Professor Susanna Delfino, a specialist in economic and social antebellum history, recently journeyed to UT from her native Genoa, Italy, with an interesting aim — to make Southern students more aware of their own history.
Delfino, whose two-week stay in the United States was made possible by a grant through UT’s Ready for the World exchange program, hoped to help accomplish this through her speeches.
“My main purpose here has been to lecture,” she said. “I gave two lectures for the course in cinema studies taught by professor Flavia Brizio-Skov. The topic of the course this year was ‘Women in World Cinema,’ so my contribution has consisted of analyzing the female characters in movies about the old South.”
Last week, Delfino gave a final lecture titled “Belles No More,” which centered on what is arguably the South’s most timeless and beloved portrayal — the 1939 classic, “Gone with the Wind.”
 “‘Gone with the Wind’ is such an important film about the Old South because it is the only popular one that does not portray antebellum South in a negative light,” she explained.
Clayton Gupton, junior in Italian and attendee of the lecture, spoke positively of Delfino’s address.
 “Professor Delfino sheds light on what American women had to endure during the pre-Civil War era,” he said. “The importance of her message, for me, paints a clear picture of where we were then and where we are now.”
Renée D’Elia-Zunino, professor in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literature, who coincidentally also hails from the Genoa region of Italy, agreed with Gupton’s admiring view of Delfino.
“Susanna is a well-known scholar, clever in her statements, and never boring,” she said. “Her lectures are always fantastically interesting because she delivers a lot of passion to her arguments and uses many examples, which help participants understand her points.”
By listening to someone as well-educated about Southern history as Delfino, D’Elia-Zunino believes that the rewards to be reaped are considerable.
“Students may discover facts they were not aware of; for example, the true nature of these so-called ‘belles,’ who were far from being the stereotyped selfish and totally men-dependent women,” she said. “Some were strong and well educated, although for the main purpose of being well prepared to have an advantageous marriage.”
Delfino’s own interest in these women’s history ideas began relatively recently. Her fascination with the old South, on the other hand, has been life-long.
“I was already interested in American history by the time I was a university student,” she said. “I took a course and discovered all these aspects of Southern history that were virtually unknown in Italy. There were certain stereotypes when thinking about American history — the Revolutionary War, the winning of the West. But there is a lot more to American history and I discovered all these things that, in the 1970s, were not known at all.”
Delfino describes an “academic revolution” as having taken place in Italy at this time.
 “Scholars began to write about aspects of Southern history different than what had traditionally been taught about the plantation economy,” she said. “The image of the slaves, for instance, changed completely. New studies were done by scholars who finally portrayed the slave culture as an autonomous one, not merely something they had absorbed from the whites. It was these aspects of nontraditional history that first sparked my interest in the South.”
Delfino followed that spark overseas, coming to UT to study industrialization in Tennessee in the early 1980s.
“I came to Tennessee for the first time through a full-ride scholarship,” she said. “I began with a case study here, and then I wrote my first book on social and economic transformation of the antebellum South with evidence from Tennessee and other states as well.”
 Now, 30-odd years later, Delfino says she is well accustomed to utilizing Hodges Library.
“I have done research in this library for almost all of my books,” she said.
These written works include five monographs, four additive volumes co-written with American professors and several essays. This list is expected to grow by the end of next year, when Delfino’s current brainchild is published.
“My interests lately have been women, and I am presently writing a book which is based on the biography of a Kentucky lady,” she said. “It is a history of domestic service in Southern households in the late antebellum era. I have been further researching it during my stay here, and when it is published, I might come back and give a presentation.”
Fans of Delfino, like Gupton, certainly hope she will.
“I appreciate what professor Brizio did for our cinema class by giving us the opportunity to meet a very fascinating figure in the study of cinema,” Gupton said. “Arrivederci a presto professoressa Delfino.”