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Umbra Professor Earns Ph.D. from Harvard

After teaching her last Italian class of the spring semester, Umbra Institute Professor Elgin Eckert boarded a plane to Cambridge, Mass., ready to defend “Cultural Memory in Contemporary Narrative: Andrea Camillieri’s Montalbano Series,” the dissertation she spent almost five years perfecting for Harvard University.

It was worth the wait.

Eckert returned to Perugia in time for Umbra’s summer semester with her doctorate in Italian Languages and Literature.

“Dr. Elgin Eckert has proven the fact that ‘hard work now pays you off in future,’” said Anna Girolimetti, the Umbra Institute director of administrative affairs. “(Her) undying hope to earn a Ph.D. degree has come true. The entire team at the Umbra Institute congratulates (her) for such a remarkable success, and we wish (her) all the very best.”

Eckert has been working at the Umbra Institute since fall 2010. She started her Ph.D. program in 2002; she gradually began writing her dissertation when she had her daughter, Sara Elisabeth, in 2007. Even as a mother and with her work at Umbra, Eckert was determined to finish the dissertation.

She officially graduated from the Ph.D. program on May 24. The Harvard committee presented her with a rare honor: Instead of asking her to defend her dissertation according to custom, the members congratulated Eckert and recommended she edit her work into a book.

“I feel full of energy,” Eckert said. “When I first sent (my dissertation) in, I felt empty, like everything was over. Now I’ve realized that this is the starting point: I can use this to take the next step.”

Eckert has already started her book, which she hopes to complete by the end of the summer. She plans to develop the themes in her 360-page dissertation, which discusses Italy’s bestselling author Andrea Camilleri’s series of Montalbano crime novels. Eckert poses the question of what makes Camilleri’s series so successful in the contemporary literary marketplace and if his success is a representation of Italian culture (and by extension, the postmodern or post-postmodern Italian literary scene).

The book will treat of Camilleri and his success from a narrative literary point of view by examining his work from several different perspectives, placing it within the vaster context of Italian literature while also taking a meticulous look at Camilleri as the author who has managed to free a literary genre from its previous confines and opened new boundaries for Italian literature.

Officially on summer vacation from Umbra, Eckert will use her free time to finish her work. 

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