How the Franklin Humanities Institute enhanced one graduate student's education

Sarah Rogers

Giulia Riccò became involved with the Franklin Humanities Institute as a first year Ph.D. student in the Department of Romance Studies. During her time at Duke, she participated in community life at the FHI in a number of ways - applying for grants and other research funding, organizing events and conferences, and providing support for special projects.

After writing her dissertation on fascism in Italy and Brazil and earning her Ph.D. in the spring of 2019, she was hired as an Assistant Professor of Italian in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department at the University of Michigan.

We spoke to Giulia Riccò about how the Franklin Humanities Institute enhanced her graduate education and created opportunities for community-building with scholars in her fields. The following interview has been edited and condensed.

I first learned about the Franklin Humanities Institute when I visited as a prospective student in 2013. We took a tour of the FHI and what was at that time the Haiti Lab. But my first official involvement was when I received a Human Rights Summer Research grant from the Duke Human Rights Center (DHRC@FHI) in 2014.

My project was about how the family members of victims of state violence remember their loved ones through oral and written narratives. I went to Brazil to participate in the Truth Commission (Comissão da Verdade) in São Paulo. The Truth Commission looked into crimes that the military dictatorship had committed in Brazil from 1964-1985. It started in 2011 and finished in 2014. It was open to the public, so you could go and sit and listen.

The Duke Human Rights Center gave me a platform through the Human Rights Research grant. They created a page on their website and created a video of me talking about the project. I wrote a number of blogs informing the center about my research, and it gave me visibility that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. You could just Google my name and it would show up.

While I was in Brazil, I met a professor, Jaime Ginzburg, at the University of São Paulo, and in the 2014-2015 academic year I brought him to Duke University to give a talk at the Global Brazil Lab at the FHI. He gave a lecture and then led a workshop on violence and education in Brazil. Graduate students came to the lecture and workshop – it was packed! I eventually invited him on to my dissertation committee.

Then in the summer of 2015, I went to the Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory Summer School in Bologna, funded by FHI. The theme that summer was Critical Theories, so I did a lot of important foundational readings. And it was fun to go to Italy!

In 2015-2016, I started the Romance Studies Speakers series, and I asked the FHI for additional funding to support two events. Instead of having a graduate student conference, we decided to invite junior faculty, because we needed to have interactions that could help us to understand what we would encounter in the near future.

In the spring of 2017, along with Renée Michelle Ragin, I applied for a grant from D-SIGN (Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks) through the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. Since Renée is in Literature and I’m in Romance Studies, we decided to make FHI our home base instead of an academic department. We wanted a space where everyone felt welcome. We got the grant, and then FHI gave us money on top of that.

The working group that we organized was called Global South After 2010: Epistemologies of Militarization. We hosted workshops here throughout the year and we established an exchange with the humanities institute at the University of Virginia. Camilla Fojas came here, and they invited us there.

Renee Ragin and Giulia Ricco
Giulia Riccò (right) and Renée Michelle Ragin at the Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures at the University of Virginia.

We finished with a colloquium with pre-circulated papers. The number of participants were capped at 10 and it was mostly discussion. It was great! We also had two undergraduates present their work. We wanted them to feel welcome, not intimidated.

Following the colloquium, Michaeline Crichlow invited us to co-edit a special edition of Cultural Dynamics. It’s coming out this fall and it’s called “Militarizing the Global South.” It includes papers from Camilla Fojas and two participants from the symposium. Renée and I co-wrote the introduction, titled “Contemporary Epistemologies of Militarization in the Global South.”

In the spring of 2018,  a group of colleagues from South America and I decided to apply for a collaborative project grant from the Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory. Only alumni of the Bologna Summer School can apply. We brought together a group of graduate student organizers from University of São Paulo, University of Valparaiso, University of Toronto, and Duke University to organize a conference here on Neoliberalisms in the Americas. FHI also co-sponsored and hosted. It was a very successful collaborative event.

In the fall of 2018, I also received a Bass Digital Education Fellowship from the Graduate School, so I needed to find an opportunity to do digital pedagogy. I was talking to [DHRC@FHI faculty co-chair] Robin Kirk and [DHRC@FHI Program Coordinator] Emily Stewart at an event, and they told me about the Sowers and Reapers Bass Connections project, and I became the TA for the year.

FHI really has been my home! I’m very grateful to the FHI staff and to both directors [Deborah Jenson and Ranjana Khanna] for their support.

What advice would I give to graduate students? Go to events. That’s where I met Renée – at events. At a certain point I said, we need to have coffee, because we obviously have the same interests! And then we ended up being collaborators.

Events are really what make our work grow. You need to share your work, to have a community. I’ve always found conferences, lectures, and workshops to be a wonderful space for that. There’s mentorship and peership there. It can open up a lot of opportunities that you might not have had before.

And don’t be afraid to ask about funding opportunities – Duke has a lot of them!

Are you a graduate student interested in some of the funding opportunities Giulia Riccò mentions here? Browse the list below for more information.

Human Rights Summer Research Grants (Duke Human Rights Center @FHI)

The Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute offers currently enrolled Duke University undergraduates and graduate students to opportunity to apply for Human Rights Summer Research Grants. Applications are typically due in the spring semester, on or around March 1. Funding up to $2000 is available.

Summer School in Global Studies and Critical Theory and Collaborative Projects (Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory)

The Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory, a partnership between Duke University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Bologna, hosts an annual two-week Summer School that brings together scholars from all over the world for lectures, seminars, workshops, and courses on a shared theme.

Along with the Department of Romance Studies and the Program in Literature, the Franklin Humanities Institute offers travel grants to a number of Duke University graduate students each year. Applications for the Summer School are typically due in March or April. Interested students should apply on the AGHCT website and email FHI Associate Director Christina Chia ( upon acceptance.

Additionally, former Summer School participants may be eligible to apply for funding up to €20,000 for collaborative projects, such as graduate conference or workshops, exhibitions, digital research projects, or more.

D-SIGN (Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks), Interdisciplinary Studies

D-SIGN grants are available to graduate student groups to propose an interdisciplinary project, training or experience lasting up to a year. All current graduate students (including master’s, professional and PhD students) in any program at Duke University are eligible to apply. 

Applications are typically due in January or February for grants for the upcoming academic year. Budget plans up to $20,000 are accepted. Most budgets and awards will fall in the $5,000-$15,000 range.

Bass Digital Education Fellowships, Learning Innovation and the Duke Graduate School

The Bass Digital Education Fellowship is a year-long fellowship experience that includes three components: a seminar course that prepares students to critically engage with themes of 21st century teaching and learning (GS762: Digital Pedagogy), which must be completed prior to the start of the Bass DEF; a Digital Education Internship; and a seminar series (GS772: Bass Digital Education Colloquium) taken concurrently with the fellowship.

Applications are typically due in November for the following academic year. This fellowship provides coverage of tuition, mandatory fees, and full stipend for Fall and Spring semesters during the year that the apprenticeship (not the GS762 course) occurs.

Event Cosponsorship Funds, Franklin Humanities Institute

Each year the FHI provides co-sponsorship support to a large number of humanities-related events and projects at Duke. Graduate students are welcome to submit requests for cosponsorship. Requests are reviewed once a month by the FHI Director and Assistant Director for Finance and Administration.