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Umbra Independent Research Projects

One on one learning with Umbra faculty advisors makes in-depth research while studying abroad possible.

At Umbra, independent research projects can be pursued in a wide variety of areas from archaeology and art history to psychology and sociology and even student-curated exhibit of works by local artists.


If you are planning to study abroad and would like to pursue a special research project in your area of interest with one-on-one guidance from Umbra professors, contact us and we can assist you plan your project prior to your arrival in Perugia. Presented here are just a few examples of the independent research projects Umbra students have explored over the past two semesters.


Archaeological study of the oral myth of Odysseus. This project examined two competing schools of thought and approaches to archaeological research. The student examined both schools and completed a particular case study (reviewing an oral myth that was important in pre-historical Italy) as a way to reach her own conclusion about what type of methodology should be followed. Her conclusion was that a multi-disciplinary approach, which includes the use and examination of oral myths and artifacts, along with a more scientific approach, should be taken.


Psychology project that examined the construction and socialization of gender values amongst Italian children. The student replicated, in part, a study from the States, working with Italian elementary school children, and presented the empirical results and an interpretation of those results by appeal to a particular theory of development in psychology.


A communications student asked the question, what factors are important in the classroom for successful foreign language acquisition? She volunteered with one of the Umbra Institute’s language professors who teaches English to Italian adults (55 years and older at the University for the Third Age) and through that volunteer work observed the classroom setting (with approximately 32 hours of observation) and developed her thesis. She compared her own observations with the literature on classroom environment and put forward her own interpretation and set of recommendations.


One student curated her own art exhibit on the work of local Perugian women artists. The city government (as part of its agreement with the Umbra Institute) donated a small gallery space for three days in the historical centre of the city. The exhibit was open to the public. The theme for the exhibit was artwork by women that explored archetypical and stereotypical images of women and was entitled, “The Virgin, The Mother, and the Prostitute.” The student put together a “call for proposals” in Italian, chose, in consultation with her Umbra faculty advisor, the winning proposals, and designed a small catalogue for the exhibit. Both amateur and professional women artists participated in the show.


One student was very interested in dialects, not from a linguistics perspective but from a public policy perspective (she was wondering what type of public support exists for the preservation of dialects). She was an international relations major. She examined public policy at the European level (where she found that dialects were treated as “second class citizens” with respect to minority languages) and the national level. She also explored what was done at the local level to preserve and help support the continuing use of the local dialect in artistic events, such as theatre productions. The student interviewed local Italians by age group to see what role dialects played in the formation of their identity. (These interviews were informal and did not meet the standards of scientific methods). The interviews confirmed that knowledge and use of the local dialect was greater for older age groups. In the end, she put forth a set of public policy recommendations based on her research.


Translation project completed as an independent study by a student who had studied at the Universita’ per Stranieri (University for Foreigners) in the previous semester. In the first half of the project the student examined the theory and practice of translation from the Renaissance onwards. He then decided which approach/methodology he would choose in his own project and why (this formed a separate chapter). The final section of the project was the translation of three chapters from a book on Perugia during the Bell’Epoch written by a local author. The goal was to produce a piece of work that could be used by future Umbra students who wanted to know more about Perugia.


An international relations major examined the political economy of globalization with special attention paid to North-South relations. The investigation began with a review of the different schools of thought on globalization, with an eye towards finding possible solutions that would result in a more equitable distribution of benefits globally. In the second half of the study, the student used the set of agreements between the EU and ACP (African Caribbean Pacific countries) as a specific case study to explore why some countries have, on balanced, enjoyed the benefits of globalization, while others, such as many African countries, have primarily endured its costs. The principal question was, why had the ACP countries failed to benefit in a significant way from the EU’s commitment to extend preferential treatment to their goods over the past 40 years? The study concluded that in important ways EU policies in practice, which were based not only on its international agreements with ACP, but also on its own internal policies, worked to undermine the EU’s stated commitment to ACP development. A number of recommendations were made for changing EU-ACP economic relations. Based on this research, the student was accepted into a selective research seminar at her home institution in the following semester.


A sociology student completed an independent study as part of a larger research project conducted by a professor at her home institution: the Umbra-portion of the study formed a section of a larger, comparative research project (with the intended product being a book-length manuscript) on the phenomenon of “Hooking Up.” The preliminary stages of the project were carried out in the United States prior to the student’s arrival in Perugia: students at different college and university campuses in the U.S. were interviewed about “hooking up.” The second stage of the project focused on internationalizing the findings, with one student conducting interviews among university-age adults in Australia and the other student conducting similar interviews in Perugia under the guidance of the home institution professor.


The goal of this stage of the project was to provide an international perspective on the phenomenon, namely to address the question: How widely is “hooking up” practiced and are there clear differences across countries? The primary finding of the Umbra-portion of the study suggested that Italians do not “hook up” in the same sense that US students do; and a secondary finding indicated that the closest Italian behavior to “hooking up” seemed to be encouraged by the significant presence of foreigners in the local community.

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