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Professor Jennifer Burns


Tel: +44 (0)24 765 73096
Email: j dot e dot burns at warwick dot ac dot uk

Humanities Building, University Road
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL


Jennifer Burns studied English and Italian at Oxford University (1987-1991), and, after some time spent working for RAI (the Italian public broadcaster) in London, returned to Oxford to complete an MSt in Research Methods in Modern Languages (1994-1995) and a DPhil in Italian (1995-1999). Her thesis was on the topic of political commitment in literature (impegno), exploring the question of whether it is possible to identify new modes or notions of commitment in the writing of contemporary writers (1980 onwards), in a period in which public engagement with politics in Italy was generally perceived to have waned, and in which the relationship between literature and lived experience had been acutely problematized. This research was published in monograph form with the title, Fragments of impegno: Interpretations of Commitment in Contemporary Italian Narrative (1980-2000).

One example of contemporary writing with a strong ethical imperative which Burns explored in the above book was literature in Italian by writers who have migrated to Italy from other countries – predominantly African countries – and whose first language is not Italian. Concentrating on thematic and stylistic issues raised by these texts, though always retaining a consciousness of its ethical and political impact, she has examined the work of a number of writers in detail, moving from the earlier North African and Senegalese writers whose works were published in 1990-1995, to the wider and growing body of writers from North, West and East Africa, from Latin America, and from Eastern Europe. She has published widely in this area, including a recent monograph: Migrant Imaginaries: Figures in Italian Migration Literature (2013). This is a thematic study of immigrant writing in Italian from the earliest texts (1990) to those recently published, analysing the work of a number of authors - some centrally, some more peripherally – in order to develop an understanding of the figures, concepts, and techniques which recur, in plural forms, in these texts and which appear to have specific creative and intellectual import in the consciousness of migrant writers. The themes discussed, in dedicated chapters, are identity, memory, home, place and space, and literature.

In addition to pursuing individual research in this area, Burns has built on connections between her research on immigration literature and Loredana Polezzi’s research on the literature of Italian colonial and economic emigration. This collaboration began with a conference at Warwick in 2002, entitled ‘Borderlines’, which brought together scholars from around the world to discuss the impact of emigration, internal migration and immigration, as expressed in literary texts and cinema, on the notion of Italian national identity. Papers from this conference were subsequently published in a bilingual volume - see below. In 2006-7, Burns and Polezzi secured funding from the AHRC (under the 'Diasporas, Migration and Identities' theme) to organize a series of workshops on the topic of ‘Mobility and Identity Formation: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the “Italian case”’. These events took the specific case of Italy, and its multiple histories of migration outwards, inwards and within, and placed it in the context of concepts and studies of migration in other national contexts and in other disciplines. From insights revealed by these workshops, Burns then developed, in collaboration with colleagues at Bristol, St Andrews, and QMU, a major research project examining Italy's multiple histories of migration and mobility, and establishing this framework of enquiry as a model for research and study in Modern Languages more broadly. According to this model, languages are viewed most productively in terms of translation and multilingualism, and nations in terms of transnational identities. The project, 'Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures' was awarded funding in 2013 by the AHRC under its 'Translating Cultures' theme, and runs from January 2014 to December 2016.

A separate strand of Burns's research, developing since 2010, has been an investigation into the literary cultures of northern Italy in the late nineteenth century. This focuses on Milan and the scapigliatura movement, and examines practices of cultural activity and mediation in the context of the imagination of progress and modernity which developed rapidly in the years immediately before and after Italian unification. Working with Ann Caesar and with Gabriella Romani (Seton Hall University, USA), this project has developed through seminars and conferences, and has produced two co-edited collections of essays, The Printed Media in Fin-de-Siecle Italy (2011) and The Formation of a National Audience in Italy, 1750-1890 (2017).

Research interests

  • Migration and postcolonial literature in Italian
  • Transnational cultural practices and cultural production
  • Multilingual creative writing
  • Post-war Italian narrative fiction and cinema
  • Late nineteenth-century literary cultures in Italy
  • Political and ethical issues in literature
  • Cultural theory

Teaching and supervision

PhD students currently supervised:

