Giulia Crisanti, a Ph.D. candidate for history in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, wasn’t exactly gung-ho about moving from Italy to New York City in 2015. In fact, Crisanti chose to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Pisa so she could escape the congestion and noise of her native Rome.
But Crisanti knew she needed to move to the United States to finish her research.
“I was this Italian scholar in Italy studying the impact of Americanization on Italy during the Cold War. I realized there was no better way to complete my studies than by coming to the U.S.,” she said.
She came to New York in part to work with Silvana Patriarca, Ph.D., a Fordham history professor who specializes in the socio-cultural history of modern Italy and has written about nationalism, gender, race, and the making of national identities.
“I knew and appreciated her work, but most of all, I liked the idea that her specific area of expertise was close to mine, but not equal,” Grisanti said.
“To me, this meant that she could be an ideal mentor, but also leave space for my personal initiatives and ideas, which she did wonderfully.”
‘Europeans are Lovin’ It?’
Crisanti’s final dissertation is titled “Europeans Are Lovin’ It? Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and the Challenges to American Global Businesses in Italy and France, 1886 – 2015.” The goal of the paper, for which she was advised by Patriarca and Christopher Dietrich, Ph.D., is to refute widely held assumptions that American corporations have succeeded because they promote uniquely “American” products around the world.
Backed by archival sources spanning three languages and two continents, Crisanti makes the case that companies such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were themselves changed as much as they changed the local culture where they established subsidiaries.
“In a context in which more and more, we tend to associate globalization with enduring American hegemony and enduring forms of American imperialism, what is American globalization actually?” she asked in an interview.
Influence Goes Both Ways
In fact, Crisanti makes the case that the soda, hamburgers, and French Fries associated with the two companies are not exclusively American, due to the influence of Europeans on their development.
The success of these firms rests on being “glocal,” she said, which is why a McDonald’s in Rome is technically an Italian company that caters to the local population by offering a McCrunchy Bread with Nutella for dessert.
Crisanti argues that a better alternative to this kind of globalization is embodied in groups such as the anti-globalization movement spearheaded by French farmer José Bové and Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food movement, which are rooted in—and support—local culture but also “glocal.”
She has worked with groups like these that she says “valorize” cultural traditions and hopes her research will support them further.
“The dissertation became an opportunity to study not just the reaction against Americanization, but also the reaction against globalization and the role played by major multinational corporations,” said Crisanti, who is currently interviewing for post-doctoral opportunities in Italy and the U.S. and hopes to get a position combining research and teaching.
Learning from the Past
Dietrich said what made Crisanti’s research so exciting is it tells a new story about not only the influence of American businesses in Europe in the 21st century but also the influence of European governments and societies on those American businesses and their adaptability.
“We all know the classic stories of Coca-Cola being associated with U.S. soldiers in World War II, but to see how McDonald’s met building codes to fit into Italian town life and hear how Coca Cola bottlers worked to develop their networks and made arguments for Coca Cola being part of those cultures, it’s really quite interesting,” he said.
“Today, we’re so caught up with and passionate about politics, and that extends to our understanding of corporations and their place in society, and I think it’s important for us to take a step back for a moment. Studying the diplomacy of business helps us understand that there are a lot of different factors at play in major decisions, and I don’t think we can get today right unless we have some distance from it.” By going all the way back to 1886 and the beginnings of Coca-Cola, he said, “she reminds us to take that distance.”
Crisanti said she knew moving to New York City would take her out of her comfort zone but ultimately found it to be an experience for growth. A big reason for this, she said, was that the history department at Fordham values cooperation over competitiveness.
“I believe that any program should first encourage students to cooperate and improve, and Fordham does that,” she said. “The human aspect is as valued as the academic/scholar aspect.”