Faculty Profile: Professor Ombretta Frau, Italian Department


Starting out as a young teacher “frantically and randomly” buying books on language teaching to give her tips for her first class, Ombretta Frau is now a professor of Italian at Mount Holyoke College where she specializes in modern Italian literature and Italian female authors. Professor Frau describes her start to language teaching as more of a coincidence: “Like many jobs, it came to me.” She studied English and German literature for her first degree in Italy, and upon finishing her master’s degree, moved to England. At age twenty-four, she started teaching for the first time at a part-time job in a private high school. After graduate school at Harvard and many years of teaching experience later, Professor Frau is currently teaching elementary Italian and two senior seminars at Mount Holyoke College.  

In all of her classes, Professor Frau focuses on creating a creative and friendly atmosphere. She believes that the most conducive environment to successful language learning should not be intimidating. Professor Frau tries not to point fingers at students or put them on the spot, because she believes that isolation and public humiliation in the classroom will produce the opposite effect. To enhance the comfortable atmosphere, Professor Frau likes her students to sit in a circle when possible in the classroom. She describes her favorite aspect of teaching in the audio clip below:

When she is not teaching or preparing for class, the other half of Professor Frau’s work is dedicated to her research. Primarily, she focuses on women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Italy. Recently, Professor Frau has been studying the relationship between mentors and mentees in nineteenth century Italian literature, particularly the most common situation where the mentor is a very famous male figure and the mentee is a very young and unknown female author. Her specific focus has been on the relationship between the famous Italian poet Giosue Carducci and young poet and novelist Annie Vivanti. Below, Professor Frau describes what she finds fascinating about this particular area of research:


As a graduate student, Professor Frau started reading contemporary magazines and found numerous articles written by women she had never heard of. However, she found little information when researching these women. Upon the realization that an entire group of women had been completely erased from the intellectual history, she made it her work to help bring them back.

More recently, she was offered a position as a blogger for the Italian Huffington Post, where she discusses sexism and problems with education, among other issues. Much of her inspiration for her blog posts comes from her research, where she realized that many of the nineteenth century issues women had to face are still relevant today. 

Just back from her sabbatical leave, where she spent time doing a combination of writing, lecturing, and research in Scotland, Italy, France and Australia, Professor Frau is now gearing up to teach a new course at Mount Holyoke College this coming spring semester. This four-credit course titled “Sicily” and taught in English will cover nearly three thousand years of Greek and Italian Sicilian history. The most exciting part of this course, Professor Frau says, is the two-credit trip to Sicily that is being offered at the end of the semester.

Learn more about this exciting opportunity below: 

Post contributed by Emily Nichols, LRC Consultant.

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