Dante in America III


Location: Zoom

In connection with the 2021 Dante centenary, the Devers Program in Dante Studies and the Center for Italian Studies are organizing a year-long lecture series, which will be held on the Notre Dame campus throughout the 2021 calendar year. The aim of the series is to assess the ways in which Dante has impacted the literary and popular culture of the United States.

In this third session, Joshua Matthews, Associate Professor of English at Dordt University, will give a lecture on Dante in the American Civil War era and Dennis Looney, Director of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages at MLA, will speak on Dante and social justice.

This series is open to the public.

Joshua Matthews, "Why America's Poets Turned to Dante During the Civil War"

"It's largely unacknowledged that two of America's most famous poets, past and present, read Dante during the Civil War. Walt Whitman did so before he visited a Union Camp in Falmouth, Virginia, in December 1862.  Meanwhile, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow read "Purgatorio" aloud to his children during that same year, and he began translating the entire Divine Comedy, his translation becoming perhaps the most famous and widespread cultural production created during the war.  For these poets, what did Dante - a medieval Italian Catholic epic poet - have to do with the contemporary American Civil War?  I'll discuss how Whitman and Longfellow viewed Dante, where their interest in him came from, and what purposes they employed Dante for in their vision of what the war meant."

Josh Matthews (B.A., Indiana University, 2003; M.A., Kent State, 2005; Ph.D., University of Iowa, 2012) teaches early American literature, science fiction, World Literature I, Intro to Film as Art, Business and Technical Writing, and CORE Composition and Literature classes at Dordt University. He also co-leads a class on Dante and the Italian Renaissance, which includes a nine-day trip to Florence, Italy. He has published on the reception of Dante and the Divine Comedy in nineteenth-century America, and on American readings of the Divine Comedy during the Civil War. He edits the book reviews for Pro Rege, Dordt University's journal of reformed studies.  He has also helped edit the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and the Walt Whitman Archive. He co-leads the annual Great Texts Seminar for Dordt Faculty every spring.

Dennis Looney, “Dante and Social Justice”

In Freedom Readers (U Notre Dame Press, 2011), Looney first posed this question: "What advantage do we gain in reading, interpreting, thinking about the Divine Comedy from the various perspectives offered by the African American cultural tradition from the 19th century to today?" In this presentation, he explores more deeply, and examines more effectively, a response to that question by grappling with the topic of Dante and social justice. What does Dante's poem have to teach us about justice and the community today? Why should we read Dante now? Is it right to claim that Dante takes a knee? This presentation will review a selection of passages across the poem to respond to these questions.

Since 2014, Dennis Looney has served as director of the Office of Programs and director of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages at the Modern Language Association of America. For the Office of Programs he oversees projects relating to the profession, such as departmental reviews, the ongoing examination of faculty rights and responsibilities, monitoring educational and curricular changes, and the development of statements of best practices. As director of ADFL, he oversees the Language Consultancy Service, the MLA Language Map, the language enrollment database, and other projects focused on languages other than English. From 1986 to 2013, he taught Italian at the University of Pittsburgh, with secondary appointments in classics and philosophy. He was chair of the Department of French and Italian for eleven years and assistant dean of the humanities for three years at Pitt. Publications include Compromising the Classics: Romance Epic Narrative in the Italian Renaissance (1996), which received honorable mention in the judging for the 1996-97 joint Howard R. Marraro Prize and Scaglione Award in Italian Studies from the MLA, and Freedom Readers: The African American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy (2011), which received the American Association of Italian Studies Book Prize (general category) in 2011. With D. Mark Possanza, he is co-editor and translator of Ludovico Ariosto's Latin Poetry (2018). Looney holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a B.A. in classical Greek from Boston University.