Rome, Italy

Meet the Expert: Matthew Whyte

December 9, 2020|Blog Post

Matthew Whyte

Where are you from and where have you lived?

I am from Cork, in the South of Ireland, where I currently live by the south stream of the River Lee which creates an island of our city center. In the past ten years or so, I have lived in Southern California, in Pacific Beach, and the beautiful La Jolla. More recently, I have lived off and on in Florence, which is a great base from which I can visit various sites in Italy, depending on what I am researching at that time. In Florence, I base myself in the Santo Spirito/San Frediano neighborhood, a wonderful area a quick walk south of the city center.

Tell us about yourself—what path led you to become a Zegrahm Leader?

I began studying art history as an undergraduate in university and almost immediately felt drawn to the art of Renaissance Italy. I was fortunate to have a truly inspiring academic mentor, whose many field trips to Italy only excelled my passions! Following my undergraduate degree, I began teaching in University College Cork and continuing my research, developing a special interest in sculpture of the Late Medieval and Renaissance periods of Italy. I have since pursued my research to Master’s level and am currently completing my doctorate. Working with Zegrahm grew directly out of my academic and professional background. Teaching and researching Italian art combined with ever more time spent in Italy taught me that learning is immersive. Interests beget interests, and I found that, wherever I traveled, I wanted not just to see the sights, but to know the history, hear the music, eat the real local food, and meet the people. When an opportunity to work with Zegrahm came along and I learned more about the company, I just thought “this is how you do it!” I had already worked in Adult Education in University College Cork for several years, where I regularly took groups on cultural tours in Italy, so I knew how rewarding it could be to accompany a group who shared my passions for travel, art, and history (and food!). Zegrahm’s approach, bringing together so many different disciplines and angles within one trip, seemed wonderful to me, and I was quickly proved right!

What other jobs, positions or credentials do you have?

As I mentioned, I hold a BA in Art History and a Master’s degree in Italian Renaissance art and am currently completing my PhD in Late Medieval and Renaissance sculpture. Since 2014, I have lectured with the History of Art department in University College Cork (UCC) and the Centre for Adult Continuing Education also in UCC, the latter for whom I am Coordinator of the Diploma in European Art History, my city’s oldest third-level art history program, since 2017. Fortunately, my job takes me regularly across Italy with groups of students, as well as to major European cities such as Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh, Paris, and Barcelona. I also work as a Facilitator in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, and in the past have worked as Staff Writer for the Italian Art Society. I regularly participate in international conferences in the context of my academic research and most recently have been invited to speak with the Cork Decorative and Fine Arts Society and the Società Dante Alighieri Cork. 

Cork City, Ireland

What other fields are you passionate about?

I am deeply passionate about food and nutrition and constantly marvel about the capacity of food to allow us to learn, travel, experiment, broaden our minds, and even heal ourselves. When I am not working, a large amount of my time is spent cooking, trying new recipes, and researching to inform myself as best I can on how diet impacts health. I believe that food is magic; through it, we can encounter other cultures, bring the people who matter to us together, and live long and healthy lives! I am also passionate about exercise and can be seen on my bicycle around Cork city and its environs every day.

 Any awards, publications, appearances documentaries etc. do you have?

As a student, I was awarded Sibéal’s (Ireland’s Feminist and Gender Studies Network) Annual Essay Prize for research on Artemisia Gentileschi, Roman Baroque painter.

What organizations are you a part of?

I am a member of the Italian Art Society.

What excites you (or what do you enjoy) about working for Zegrahm/IE?

This is a tough question to answer as there is so much! Put simply, what is most exciting for me about working for Zegrahm is being part of a community who shares my passions. In bringing together experts from such diverse backgrounds and in creating trips that encompass so much cultural, historical, culinary, scientific, and ecological material, Zegrahm creates an atmosphere of discussion and learning which brings people together through, I think, the most important uniting force: experience. Zegrahm trips truly are experiences that are never forgotten, and nor are those they are shared with. Working with Zegrahm becomes so much more than a job: it becomes a part of life that centers around sharing incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experiences with interesting, like-minded people. What could be better than that??

Stromboli, Italy

What is your favorite Zegrahm or IE memory?

