We’re celebrating International Women’s Day with a profile of one of our newest Junior Research Fellows, Dr Erica Bellia. Erica is from Sicily, Italy, and grew up in Catania – a city she describes as being “full of intense beauty and contradictions”. She vividly recalls a childhood surrounded by moving examples of generosity and determination in countering different forms of violence and abuse, which helped shape her cultural and political self as an antifascist, antiracist, and anti-mafia citizen, and informed the direction of her future research.

Erica’s academic journey began in Catania with a BA in Modern Literature followed by an MA in Italian Literature and Philology at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Whilst in Venice she attended the Ca’ Foscari-Harvard Summer School which sparked her interest in the connections between Italian and African and African American cultures in the 20th and 21st centuries and colonial legacies. Erica was also an Erasmus visiting student at Paris Nanterre before going on to Selwyn College Cambridge to complete her PhD, which explored the intersections between industrial writing and anticolonial discourse in 1950s and 1960s Italy.

Erica then spent three months at the British School at Rome working on a research project on the Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists that took place in Rome in 1959. “This fascinating event marked a crucial point in the dissemination and production of Black cultures in Europe and beyond. In Rome, I had access to library and archive sources unavailable otherwise and I had the opportunity to work as part of a vibrant community of researchers, artists and cultural practitioners as the British School at Rome. The connections that I established during this experience – as well as the materials that I collected – will be crucial in the development of my new project on anthologies of Black literature in post-fascist Italy.”

Now back in Cambridge, Erica has taken up her role as a Junior Research Fellow at Churchill.

The community of Churchill College has welcomed me in the warmest way…Coming from a Humanities background, it is stimulating for me to have daily conversations with STEM people, which I would not normally have in my department. I’ve also been inspired by initiatives such as ‘A Year of Poetry, Performance and Practice’, set up by Churchill College fellow Bhanu Kapil.

Erica’s primary area of research includes 20th– and 21st-century Italian literature and film. She is especially interested in labour and migration narratives, anticolonial texts and the reception and production of working-class and black cultures in and around modern and contemporary Italy. Two texts have been pivotal in triggering her interest in these fields: “Paolo Volponi’s 1989 novel Le mosche del capitale (‘The Flies of Capital’), and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea”. Erica also credits the support she has received from mentors at every stage of her academic journey; from her Italian school teacher, who first explained the power of an allegory, to her supervisor, advisors, colleagues and PhD examiners here at Cambridge and beyond, who have “generously spent their time and energies on making me grow as a researcher and teacher.”

Alongside her research at Churchill Erica is continuing her involvement with the activities of the OBERT (European Observatory of Labour Narratives) network of researchers. She is currently in the process of putting together, with other colleagues, a Summer School on Narratives of Unpaid Labour at Cambridge.

Erica’s long-term aim is to further develop as a researcher and teacher, contributing to the production and transmission of knowledge in her field. She would also like to become a mentor “as generous as the ones I have been lucky enough to have” to spark interest in the value of the study of modern languages as a means of cultural exchange among younger generations. From a research standpoint, she would like to consolidate her profile as a scholar in labour narratives and anticolonial thought in the Mediterranean and is currently drafting ideas for a new collaborative research project on modern and contemporary slave narratives in the Mediterranean.