen in Italy today. During her fieldwork she collected ample data and now she wants to write about how a wide range of audiences and agents, including the people of Italy, tourists and governmental organizations and preservation societies view and treat the heritage and culture of this region. How is the treatment of these “Islamic” artifacts different from the treatment of “Christian” artifacts? What do newspapers and media outlets write about these sites? How is the Islamic past promoted in Italy, if at all? And to what end? Is Islamic culture romanticized? Or is it taken seriously and seen as part of the living culture of today’s Italy? These are the questions that Samm wants to answer through this research. The grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research allowed her to travel to Palermo and be able to view these buildings and artifacts first hand. Being able to visit these pieces and buildings in person helped Samm see details that she would not be able to appreciate just by browsing through books and the internet. Before embarking on this research, Samm spent an entire summer studying advanced Italian at Middlebury College. A prestigious full scholarship to study at Middlebury allowed her to hone her communication skills in Italian. Samm was also able to connect to several Italian students who came to Middlebury to study other languages. Speaking with native Italians improved her language skills and that's how she was able to conduct her interviews in Italian. Being able to go to Palermo and view and communicate benefited this project; this part of Italian history is not as talked about and Samm wants to be able to share this amazing time of Italy’s history so people can see that Italy is a diverse country and its art history is not just limited to better known periods such as the Renaissance. Samm plans to go to graduate school and she hopes to pursue this research further in the future.