Italian Research Seminar: Massimo Riva (Brown)


Location: Zoom

Please register here

The Center for Italian Studies is pleased to host a lecture by Professor Massimo Riva of Brown University:

"A Real Phantasmagoria: The Great Belzoni Show"

This lecture presents one of the six case studies that are the subject of my digital monograph, Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analogue World, an archeological exploration of virtual reality revolving around optical-enhancing devices and spectacles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (forthcoming with Stanford University Press).  The case study presented here is that of Giambattista Belzoni, aka the Great Belzoni. Born in Padua in 1778, Belzoni migrated to England in search of fortune in 1802. The “Hercules in tinsel” (as Dickens called him), also nicknamed the Patagonian Samson for his gigantic physical proportions, achieved early notoriety by exhibiting himself in some of the most bizarre shows of London. His exhibitions also included “an entirely new experiment in Optics called Somatascopia,” a kind of illusionistic spectacle he described as “a Real Phantasmagoria.”  A few years later, Belzoni went on to a new career as a pioneering archeologist. The focus of my presentation is the most spectacular among Belzoni’s Herculean fatigues as an archeologist and a showman which opened at Egyptian Hall, in London, in 1821: “The Tomb,” as the exhibit was called, consisted in a facsimile of the burial of Pharaoh Seti I, based on Belzoni’s own drawings, watercolors and wax impressions he had taken on-site, in the Valley of the Kings. A 3D model and simulation of The Tomb is included in the presentation. 


Riva Headshot

Massimo Riva ​was educated in Italy (Laurea in Filosofia, University of Florence, 1979) and the United States (Ph.D. in Italian literature, Rutgers University, 1986). He joined the Brown faculty in 1990. His teaching ranges from Boccaccio's Decameron to modern and contemporary literature, film, media and the digital humanities. He has held visiting positions at the University of Bologna, the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, the University of London, the École des Hautes Études in Paris, and the University of Sydney, Australia. In recognition of his research-based teaching, he was nominated Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence. His awards and honors also include the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (with the rank of Ufficiale) for his contribution to the dissemination of Italian culture in North America. Among his publications, four books on literary maladies in the eighteenth century, national identity in the nineteenth century, post-humanism and the hyper-novel, and literature in the digital age. He is the editor of the Yale anthology Italian Tales and the co-editor of the Cambridge edition of Pico della Mirandola's Oration On Human Dignity. He was the recipient of three major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Digital Innovation Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Society, in support of various digital projects, now part of the Virtual Humanities Lab. Among his recent collaborative initiatives, a series of interactive installations of the Garibaldi moving panorama were featured in library and museums in Brazil, Italy and the U.K. He is currently at work on a digital monograph entitled: Italian Shadows. A (Curious) History of Virtual Reality, a pilot project of the Brown Digital Publications Initiative funded by a grant of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  

The Italian Research Seminar, a core event of the Center for Italian Studies, aims to provide a regular forum for faculty, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students, and colleagues from other universities to present and discuss their current research. The Seminar is vigorously interdisciplinary, and embraces all areas of Italian literature, language, and culture, as well as perceptions of Italy, its achievements and its peoples in other national and international cultures. The Seminar constitutes an important element in the effort by Notre Dame's Center for Italian Studies to promote the study of Italy and to serve as a strategic point of contact for scholarly exchange.