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Anthropology professor wins prestigious Fulbright Scholar grant to Italy

August 6, 2014
Giovanni Bennardo

Giovanni Bennardo

NIU anthropology professor Giovanni Bennardo has won a highly competitive Fulbright Scholar grant to teach and conduct research this coming semester in Italy.

Bennardo, who was named a Presidential Research Professor this past spring in recognition of his scholarship, is more than a little bit familiar with Italy. He was born and raised in the city of Cosenza, in the south of Italy, and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Pisa.

“Going back as a Fulbright Scholar is very satisfying since I will have a chance to show how my graduate education in the States has contributed to my scholarship,” Bennardo says. “I am proud of what I have achieved here in the U.S.”

Beginning in September, Bennardo will conduct research and teach a graduate seminar on cultural models at the universities of Verona, Padova and Venice. Earlier this year he published a book on the topic, “Cultural Models: Genesis, Methods and Experiences,” with Oxford University Press.

He originally was invited by the Italian universities to visit, then applied for and received the semester-long Fulbright Award. Fewer than 3 percent of applicants win the prestigious grants.

Bennardo and Anna Paini, a colleague at the University of Verona, will conduct research in the Dolomite Alps, including anthropological and cognitive data collection and analysis. They hope to elucidate the cultural model of nature held by the local population there.

Last year, the National Science Foundation awarded Bennardo a $218,000 grant to lead an international team of scholars in the research project, which examines the cultural models of nature held by primary food producers in world regions affected by climate change.

The project involves 15 scholars and six graduate students from 10 universities in the United States, Europe, China and Middle East. They are conducting research at 15 different sites across five continents.

Katharine Wiegele

Katharine Wiegele

In May and June, Bennardo spent five weeks in Tonga (Polynesia) collecting data for the project. And Bennardo’s wife, NIU adjunct anthropology professor Katharine Wiegele, collected data earlier this year in the Philippines.

In late October, Bennardo will lead a three-day workshop at the University of Verona for participants in the NSF-sponsored project.

He plans to extend his stay there through July 2015 by using a semester of teaching leave awarded with his Presidential Research Professorship. “This will allow me to continue my research in the Alps and prepare a grant proposal for the NSF project’s second phase,” Bennardo says.

His wife and their two sons, Lucio and Matteo, will join him in Italy for the year. The NIU anthropology professor is not only going home to his native country, but also coming full circle in another sense. He first came to the United States years ago on a Fulbright grant from the Italian government, an experience that inspired him to pursue his graduate education here.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright program was established in 1946 to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. Award recipients are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement and because they have demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential in their fields.