Spotlight on Kate Ferris
September 20, 2013 Leave a comment
Dr Kate Ferris researches and teaches modern European history, with a particular focus on Italy and Spain from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. She came to the University of St Andrews in 2009, following a lectureship at the University of Durham and seven years of doctoral and postdoctoral work at University College London. She also spent a year as a Marie Curie doctoral fellow at the Università Ca’Foscari in Venice where she spent most of her time holed up in the library on St Mark’s square, emerging periodically to enjoy the delights of Venice’s art and architecture, cicchetti and spritz.
Kate is principally a social and cultural historian whose research and publications to date fit into two main strands of interest. The first stems from her interest in the sometimes gap between the intended intrusions of dictatorships into the everyday worlds of the people they ruled over and the realities of the ‘lived experience’ of these regimes. Her recently-published book Everyday Life in Fascist Venice (Palgrave, 2012) explores the Italian fascist regime’s efforts to infiltrate and dictate Venetians’ lives from what they ate and wore to how they spent their free time, from how they celebrated personal and city-wide festivities to how they moved about the city (gondola or motorboat – not a question most present-day visitors to Venice have the financial means to worry about…). It then examines how these corresponded with the ‘lived experience’ or realities of fascism on the ground (or water), highlighting along the way some of the opportunities that Venetians were able to take to eke out some limited autonomy of action and choice in their everyday lives, despite the all-encompassing intentions of dictatorship.
The second strand picks up the theme of the gap between intentions and realities but this time transplanted to nineteenth-century Spain and the process of ‘becoming modern’. Here, she is interested in the processes by which latenineteenth-century Spaniards thought transnationally about modernity. She has published journal articles and chapters in edited collections on this theme and spent summer 2013 writing a book which looks at how a group of ‘self-consciously modern’ Spaniards in the late nineteenth century imagined the USA as the epitome (and sometimes anti-model) of modernity and in turn tried to imagine themselves as citizens of a modern Spain.
Kate is happy that her research requires her to spend extended amounts of time in places like Venice, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona and Seville but wholeheartedly refutes the suggestion – made by some colleagues and friends – that her research choices have been guided principally by the offerings of the local culture and climate. She has not made things easier for herself in this respect by opting to focus her next research project on the production and consumption of alcohol in fascist Italy. She also has plans to write a comparative history of everyday life under dictatorship in Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain and a transnational history of anti-fascism in mid-20th century Europe. She’s looking forward to dragging her young daughter around the cultural and archival capitals of Western Europe as she carries out the research for these projects.
Kate teaches on modules at all levels of undergraduate and postgraduate study. She offers honours modules which relate closely to her research interests, including MO3423 Everyday Life in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union and Franco’s Spain, MO3328 Making Italians: region, nation and empire in Italy from unification to fascism, a special subject (MO4939) on Civil War and Dictatorship in Spain and, a new offering for next year, MO3336 Mediterranean Colonialism (co-taught with Dr Stephen Tyre). For more on Kate, please see her staff page on the School of History website.