About Rebecca Messbarger

Cultural historian Rebecca Messbarger was co-founder and the inaugural Director of the Medical Humanities Program at Washington University, where she is Professor of Italian, Affiliate Professor of History, Art History, Performing Arts, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She serves as Vice President of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Her award-winning research centers on the Italian Enlightenment, in particular the intersection of anatomy and art and the shifting roles of women in civic and academic life during the age. Her monograph, The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini, which traces the lifework of the 18th-century Bolognese artist to

international renown as anatomist for the University of Bologna's famous medical school, is the inspiration for a 2018 German film directed by Iris Fegerl to be released in English and Italian in 2020.

She is the author of numerous articles, including "The Re-birth of Venus in Florence's Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History," in the Oxford Journal of the History of Collections, winner of both the James L. Clifford Prize and the Percy Adam's Prize for the best article in 2012-13.

She co-edited with Christopher Johns and Phil Gavitt the volume The Enlightenment and Benedict XIV: Art, Science and Spirituality (U of Toronto Press, 2016). She has received major grants and fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Philosophical Society, and Washington University's Center for the Humanities and is the current recipient of the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome.

Teaching Philosophy

Learning is a living exchange of ideas driven by intellectual curiosity and sustained critical preparation. It is not confined to any space or timeframe, and I have found that often the most powerful teaching and learning experiences occur when students construct a personal bridge between their classroom education and their first-hand encounter with the living works of culture. Whether deciphering with students the meaning of primary documents on the execution and dissection of a 23-year old infanticide in 1709, contextualizing an epic poem from 1530 on syphilis, discussing the impact of Cesare Beccaria’s revolutionary 1764 treatise against torture and capital punishment, having students act out scenes from Carlo Goldoni’s 1750 comedy “The Coffeehouse,” or unpacking Sciascia’s metaphysical detective novels, I strive to provide opportunities for that bridge building. I aim to assist and challenge my students to learn the fundamental content of my courses, to engage intellectually and personally with the material, to think critically, to enhance their interpretive skills, especially of written texts, to improve their ability to write effectively and eloquently whether on Italian literature, Enlightenment history, or the cultural history of medicine. My overarching goal is, however, to extend their sights beyond the purview of their own cultural and historical experience and not only change what they know, but how they make meaning. 

Select Courses Taught:

Literature, History, and Culture Courses

(Graduate) Mellon Dissertation Seminar: Enlightenment Bodies and Texts: From Word and Image to Flesh and Bones

(Undergraduate) The Art of Medicine; From Basilisks to Botticelli: The Development of Museums in Italy; Theaters of Knowledge: The Origins and Cultural Controversies of Museums; Survey of Medieval and Renaissance Italian Literature; Survey of Italian Literature 17th-20th Centuries; Seminar on The Grand Tour; Seminar on Italian Women Writers; Seminar on the Italian Detective Novel; Seminar on Literature and Culture of the Italian Enlightenment; Seminar on Italian Postmodernism; Topics in the Italian Resistance; Topics on Rome: Caput Mundi to the Borgata

(Approved) Madness, Disease, and Death Italian Style (Fall 2018)

Literature, History, and Culture Courses

Accelerated Elementary Italian for Romance Language Students; Intermediate Italian; Advanced Grammar and Composition; Advanced Study of Poetry and Theater; Playing the Part: Learning Italian Through Theater

Fall In Love With A Foreign Language

Designed by Julian Fiorello