  • Andrea Brondino, 'The Decline and Resilience of Irony in Post-1989 Italian Literature', 2018-
  • Emiliano Zappalà, 'Socio-political Commitment in Italian Literature and Cinema in the Age of Post-Truth', 2017-
PhD students supervised to successful completion:
  • Elio Baldi, 'Images Within and Outside Italy of Calvino as Critic', 2013-17. See also the monograph developed from Elio's thesis.
  • Giulia Brecciaroli, 'Literary Geographies of the Boom: Perceptions of Space in Post-War Italian Literature (1956-1979)', 2014-18.
  • Simone Brioni, 'The Somali Within: Questions of Language, Resistance and Identity in "Minor" Italian Writings', 2009-2012. See also the monograph developed from Simone's thesis.
  • Andrea Hajek, 'Narrating the Trauma of the Anni di piombo: The Negotiation of a Public Memory of the 1977 Student Protests in Bologna (1977-2007)', 2007-2010. See also the monograph developed from Andrea's thesis.
  • Dominic Holdaway, 'A Return to Cinema d'impegno? Cinematic Engagements with Organized Crime in Italy, 1950-2010', 2008-2012.
  • Linde Luijnenburg, 'Hidden Postcolonial Conscience in Italian Cinema: Attempts to Autodefine "The Italian" Through Representations of the Black Other in the commedia all'italiana', 2013-2018.
  • Gianmarco Mancosu, 'Decolonitaly': Decolonization and Colonial Discourse in Italy', 2015-2019.
  • Giacomo Mannironi (with Ann Caesar), 'Education and Disobedience in the Eighteenth-Century Venetian Novel (1753-1769)', 2011-2015.
  • Mariarita Martino Grisa' (with Loredana Polezzi), ‘An Analysis of Scopophilia in an Intersemiotic Context: Four Italian Case Studies’, 2007-2011.
  • Marta Niccolai (UCL, with Anna Laura Lepschy), 'Italian Intercultural Literature: Exploring Identities', 2005-2009.
  • Gioia Panzarella, 'Disseminating Italophone Migration Literature: A Dialogue with Contemporary Italy', 2014-2018.
  • Goffredo Polizzi (with Rita Wilson, Monash), 'Re-imagining the Italian South: Subjectivity and Migration in Contemporary Italian Literature and Cinema', 2013-17.
  • Charlotte Ross (with Ann Caesar), 'Representations of Science, Literature, Technology, and Society in the Works of Primo Levi', 2000-2004. See also the monograph developed from Charlotte's thesis.
  • Gabriele Scalessa (with Fabio Camilletti), 'Between Medicine and Spiritualism: Scientific Subjects in Late Nineteenth-Century Italian Narrative', 2011-2015.
  • Annunziata Videtta (with Loredana Polezzi), ‘Re-visioning Representations of Italian Migrant Women in Textual Renditions of the Italian Presence in Britain’, 2004-2008.
  • Georgia Wall, 'Consuming Italy. Contemporary Material Culture and Ethnographic Approaches in Modern Languages', 2014-2018.
  • Kate Willman (with Fabio Camilletti), 'New Italian Epic: History, Journalism and the 21st-Century "Novel"', 2012-2015. See also the monograph developed from Kate's thesis.
  • Liz Wren-Owens, ‘The Reclamation of Socio-Political Engagement in the Works of Leonardo Sciascia and Antonio Tabucchi', 2002-2006. See also the monograph developed from Liz's thesis.

Administrative roles

Director of CADRE (Centre for Arts Doctoral Research Excellence)

Site Director (Warwick) in the Midlands Four Cities Doctoral Training Partnership (M4C)

Deputy Chair, Arts Faculty Education Committee



Fragments of impegno: Interpretations of Commitment in Contemporary Italian Narrative, 1980-2000 (Leeds: Northern Universities Press, 2001).

Migrant Imaginaries: Figures in Italian Migration Literature (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013).

Edited books

with Loredana Polezzi, Borderlines: Migrant Writing and Italian Identities (1870-2000) (Isernia: Iannone, 2003).

with Ann Hallamore Caesar and Gabriella Romani, The Printed Media in Fin-de-Siècle Italy: Publishers, Writers, and Readers (London and Oxford: MHRA, Maney and Legenda, 2011).

with Gabriella Romani, The Formation of a National Audience in Italy, 1750-1890: Readers and Spectators of Italian Culture (Madison, Teaneck, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2017)

Chapters/essays in books

‘Borders within the text: authorship, collaboration and mediation in writing in Italian by immigrants’, in Borderlines: Migrant Writing and Italian Identities (1870-2000), ed. by J. Burns and L. Polezzi (Isernia: Iannone, 2003), pp. 387-94.

