Ruth Ben-Ghiat grew up in Pacific Palisades, California and now lives in New York City, where she is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University. She has received Guggenheim, Getty, and other fellowships for her books and essays on how culture, and cinema in particular, engages with situations of crisis and oppression such as wars, dictatorships, and imperial rule. Her first book, Fascist Modernities (University of California Press, 2001), http://www.amazon.com/Fascist-Modernities-1922-1945-Studies-History/dp/0520242165 caused a storm in Italy for its revelations about the extensive collaborations of Italian directors and writers with the Fascist regime.
In all her work, she questions received ideas and brings things together that are normally kept apart. She used Italian military and film archives for her latest book, Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema, (Indiana University Press, 2015), http://www.amazon.com/Italian-Fascisms-Directions-National-Cinemas/dp/0253015596 which won the Modern Language Association's Scaglione Prize for Best Unpublished Manuscript in Italian Studies. A young Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini were among those who worked on imperialist movies, made in North and East Africa, which were dismissed as propaganda after 1945 and remained largely unexplored until now.
She writes regularly for Cnn.com and The Huffington Post on war and its aftereffects, and on how cinema and photography represent conflict. She created and edited the multimedia series "Legacies of World War I," which ran from June-November 2014 on CNN.com/Opinion.
She loves to communicate on-camera – she’s been a guest on shows such as Huffington Post Live - and she appears in documentaries like the forthcoming Blaxploitalian, by the Italian-Ghanian director Fred Kuwornu.
She also enjoys her consulting work for advertising agencies and film production companies: being part of a creative process is always inspiring.
What’s Your NativeAdVantage:
What do you do best?
My strengths are my boldness: I’m willing to challenge prevailing thought norms and take on uncomfortable or forgotten subjects. Also my desire to keep learning, including from my students, and my compassion, which is especially important given the things I cover. When I publish a piece in CNN about war as a traumatic experience, and veterans tell me it has resonated with them that feels important.
What makes you the best?
I wouldn’t call myself “the best” at anything, but I have a good sense of intuition that helps my creative process: I’m guided naturally to consult sources that may seem far off the radar but prove to be essential. I’m a big believer in unstructured thinking in the conception phase, and when you encounter problems with the flow of your work.
People are often afraid to follow their instincts, but the best formula is to respect them even (and especially!) when they take you out of the box. It’s also good to have a network of supportive associates and a few trusted confidantes who can give you honest feedback and some perspective. I am very fortunate to have both, and to feel part of a global community of scholars and journalists I can turn to for advice.
I also am careful to give myself reflection time, in the form of meditation, or being in nature, to step back and think about the big picture. I also get a lot of good ideas on the treadmill, in the sauna, or on the plane: moments when my “I” phone is off and one can think about the “we” – of your family, love relationship, the community, or the planet. The sense of calmness that comes out of this if you make it a regular practice can infuse your work life as well.
What are your aspirations?
To reach new audiences with my writing; to take my knowledge of the past and use it to help others understand the present; to be part of the conversation about where we are going in the future. For example, I’m very interested in what war will be like in the future, how it will look on the ground as well as on the big and little screens.
One of my talents is bringing interesting people together for events, panels, etc., and I’d like to have a video or other visual platform for that.
On the non-work side, I need to take more vacations: I travel a lot for business and to see family, but not enough solely for relax and recreation. And I’d like to advance in my yoga practice, and take up kickboxing.
And saving the most important for last I wish to continue to be the best mother I can be for my teenaged daughter.
All the sayings that tell us not to be afraid of failure; and that remind us to aspire to act from a place of love rather than fear.
I am inspired by people who take risks, inspired by their convictions; who are able to sense an opening for change and run with it; who have the courage to set their own standards for their lives; who cultivate joy and happiness in themselves and in others.
I was lucky enough to grow up looking at a sea horizon, and I think it contributed to my optimistic temperament: and I still crave the sight of open seas and big skies, on whatever continent.
My trusty yoga mat; Marc Jacobs perfume; cheese; strong coffee in the morning; a well-cut dress with great heels; finding new photographers to collect; my I-things and my music library.
I’m passionate about films; I love the anticipation of settling in to see something new, and being treated to a visual and aural spectacle. I’m also rather obsessed with music, particularly jazz and electronica. I write with music in the background, and I always have a good mix on hand before a public appearance, or during a journey or a party.