After studying in Bologna during the academic year 2003–2004, Anthony Nussmeier returned to the University of Minnesota, from which he graduated in 2005 with a BA in History and Italian. Following a stint at a commodities’ exchange in Minneapolis, Anthony matriculated at Indiana University and began graduate work in Italian. The fruits of his long—but not too long—labors were MA and PhD degrees in Italian Language and Literature. Upon finishing graduate school, Anthony accepted a full-time faculty position at Penn State University, where he taught beginning and advanced language and literature courses, as well as Honors College courses, and directed Penn State’s study abroad program in Todi, Umbria. Just this past year he moved on to Kansas State University, where, having been hired to develop a small program, he teaches all manner of Italian courses, writes on medieval Italian literature, directs the Italian language program, and created a study abroad program in Orvieto, Umbria. Recently, Nussmeier has accepted a tenure track position as an Assistant Professor of Italian at the University of Dallas. Anthony lives in Manhattan, KS with his wife Kayla and their four children: Giuliana (8), Luca (5), Nico (3), and Matteo (8 months).
Your day job is visiting Assistant Professor of Italian at Kansas State. What do you most enjoy about that work?
While there are certainly more mundane aspects about my job that aren’t always pleasing, truth to tell I enjoy almost all aspects of my work, from teaching, to mentoring, and to writing and speaking about Italian literature and culture. Since I was hired by Kansas State to help grow a relatively small program, one of the things I enjoy most is coming up with ways to increase the visibility of Italian on campus. To that end, we organized a 20-hour, public marathon reading of Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy; we hosted an Italian director and nonverbal communication expert for a day of “Italian without Words;” and we planned a panel and networking reception involving Italian-related careers, companies that do business in Italy, and Italian companies that do business or have subsidiaries in Kansas. In a small program, and as the lone Italianist, I have an opportunity to craft an Italian program that really benefits our students, and that is a real blessing.
What projects are you currently working on?
In addition to the planning of events (e.g. an “Italian Jobs” panel and an upcoming month-long workshop on Italian gesture, culture, and communication), I am carrying out a number of academic research projects. For example, I just finished an article on Dante and the medieval concept of satire, and my book, under contract with an academic press and titled "Dante and the Politics of Literary Script," is currently undergoing revisions for publication.
What did you like best about your experience in the Italian department at the University of Minnesota?
What I appreciated the most about my experience in the French and Italian department at the U of M was the emphasis on study abroad and a global Italian program. In 2003–2004, I went to Bologna through the Bologna Consortial Studies Program (BCSP). It suffices to say that without that life-altering experience, I would not have chosen the career—and had the personal and professional satisfaction—that I have today!
What advice would you have for undergraduate students of Italian? Graduates?
For undergraduate students of Italian, I always advise to seek out some aspect of Italian that stimulates you, and concentrate on that. Take advantage of the global Italian program that the department offers by going to Italian conversation nights, film showings, invited guest-lectures, studying abroad, etc. The study of language—Italian in particular—can be useful to a student in many ways, not all of them strictly vocational. At the most basic level, studying another language forces you to reflect more carefully on the use of your own, native language. The study of a language can also open a student up to beauty. Students of Italian can read the world’s greatest work of literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Italian is, of course, also the language of opera and art. Students should also explore Italian on a practical level and think about Italian’s natural affinities with other fields of study, such as engineering, art history, English, international business, and hospitality. For example, Italy is a world-leader in the creation of pharmaceutical contrast agents, yacht-building, and construction. It is also home to the world’s highest concentration of UNESCO world heritage sites. Even industries such as aerospace have a home in Italy and can offer opportunities to students of Italian. (Italy just sent an astronaut to the International Space Station for three months, and was the third country to send a satellite into orbit.) In short, the study of Italian can be useful in myriad of ways that are personal, philosophical, and vocational!
As for graduate students: Don’t do it! I’m kidding, at least mostly. An academic path is not for everyone, as it generally involves many long hours, frustrating moments, and a lagging job market, but if a student truly loves to teach, read, learn, etc., it can be a rewarding career. In the end, most academics can be misanthropes, but there is no one who forces a person into academe. My advice would be to appreciate the opportunities that being an academic provides—to learn continuously, to teach and influence students, to be satisfied intellectually, and to have some say in how you spend your work-day—and decide if all that outweighs the challenges. If an academic path is not right, then choose something else! For me, it has been immensely rewarding despite the challenges.
What books are you currently reading? Recommendations?
I’ll stay away from recommending scholarly books and suggest a few others, though Italian related, that I have read recently or that I am reading now.
One idiosyncratic book is "How Dante Saved My Life" (2015). The author, Rod Dreher, is not being hyperbolic in saying that the experience of reading Dante’s journey from the depths of Hell to the salvific mount of Paradise helped to save him from a deep depression.
I would also recommend Ingrid Rowland’s beautiful meditation "From Pompeii: the Afterlife of a Roman Town" (2014). Rowland is a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame’s Rome campus and in this elegiac book, she explores visits to Pompeii by various historical figures—from Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Mozart—throughout the centuries.