Excellence in Teaching
Assistant Professor of Italian
College of Liberal Arts
Photographed on September 14, 2004, in front of the Strand Theatre, Dover, N.H.
He is “all-knowing when it comes to The Simpsons,” says Jessica Lukas ’04 with obvious admiration. “That’s not entirely true,” the assistant professor of Italian says later, blushing. “I missed the last several seasons, and I don’t own the opera omnia of The Simpsons on video.”
Piero Garofalo’s use of the Latin term for “complete works” in relation to a popular cartoon is not entirely ironic. It reveals Garofalo’s penchant for weaving in and out of different cultures, countries, and centuries. Along the way, he provides many a common thread for students to grasp, whether they’re studying Dante’s Inferno or obscure Italian verb tenses. The Simpsons, who are very popular in Italy as well as among American college students, provide just one of those threads.
The son of an Italian father and American mother, Garofalo grew up on both sides of the Atlantic and became equally adept in Italian and English. It was more like going home than going “abroad” when he left the University of Wisconsin to spend a year at the University of Bologna, where he took a literature class just for fun. Although he entered the course as a mathematics and economics major, he emerged at the end of the year determined to teach literature. The professor not only made him think about literature in a whole new way, but used a technique Garofalo emulates today—bringing in nontraditional approaches to analyzing literature (for example, applying set theory and game theory to the stories of Italo Calvino).
Garofalo brings multiple perspectives to the material at hand in the broad range of courses he teaches at UNH, including Italian language, grammar, literature, culture, and film. Art somehow finds its way into a discussion on grammar. In a course on the history of cinema, he asks each student to analyze a film using knowledge from his or her own major—be it biology or physics. When reading Dante, Garofalo strives to give students a broad view of the poet’s world, including the economics of “usury” in 13th-century Italy, for example. But he may also quote Bob Dylan or show a video of The Simpsons’ episode in which Homer is punished for the sin of donut gluttony in “Hell Labs: Ironic Punishments Division”—a takeoff on the ironic punishments in Dante’s Inferno. Garofalo likes making a reference to popular culture because it “jars students into paying attention a little more closely, and then they start to listen for these sorts of things and enjoy catching the ‘in’ jokes. It also reminds them that people continue to parody, or find some sort of inspiration in, the texts we’re discussing.”
Perhaps the most famous line from the Inferno is the inscription on the gate to Hell: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!” One might expect college students descending into five weeks of reading a medieval poem about Hell—either in translation or in Italian—to abandon all hope. Not so in Garofalo’s class. “It’s fun,” he says. “You don’t want to go to Hell alone. It’s much more fun to go in
company.” Elisabetta Fiore ’03, who enjoyed the trip so much that she went on to visit Dante’s Purgatorio all by herself, has another explanation. “Students just can’t be disengaged,” she says, “when the professor is so passionate about the subject.”