Dr Marzia Beltrami completed her PhD thesis (‘The spatial dimension of narrative understanding. Exploring plot types in the narratives of A. Baricco, A. Camilleri, and I. Calvino’) in Italian Studies in June at Durham University, after an MA in Oxford and a BA in Milan. We caught up with her to learn more about her research and what she has been up to since then.
Congratulations on your PhD! Can you tell us more about your subject? What have you been researching?
My research was twofold, both theoretical and critical. I looked at plot comprehension from a cognitive perspective, so investigating the reasons why texts work on certain ways on the reader. More precisely, I focused both on plot theories and spatiality, exploring the hypothesis that plot is spatial in nature, and applying this idea to three Italian authors: Andrea Camilleri, Alessandro Baricco and Italo Calvino.
Why are you interested in this topic? What led you to pursue this area?
I have always been interested in narrative and why it engages us so deeply. I wrote my Master thesis on Baricco, researching why his texts work on certain ways on the reader. It is at the end of my Master course that I discovered the cognitive field of study. I have always been interested in literary theory and the cognitive approach allowed be to combine reader-response theory and textual analysis.
Can you tell us a bit more about your background?
I always did Italian studies. First, I did a BA in Milan then an MA in Oxford, which helped me develop my research attitude. Moving to England definitely exposed me to strong critical schools of thought in sociology of literature; the theoretical perspectives were eye-opening. This gave me more tools and opened me to a variety of approaches.
How did you arrive in Durham? What brought you here?
I got in touch with Frederico Federici because I knew he worked on Baricco and was interested in cognitive studies. He agreed to supervise me and showed that he cared about my research.
What did you particularly enjoy during your time in Durham?
The PhD community! Not only in MLAC but more broadly. I also appreciated the support and the freedom I received from my supervisors.
What are you up to now? What are your future plans?
I have got a full-time job at the Bill Bryson Library, working in the communication office. In parallel, I am currently applying to fellowships, post-docs opportunities in general, grants in the UK or in Italy. I am also working on publications (articles, and, maybe, a monograph).
Finally, which advice would you like to give to current or future PhD students in MLAC?
I would recommend them to not focus only on their thesis, to take the opportunity to diversify and expand their experiences in Durham.