Monograph on 18th century philosopher Giambattista Vico explores urban origin of views on right to social development
Dr. Barbara Ann Naddeo, City College associate professor of history, is the winner of the 2011 Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History for “Vico and Naples: The Urban Origins of Modern Social Theory,” published by Cornell University Press.
A significant achievement for a historian, the prize, named for Columbia University historian and cultural critic Jacques Barzun, has been awarded annually since 1993 by the American Philosophical Society (APS) to the author or authors whose book exhibits distinguished work in American or European cultural history. The award will be bestowed upon Professor Naddeo at the APS annual meeting in November.
“I feel extremely honored to have been selected by a jury that included many preeminent historians and for my work to be considered alongside that of prior recipients,” said Professor Naddeo, a specialist in early modern European history.
“Vico and Naples” provides an intellectual portrait of the Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) that reveals the politics and motivations of one of Europe’s first scientists of society, or philosophers of social justice. Rich with period detail and attentive to Vico’s historical, rhetorical, and jurisprudential texts, it provides a compelling and vivid reconstruction of Vico’s life and times and of the origins of his powerful notion of the social.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom that Vico was a solitary figure; Professor Naddeo portrays a Vico who was keenly attuned to the social changes challenging the political culture and exclusions of his native city. She shows that his experiences of civic crises shaped his inquiry into the development of human society and the rights of its members. In her pages, Vico comes alive as a prescient observer of Europe’s burgeoning metropolises and an advocate for new metropolitan groups.
Professor Naddeo, who joined the CCNY history department in 2004 and has a PhD from University of Chicago, calls Vico “one of the great minds of the European Enlightenment.” He lived in Naples during the city’s golden age, when it was Europe’s third largest city.
At the time, Naples hosted a thriving cultural life that included salons, academies, theaters and a world-famous opera house. It also supported a growing cohort of social scientists.
However, the early 18th century was a period of political instability for the city, and the turmoil brought into focus for Vico the anachronisms of the city and of the prerogatives of Neapolitan elites, she points out. “At the heart of his social theory were controversial views of the city, the privileges of its citizenry and the destiny of the urban community.”
Vico overturned a longstanding political tradition that equated the city with its citizenry by re-conceptualizing the civic community as a social one characterized by diversity. In addition, he recounted a history of the city that further broke with classical models by embedding civic history in a framework of developmentalism.
“For Vico, the city was akin to a living creature.” Professor Naddeo continues. “It had the undeniable role of progressively incorporating others into its community, both socially and with respect to their rights. The city developed in time and, with its development, progressively achieved equity before the law and equitable rights for its diverse groups.”
At the time Vico wrote, only those Neapolitans who were recognized as citizens fully enjoyed the political rights and privileges normally associated with urban life. Non-citizen residents, a large and growing group, were excluded from the political life and prerogatives of the municipality, regardless of their wealth and merits.
Professor Naddeo, who joined the CUNY Graduate Center history faculty in September 2012, says one of the reasons she wrote the book was to “recontextualize Vico to make his politics clear to us. I hope philosophers will take a renewed interest in him as an advocate for social justice.” In the past, his writings influenced not only Italian social thinkers but also writers as diverse as Karl Marx and James Joyce.
To research the book, she spent much time at the National Library of Naples, which has all of Vico’s published texts and papers, and reviewed unpublished political documents in the State Archives of Naples. She did additional research at the Newberry Library of Chicago between 2006 and 2007, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship.
Professor Naddeo has also received a Rome Prize from The American Academy of Rome for her current book project. The new volume more broadly investigates the urbanization of Naples and the advent of the social sciences there.
At City College, Professor Naddeo teaches courses on early modern Europe, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. She also conducts a class on historical methods and historiography as director of CCNY’s MA program in history. In addition, she holds seminars on cities in early modern Europe both at City College and at the CUNY Graduate Center.
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