'A Leaden Silence? Writers' Responses to the anni di piombo', in Speaking Out and Silencing: Culture, Society and Politics in Italy in the 1970s, ed. by A. Cento Bull and A. Giorgio (Oxford and Leeds: Legenda and Northern Universities Press, 2006), pp. 81-94.

'Provisional Constructions of the Eternal City: Figurations of Rome in Recent Italophone Writing', in Imagining the City, ed. by C. Emden, C. Keen, and D. Midgley, 2 vols (Oxford, New York, Bern: Peter Lang, 2006), II, pp. 357-73.

'Outside Voices Within: Immigration Literature in Italian', in Trends in Contemporary Italian Narrative 1980-2007, ed. by G. Ania and A.H. Caesar (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), pp. 136-54.

'Re-thinking impegno again: Reading, Ethics and Pleasure', in Postmodern Impegno: Ethics and Commitment in Contemporary Italian Culture, ed. by P. Antonello and F. Mussgnug (Oxford, New York, Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), pp. 61-80.

‘Language and its Alternatives in Italophone Migrant Writing’, in National Belongings. Hybridity in Italian Colonial and Postcolonial Cultures, ed. by J. Andall and D. Duncan (Oxford, New York, Bern: Peter Lang, 2010), pp. 127-47.

‘Founding Fathers: Giorgio Scerbanenco’, in Italian Crime Fiction, ed. by Giuliana Pieri (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011), pp. 27-47.

'Italy', in The Oxford Handbook of Arab Novelistic Traditions (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 637-51.

'Mobile Homes: Transnational Subjects and the (Re)Creation of Home Spaces', in Transnational Italian Studies, ed. by Charles Burdett and Loredana Polezzi (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020), pp. 177-92.

Articles in journals

‘Recent Immigrant Writing in Italian: A Fragile Enterprise’, The Italianist, 18 (1998), 213-44.

‘Telling Tales About “impegno”: Commitment and Hindsight in Vittorini and Calvino’, MLR , 95:4 (2000), 992-1006.

‘Code-Breaking: The Demands of Interpretation in the Work of Pier Vittorio Tondelli’, The Italianist, 20 (2000), 253-73.

‘Facts, Fictions, Fakes: Italian Literature in the 1970s’, New Readings, 6, 2000.

'Exile within Italy: Interactions between Past and Present "homes" in Texts in Italian by Migrant Writers', Annali d'Italianistica, 20 (2002), 369-83.

'Lupus in fabula: The workings of fear in Italian Migration Narratives', Italian Studies, 68.3 (2013), 429-48.

Wells, N., Forsdick, C., Bradley, J., Burdett, C., Burns, J., Demossier, M., de Zárate, M.H., Huc-Hepher, S., Jordan, S., Pitman, T. and Wall, G., 'Ethnography and Modern Languages', Modern Languages Open, 1 (2019), 1. DOI:

'Mapping Transnational Subjecthood: Space, Affects and Relationality in Recent Transnational Italian Fictions', California Italian Studies, 8.2 (2018), 17pp.

'Arabising Italian? Transnational Literature as Multilingual Transaction', in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 41 (2020), 25pp.

co-authored with Catherine Keen, 'Italian Mobilities', in Key Directions in Italian Studies, special issue of Italian Studies, 75.2 (2020)


MA, MStud, DPhil (Oxon)

Office hours

Monday 10-11

Wednesday 12-1

These are virtual office hours in term 1: please call me in Teams or email me to start a conversation.

Recent publications:
chapter, 'Mobile Homes: Transnational Subjects and the (Re)Creation of Home Spaces' in Transnational Italian Studies, ed. by Charles Burdett and Loredana Polezzi, LUP, 2020
article co-authored with Catherine Keen, 'Italian Mobilities', in Key Directions in Italian Studies, special issue of Italian Studies, 75.2 (2020)
article, 'Arabising Italian? Transnational Literature as Multilingual Transaction', in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 41 (2020)
co-authored article, 'Ethnography and Modern Languages', in Modern Languages Open, 1 (2019)
article, 'Mapping Transnational Subjecthood' in California Italian Studies, 8.2 (2018)
Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures

collaborative project funded by an AHRC large grant under the 'Translating Cultures' theme

- LAUNCH OF BOOK SERIES, 'Transnational Modern Languages', published by Liverpool University Press, 28th July 2020
- NEW POLICY DOCUMENT on transforming Modern Languages education, September 2018
- LAUNCH AND DISCUSSION of new policy document at the British Academy, 9th November 2018