It’s been three months since the Vincenzis moved to Hillsdale and their home has been a revolving door ever since. Hospitality is the Vincenzi family speciality. On a typical evening, that means lime cheesecake and fresh pasta are on the table for their guests.
Dr. Anna Vincenzi, a new assistant professor of history, will teach Western and American Heritage, alongside her courses on 19th and 20th century European history. Her husband, Lorenzo Vincenzi, hopes to teach an Italian language course in the spring.
Junior Juan Vargas, a history major enrolled in 19th century European history, said he emailed the new professor before the start of the semester to get an early start on his reading assignments.
“I emailed Dr. Vincenzi, and said, ‘Hey I’m in Hillsdale by myself and I would like to get started on my readings,” Vargas said. “Dr. Vincenzi emailed me back… and she said, ‘you’re here by yourself, you should come over for dinner. And we set a date.”
“It’s like you get that great first impression that you’re not with just one more professor, you’re with someone who cares about you and wants to see you do good,” he continued. “That’s the feeling I got from her.”
Vincenzi didn’t originally plan to study history.
“My high school history classes weren’t very engaging, and, paradoxically, studying history was the only possibility that I had not considered as I thought about what to do in college,” she said.
Little did she know that six years later, she’d be presenting her dissertation on the American Revolution and its effects on Europe. Though Vincenzi spent nearly 23 years in Italy, it only took one semester in the United States to convince her to leave her hometown in Carpi, Italy, and move her entire life — and family — to the Midwest.
“A friend and I decided to go somewhere else for the semester, and we had the chance to meet a professor from Notre Dame because he was in Italy for a conference. We asked, ‘Can we just come and be in class? We would like to do that even if we don’t receive credit for it.’”
After applying and being accepted into the PhD program in History at the University of Notre Dame, Vincenzi and her college sweetheart, Lorenzo, moved from Milan, where they were studying together, to the United States. As a fellow academic, Lorenzo said it was Anna’s intellectual ability that caught his attention.
At first, both of them were passionate about literature, Lorenzo said, but later the two joined a history class.
“We both liked it, but she clearly loved it since she decided to follow it as a career,” he said.
“In college, I wasn’t the best student,” Lorenzo said, laughing. “First of all, she was nice because she helped me study, which I didn’t love to do at the time. But it wasn’t just studying in order to have good grades, she was also really interested in what she was doing. That’s what struck me the most.”
Through her semester abroad, Vincenzi realized the value in studying in the United States. The lecture style in Italy is less intimate, and Vincenzi noticed that many classes at Notre Dame invited students into the discussion, something she hopes to model in her classes at Hillsdale.
“In Italy, the professor talks all the time. A relationship between the students and the professor isn’t encouraged at all, and he doesn’t encourage students to participate in the lecture,” she said.
While attendance is mandatory at most schools in the United States, Vincenzi said Italian students are not required to go to any of their classes. That’s why she left.
The American method changed Vincenzi’s perspective on teaching, and she now provides minimal historical context prior to assigning readings so students can first read, then learn through classroom discussion. To engage students, Vincenzi will also include reading from Emile Zola’s “Germina” and watching “Les Miserables” and “The Leopard”before the semester ends.
“Her perspective is unique,” Vargas said. “There are a lot of themes in historical events that we who are not European or not Italian would see with one perspective. She has a different one, and it’s great to hear, because it gives you a better understanding of how things actually work. It’s not like you’re reading about something in a book. No. She’s been there.”
Vincenzi did her dissertation on archives in Venice, Rome, Florence, and Naples, and attributed this research with giving her the possibility of spending time in many beautiful places.
In some ways, Vincenzi said, Hillsdale reminds her of these places, as well as her home. Living in a neighborhood of professors and their children, her two young kids — Alessandro and Constanza — have the freedom to play in the streets. When growing up, Vincenzi said she and her sisters always played on the streets.
“After our house, the countryside started,” said Vincenzi. “So, on our street we were out on our bikes and playing with the neighbors all the time.”
Hillsdale also has a “plaza,” or a downtown square, which reminds her of the beautiful and crowded cities along the Amalfi coast and in Venice, she added. One can hardly drive through these small Italian cities because of the amount of foot traffic. Vincenzi recalled her honeymoon trip in Praiano. Upon arriving at their bed and breakfast, the owner came rushing down the stairs to carry her bags all the way up to their room.
“One could ask: why would you ever do something as stupid as building a town like that, in that really impracticable position?” Vincenzi said. “And you could ask this of many of the towns in the Amalfi Coast, or of Venice.…And yet, thousands of people through the centuries have lived there, taken care of their city, and made it one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see. Convenience can’t explain this. I’m sure there were easier ways to establish a successful commercial outpost than draining a laguna and placing thousands of wooden stakes and platforms as they did in Venice. But the human heart needs that kind of beauty.”