Joseph Fornieri: Successfully partnering teaching and scholarship




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Joseph Fornieri

Joseph Fornieri, professor of political science, moonlights with a blues and classic-rock band called The Emancipators.

That figures: Fornieri, a prominent expert on Abraham Lincoln, has authored or edited five books on the 16th president. He was appointed to the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in 2009 and is a member of the Lincoln Forum. The 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, and now the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, have brought a plethora of speaking invitations and events.

“I’m still catching my breath,” Fornieri says.

Lincoln and music are tightly woven into Fornieri’s persona, two threads that strengthen his teaching, he believes. This spring, he was named recipient of an Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. In 2002, he received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, given each year to a faculty member with one to three years’ experience at RIT. And he spent a portion of 2009 teaching at Charles University in Prague as the recipient of a Fulbright Teaching Award.

“I love teaching. I love scholarship. I see myself as a teacher/scholar, and the two go hand-in-hand. My scholarship often grows out of discussions in the classroom, and scholarship sharpens my teaching,” he says.

“I got the calling in college. I would arrange study groups. I really like learning for its own sake and sharing this passion and knowledge with others,” says Fornieri. “So going into teaching was a natural progression.”

He started his college career at State University of New York at Geneseo, and went on to earn a master’s degree at Boston College and doctorate at Catholic University.

Fornieri’s study of Lincoln grew from an interest in questions of law and morality, and religion and politics. “Lincoln was a bridge to all of this. He wrestled with these tensions and complexities.”

“Abraham Lincoln is an enduring character both because of his role in preserving the Union and ending slavery and as an embodiment of statesmanship. He combined both goodness and greatness. He was righteous without being self-righteous.” Fornieri is currently writing a concise book on Lincoln’s statesmanship that will be useful to scholars, students and the reading public alike.

Another focus of Fornieri’s current research is Giuseppe Mazzini, a 19th century Italian politician and journalist who championed Italian independence and unification.

Fornieri calls Mazzini a “profound thinker,” who, like Lincoln, had much to say about patriotism, law and morality, religion and politics.

“He’s well-known in Europe, but not so much in the U.S.,” says Fornieri. “More needs to be done on him.”

During his time as a Fulbright teacher in the Czech Republic, Fornieri taught courses in constitutional rights and liberties and American political thought and had the opportunity to delve into the contrasts between American and European legal systems. “It was a great experience,” he says. “The students were wonderful.

“Czechoslovakia was under the heel of two types of totalitarianism—facism and communism. The people have a craving for freedom, and a real appreciation of it.”

And he shared his music. Fornieri, who sings and plays guitar and harmonica, has been performing for most of his life.

“Music exposes you to a lot of different aspects of life,” he says. “You run into all kinds of people, hear their stories. You appreciate diversity of all walks of life.”

“When you play music, you have to be attentive to other people’s souls. That makes you more sensitive, I think. And that’s an important part of teaching. It helps you reach different students in different ways.”

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Joseph Fornieri