Another tricky question! I am always most captivated by images and sights, probably stemming from my being an art historian. A favorite memory for me is a quiet moment when on the bow of the Serenissima we glided through the Tyrrhenian Sea towards Stromboli. As we grew ever closer, the size, presence, and magnificence of the volcano also grew until it eclipsed the whole horizon and reached up to the sky. Anyone familiar with Romanticism will know what I mean when I say that a true sense of the Sublime exudes from Stromboli when experienced up close. Seeing it tower over the ship, and watching the ‘fireworks’ at the top as the sunset, is an experience I will never forget.

What non-for-profits or causes do you support or feel strongly about?

I am a strong supporter of PETA and Extinction Rebellion as I feel these organizations address some of the most pressing issues prevalent today. Both are linked closely to the growing environmental issues we face today, and I am especially taken by their focus on individual responsibility as the key component of collective effort.

Also—less an organization but a crucial non-profit public service nonetheless—I greatly admire the work of Nutritionfacts.org, which reviews all the medical literature on diet and health and publishes it ad-free and cost-free to educate people on how to optimize health through food choices.

Rome, Italy

What are your top three countries or regions in the world to explore?

Given my area of research, I have to go with Italy. There is rarely a country with so much beauty from the biggest cities to the tiniest, hidden villages. Special mention, though, has to be given to Rome. There is a phrase that a lifetime is not enough to fully experience the Eternal City; this is certainly true. Almost the entire history of the Western world can be found there: from pagan antiquity, Early Christianity, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, right up to the Post-War period, Rome has been a cultural center and reflects each age in its art and architecture.

An expansive one, but I feel that, for us Europeans, North America’s true wonder can often be forgotten due to the draw of a single big city. Nowhere else in the world boasts such diversity. From Montreal’s Jewish Quarter to the Hispanic neighborhoods of California; true American jazz in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Cuban food in Miami: the true magic of North America is its ability to transport you to different corners of the globe in the blink of an eye!

Funnily enough, Ireland grew on this Irish man as a destination for exploration only in my early twenties. Chalk it up to assuming that being brought up in a country means that there is nothing new to discover there, but when I accompanied some American and Canadian visiting students on a round-trip of the island as a college student my opinion was changed! I now take every opportunity to explore the far-flung landscapes and villages of my native country.

 What’s left on your explorer’s bucket list/where do you still want to go that you haven’t been yet? Why there?

This could be a long list, so I’ll limit myself to one: The Northern Lights. When I was a young teen, I read a trilogy of books entitled His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, the first of which centered on a journey to the Northern Lights. So many lifelong interests were born of these books—literature, philosophy, quantum physics and astronomy, theology—complex ideas that Pullman cleverly wove into a young adults’ tale. Some day soon, I’ll make the time to go.

What does being a part of the Zegrahm family mean to you?

For me, being part of the Zegrahm family means keeping the value of learning at the center of my life. As a Zegrahm leader, I feel indescribably fortunate to benefit from the knowledge and life-experience not just of my colleagues, but of the fascinating people who attend the trips as guests. I am a firm believer that education does not, and should not, end at any point in life. It is something that should be pursued and, above all, shared, throughout life. Being part of the Zegrahm family, to me, means that I have the privilege to play a small part in that for others, and for me that is one of the highest privileges of all!

Who is the Zegrahm Explorer?

The Zegrahm explorer is open. To adventure, experience, and knowledge. What immediately captivated me about Zegrahm is their immersive approach, tailoring each trip to get the broadest spectrum of each location’s culture. So much of today’s travel is dictated by the need to see a particular sight, visit a particular place, that so much of the true value of travel is missed in the process of rushing to whatever that sight or place is. Zegrahm Explorers place themselves at mercy of the destination, soaking up the culture, the food, the art, the lifestyle, the nooks and crannies, of each location, taking in every little bit they can. They seek out a destination for what it is on its own terms, for all that it offers. There is something very humble and very admirable about that, I think.

Anything else you’d like to share with our guests/readers/audience and media?

Keep traveling, keep learning, keep broadening your minds! Nothing teaches us more about who we are by learning about who we’re not. New experiences, new knowledge: these are the best things travel has to offer.