29 March 2024 — 12:00 noon — GAR 1.102

Rebecca Falkoff (UT–French and Italian)

“Industrious Skies: Nitrogen Capture in Fascist Italy”

Rebecca Falkoff will present material from her manuscript-in-progress, Industrious Skies, which examines the role of Italy’s interwar initiatives to fix atmospheric nitrogen—that is, to take unreactive nitrogen gas from the air, primarily for use in fertilizers and explosives. The availability of synthetic fertilizers, and explosives, as well as other products made from fixed nitrogen, including pesticides and chemical weapons, powered major fascist initiatives, beginning with the Battle for Wheat in 1925, and including the draining of the Pontine Marshes, the demographic campaign, and imperialism. Attending to the materiality of the industrial processes and products of nitrogen capture, and to more abstract elemental and atmospheric poetics, she aims to offer a new perspective on Italian fascism and to shed light on a critical shift whereby discourses of global scarcity give way to ecological crisis better understood through attention to structural violence and injustice.


Rebecca Falkoff, Assistant Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, is a scholar of Italian and comparative literature and critical theory with research interests in the medical humanities and science and technology studies. Prior to joining the UT faculty, she taught at Johns Hopkins University, University College London, New York University, and UC Berkeley, where she completed her Ph.D. in Italian Studies with a dissertation on autarky. Her first book, Possessed (Cornell University Press, 2021) traces a cultural history of hoarding across genres and disciplines. She has also published on illegibility, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Primo Levi, and Elena Ferrante. She is currently working on a book-length manuscript about nitrogen capture in fascist Italy.