The SIS’s journal ‘Italian Studies’ has reached an important milestone this year, publishing its 75th volume. To mark the occasion, the Senior Editors thought it fitting to produce a themed issue aiming to open dialogue with colleagues around Italian Studies disciplinary networks and to seek engagement with those in cognate fields, addressing some of the key directions that engage us as researchers and teachers in Italian culture, and in disseminating our work to the wider public. Our May 2020 issue, volume 75.2, thus came out under the title of ‘Key Directions in Italian Studies’.

When we began planning the issue in 2018, our aim was to commission essays that would evaluate important recent findings and explore current and future directions of travel among Italianists, taking stock of how research is developing across different strands of engagement. To maximise the issue’s breadth, we invited co-written essays from pairs or trios of authors with different expertise (in period, medium, or emphasis), and based across different geographical regions. With room for only eight essays in the journal, some difficult choices had to be made about the topics included or excluded, but we aimed to cover a broad range of themes and approaches, and to address questions about the environments that we work in as well as the research methods we employ. 

The issue consequently presents a group of essays discussing literary, material, visual, digital, and transnational/translational approaches in Italian Studies, the themes of mobility and corporeality, and the relationships and role of academic Italian Studies beyond the professional Academy. In all, twenty authors contributed to the discussion, working closely with the three Editors (two of us also contributing, of course with careful separation of editorial and authorial roles). Our contributors reacted with generosity and enthusiasm to the challenge of exploring the substantial questions provoked in reflecting on disciplinary practices and positioning. All responded receptively to the feedback from our peer reviewers, whose perceptive readings helped ensure that the essays provided well-rounded accounts of the methodologies and specialisms that they tackled. The result is a genuinely collaborative set of discussions that we hope will spark further dialogue with colleagues and readers at large, and provide a stimulus to reflection on where we have come from and what directions we are pursuing across our various areas of practice. 

The May issue went to press under conditions that no-one could have anticipated, in the midst of a pandemic that has acutely unsettled our personal and intellectual communities. The print copies of the journal were halted in transit, as international shipping priority shifted to supplying essential commodities and working practices dramatically readjusted around the world. The note in our Special Issue’s Introduction that we felt medical humanities to be still an emerging rather than established sub-discipline for Italianists looks set to change, as researchers seek to speed up developments in a field whose pertinence has become more evident than ever before; environmental and ecocritical enquiries seem likewise set to rise in importance. 

Yet the areas we presented as key loci for discussion retain their centrality. The changing conditions of our daily experience in the pandemic have given a new, immediate stimulus to researchers’ intellectual engagement with questions concerning relationships with and in the digital world, and to awareness of embodiment and of human mobility and transnational communications. In the cultural sphere, literature, the visual arts, and the nature of cultural encounters in both online and material environments are being re-evaluated during the pandemic. Relationships between the academy and the multiple communities whom our research seeks to engage and to serve will also undoubtedly be affected by the Covid-19 emergency and its consequences in years to come. At a time of crisis, the forward-looking emphasis of an issue that seeks to interrogate the future dynamics of Italian Studies disciplines will, we hope, encourage and sustain the intellectual community with the invitation to look beyond lockdown constraints and celebrate the collegiality of exchange, debate, and even constructive disagreement, in reflecting on the research work that nourishes our common life. As scholars around the world begin the fresh academic year under new and unpredictable conditions, it is a timely moment to look both backward and forward on what Italian Studies can mean to us and to our communities.

Ruth Glynn, Catherine Keen, and Giuliana Pieri, Senior Editors of Italian Studies

August 2020