2012-2017: Boccaccio's Arboretum: Prickly Humor, Flowering Fiction

August 10, 2014: My first visit to Boccaccio's hometown of Certaldo, a hilltop town in Tuscany.

August 10, 2014: My first visit to Boccaccio's hometown of Certaldo, a hilltop town in Tuscany.

Giovanni Boccaccio's world-famous Decameron remains a defining piece of 14th-century literature and culture and a cornerstone of the Italian literary canon, but it is only one of nineteen texts he wrote in the course of his life.  Even within the realm of literary studies, the other eighteen are only selectively studied and generally evaluated on the basis of possible comparisons to the Decameron.  Scholars tend to see in them immaturity, a youthful struggle to become an author evidenced by attempts to imitate several different genres (the Latin epic in verse, the elegy in prose, and various forms of lyric poetry).  Boccaccio, according to many assessments was often trying and failing to write within the established parameters of these other genres, whereas in the Decameron he had mastered the medium.  As a graduate student on the hunt for what others had missed, I found the most intriguing question to be: "why do we assume that this one text accomplished its aims and these others failed?"  I read many of the minor works and found them not only enjoyable - even funny - but also clearly displaying a great deal of intentionality in how they were written.  It seemed to me that the critical assessment of what Boccaccio had been trying to do in many of his minor works was incomplete.  Furthermore, that very assessment was actually inhibiting others from revisiting these texts with a critical eye and an open mind.  This project, then, is a series of case studies on four of Boccaccio's minor works, each of which I deliberately attempt to read the way I think Boccaccio wants to be read.  He teaches us how to read him, I claim, and he urges us to read carefully, deliberately, and to form our own opinions of the subject matter rather than expect him to hand them to us.  Throughout his opera omnia, he reflects openly on the nature of reading and writing, whether in self-defense against his critics, real and imagined, or in an invitation to his readers to be intentional, careful and skeptical as they read.  My view on Boccaccio has benefited from centuries of commentary on medieval literature, and it has also been narrowed by that very tradition, the notions of canon that determine what we value and what we do not.  My work with these texts aims to interrogate some of those self-imposed limitations and allow Boccaccio to teach me how to read them and find the humor and the pleasure in doing so.  

2015: "A favore della «carne impigrita». I valori dell'Amorosa visione in epoca angioina.", published in Boccaccio e Napoli. Nuovi materiali per la storia culturale di Napoli nel Trecento, ed. Giancarlo Alfano et. al.. Franco Cesati Editore, Florence, Italy.

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This contribution to the lovely volume Boccaccio e Napoli was the result of a paper I delivered at a conference in Naples and Salerno, Italy, in October of 2013 to celebrate Boccaccio's 700th birthday.  The conference title, "Boccaccio angioino," alluded to its narrow focus on Boccaccio's relationship to the city of Naples during the reign of Robert D'Anjou.  We spent two days in Naples and one day in Salerno, and the talks ranged in subject from the literary presence of Naples in Boccaccio's texts to the politics of the time and how it may have influenced the course of Boccaccio's career.  Most prominent were presentations that focused on manuscript studies, attempting to conclusively prove or disprove the material presence of other 14th-century texts in libraries that Boccaccio would have had access to.  When we claim that authors are directly influenced by some kind of source material, it is vital that we are able to show, or at least hypothesize, how that material got in front of them, as texts did not circulate widely before the age of print.  At this conference, I met and listened to some of the scholars who make those sorts of claims possible.  Their work is highly precise and scientific and difficult, and it is often taken completely for granted.  I don't know that they thought much of my little ditty about how Boccaccio both channels and quite consciously transposes Dante in his Amorosa visione, much less my claim that what he's doing is actually consciously parodic, and really quite funny.  I remember spending a good twenty minutes prior to my talk mentally crafting the perfect joke to start things off, which I then delivered it in my most perfectly honed Italian, and exactly zero people laughed.  As much as my whimsical intervention seemed a poor fit in the midst of my much more scientific peers, they were very kind and complimentary about it when we finally sat down for a meal together afterwards.  I was frankly surprised that they wanted to include my talk in their volume, but I like to think that we all complemented each other nicely in the end.




Italian Language

I taught Italian for six years at various institutions, including Harvard College and Dartmouth College's Rassias Foundation. My main focus was on second language pedagogy and on incorporating literary materials into the classroom as early as possible, so as to both challenge students and entice them to continue studying the language.  I worked extensively on course content creation at both Harvard and Dartmouth, and I designed my own syllabi and adapted established syllabi to meet the needs of the programs I worked with. 

Summer Study Abroad

In addition to the many on-campus courses I taught at Harvard, I worked for two summers in a row (2014 and 2015) with Harvard's Summer Study Abroad program in Milan and Siena.  As a former academic, I would also like to note that I was extremely pregnant during the second of these two summers, a fact which I have always been proud of and yet rarely been at liberty to brag about.  The course students took there, titled “Beauty, Leadership and Innovation”, dealt with cultural economics and aesthetics as core principles and rooted itself deeply in the two Italian cities in which it was designed. Students toured fashion studios, design firms, 14th-century civic buildings and various other sites throughout Lombardy and Tuscany, and the course invited them to make connections between works read in class (D’Annunzio’s Pleasure, Calvino’s Invisible cities, and many others) and real-world businesses and public institutions and the creativity that helps them thrive. I taught discussion sections for the course as well as two levels of Italian language, and I served as program coordinator and student mentor.  

English as a Second Language

Prior to teaching Italian, I taught English as a Second Language for four years, in Italy and in the United States.  I began teaching in large Italian public school classrooms, often with more than thirty students to a class, and after establishing myself in that role, I began teaching small groups of students preparing for standardized testing in English conversational skills. Upon returning to the United States, I taught ESL at Kaplan International Colleges alongside my graduate work, eventually working with all levels from beginner to proficient to business English.