Loyola University Maryland History Professor Wins Fulbright to Study Italy’s Honor Killing Law

Steven Hughes, Ph.D., professor and chair of history at Loyola University Maryland, is the recipient of a Fulbright Senior Research Grant to study the 19th and 20th century evolution of an Italian law that drastically lessened the punishment for honor killings.

Hughes will conduct his research in Rome during the 2014-15 academic year, with a focus on what’s known in Italy as delitto d’onore (“crime of honor”).

“Under the law, when you found your wife ‘in flagrante’ you could kill her, and the other man too, and receive grossly mitigated penalties,” said Hughes. “Your likelihood of getting a year in jail was pretty thin.”

Approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2014-15, but Hughes is one of only two who received a Senior Research Grant for Italy.

His research will be the first historical study of delitto d’onore theory, legislation, and practice in modern Italy. The penalties for violence against female family members for sexual – or supposed sexual – transgressions were weakened in the early 1800s, and the law gradually became wider in its application from Napoleonic Code to Fascist regimes in the 1930s. Women could kill an erring husband; past affairs or discovered love letters also became delitto d’onore fodder.

Surprisingly, the law was on the books in Italy until 1981. Hughes will examine how the legal concept was finally abolished, with an eye on current problems of honor killings in other parts of the world.

“I’m very interested in how these people talked about delitto d’onore – why is it important that a law like this be maintained or even broadened?” said Hughes.

Hughes first became interested in delitto d’onore when he spent time at the Biblioteca Nazionale di Roma to research dueling for his book “Politics of the Sword: Dueling, Honor, and Masculinity in Modern Italy” (2007). He’ll return to that library this time around, along with the Biblioteca della Camera – Italy’s equivalent of the Library of Congress – where he’ll have access to records of parliamentary debates. Hughes will also be a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome, affording him the opportunity to network with world-renowned experts and tap more historical resources. Once his research is complete, he will begin writing a monograph.

This Fulbright award is Hughes’ second. The first, which also took him to Rome in 1992, was the beginning of his study of dueling and questions of criminality, policing, and masculinity in modern Italy that led to numerous presentations and publications over the following two decades, including his first book “Crime, Disorder, and the Risorgimento: The Politics of Policing in Bologna” (1994). In all he has spent nearly four years in Italy including when he first studied abroad in Bologna in 1969.

At Loyola, Hughes helped set up the international program in Leuven, Belgium, and served as director for six years. He received Loyola’s Nachbar Award for Scholarship in 2010 and won a National Endowment for the Humanities Travel Grant in summer 1998. He also invented “Faculty Friday.”

Hughes has taught history at Loyola since 1985.

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