Q: Where did you study as an undergraduate? What was your major(s)?

As an undergraduate I studied at The College of New Jersey (“TCNJ”). I majored in History and English.

Q: What do you like about UNC’s graduate program in Russian and East European Studies?

Of course, I am impressed by the resources available and classes offered in the program, but I am most excited by the prospect of working with and learning from the professors associated with this program: Dr. Donald J. Raleigh, Dr. Louise McReynolds, Dr. Karen Auerbach, and Dr. Chad Bryant. They are the original reason for my applying to UNC.

Q: Why did you choose to specialize in this region of the globe?

This question has been repeatedly posed to me by befuddled relatives and high school acquaintances alike, including, too, an overly curious person sitting next to me in a bar who overhearing my conversation with friends has felt the need to interject and question my life’s goals. A descendant of 20th century Italian immigrants on my father’s side and 19th century Irish immigrants on my mother’s side, the question can easily be seen as more than fair enough. I readily acknowledge that I lack any genetic, cultural, or linguistic connection to Russia, or even Eastern Europe as a whole.

The initial reason for my attraction to Russian history stemmed, as I am sure is the case for many students, from a very good class with a very good professor during my undergraduate career. Originally, drawn to the Kievan Rus’ era of the region, my interest quickly snowballed from there. I have always been interested in the production of history itself, and the ways in which our depictions of the past are molded by the exigencies and biases of the present. My interest in Russian history is very much connected to my interest in understanding the production of history, as I believe that the twentieth century political climates within both the United States and the USSR/Russia, as well as the relations between these states, uniquely affected writing of history in both, making work on this field perhaps more urgent than others.

Q: Do you have work and/or study experience in the region?

I do not have any work or study experience in the region. But, when I lived in New York working as a research analyst for an insurance archaeology company, I did often go to Brighton Beach to talk with (and play dominos with) the старики who frequented the boardwalks there.

Q: What are your research interests?

I am interested in studying how early modern states in the region legitimated themselves, not only through the attempted monopolization of intrastate violence, but also through the creation of various ideological constructs supporting their existence, as well as studying the ways in which these ideological constructs were broadcast to the populace at large. In other words, I am interested in the role of culture in the creation and sustaining of states. I also want to examine how these ideological constructs impacted the development of group identities, or borrowing Benedict Anderson’s phrase, “imagined communities,” in the region.

Additionally, per my recent readings of Carlo Ginzburg and Michel-Rolph Trouillot and I am also very much interested in “microhistory” and studying the ways in which power shapes the production of historical narratives: from the development and creation of sources to the available evaluative frameworks utilizable for the individual researcher.

Q: What would you like to do after you graduate?

I want to go into a doctorate program for Russian history. My ultimate goal is to professionally teach, research, and study early modern Russia and Eastern Europe.

Q: What are your hobbies? What do you like doing in your free time?

I mainly enjoy eating in my free time, although I do not know if this qualifies as a hobby as it is also just a basic survival strategy common to all of mankind. I also am rather partial to reading books by Virginia Woolf, although I can often be found reading books by other authors as well. I like Italo Calvino quite a bit, as well William Faulkner who I find to be a pretty silly guy. Additionally, I support the English soccer team Newcastle, although lately this has been more a lesson in pain toleration than anything else.

Q: What is your favorite visual reminder of the region and why? 

I am not sure of my favorite visual reminder of the region, but I very much like the movie Kин-дза-дза, which I would safely describe as a cinematic masterpiece. It should be noted that in this particular still, the protagonists are not in Russia, or even on Earth, at all. In fact, the vast majority of this film takes place somewhere in space.