September 13, 2021, marks the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death. The great Italian poet is being celebrated around the globe and especially in Italy where gala concerts, exhibits, and dramatic readings are underway.
To commemorate the University of Notre Dame Press’s contribution to Dante studies, we talked to Theodore J. Cachey, Jr., professor of Italian and the Ravarino Family Director of Italian and Dante Studies, University of Notre Dame, and the founder and co-editor of the William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante and Medieval Italian Literature. For over a quarter of a century, Notre Dame Press has published the critically acclaimed books in the Devers series, which Cachey co-edits with Zygmunt Baranski, Emeritus R. L. Canala Professor of Romance Languages & Literatures, University of Notre Dame, and Serena Professor of Italian Emeritus, University of Cambridge, and Christian Moevs, professor emeritus of Italian, University of Notre Dame. Cachey discussed the vital role these books have played in the field of Dante studies (from 1995 to the present) and how these books contribute to contemporary critical debates in the humanities.
Q: How was the William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante and Medieval Italian Literature conceived, and what drew you to the University of Notre Dame Press for its publication?
Cachey: The Devers series in Dante and Medieval Italian Literature, published by Notre Dame Press, traces its origins to the presence of the John A. Zahm, C.S.C. Dante collection at the University. The Zahm Dante Collection is one of the three most important historic Dante collections in the United States, alongside those at Harvard University and Cornell University. It was established by Fr. Zahm between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Back in the early 1990s, Zyg Baranski, Christian Moevs, and I set out to establish Notre Dame as an international center for Dante studies based on the Zahm collection. We were able to restart collection development and establish the Devers Family Program in Dante Studies and the series, thanks to a generous benefaction to the University at that time by the William Devers Family of Winnetka, Illinois. The development of a scholarly book series was an essential component of our plan from the beginning. We were fortunate that Notre Dame has a scholarly press noted for its strength in medieval studies, and the Press has been our partner in the enterprise from the beginning. Dante Now, the first volume in the series, was published in 1995. From a scholarly perspective, the series is the most important contribution that the Devers Family Program in Dante Studies has made to the field of Dante studies in the last quarter century.
Q: Can you speak to the contribution that the Devers series has made to the study of medieval Italian literature and Dante studies generally, and how you anticipate it continuing to change these fields?
Cachey: When I think about the titles we have published in the Series over the last twenty-five years or more, I feel proud and grateful to our authors and to the Press. It has really been a labor of love, a great collaboration between Christian, Zyg, and me, and the advisory board, which is made up of the most distinguished Dante scholars worldwide. As any of our authors can tell you, we as editors and the editorial team at the Press really support them and their work. The whole review process is designed to foster the publication of the best book possible on a given topic, a book that will have an impact on the field, and that will become a standard point of reference in the scholarly bibliography. So many of our authors have accomplished this in our series. We are proud of the titles that have won major prizes, including the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Publication Award for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies, which was awarded to Sarah McNamer’s Meditations on the Life of Christ (2017) and Justin Steinberg’s Accounting for Dante (2005). However, there are other titles in our series that have been no less important for breaking new ground and opening up new avenues of research in the field. Gary Cestaro’s Dante and the Grammar of the Nursing Body, on Dante and gender, and Dennis Looney’s Freedom Readers, on the African-American reception of Dante, immediately come to mind. We are no less proud of those publications in the series that support the philological and critical enterprise of Dante and medieval Italian literary studies as a field more generally. John Scott’s Understanding Dante, for example, has sold thousands of copies, and it is on the syllabus of every Dante course currently taught in the United States.
Q: The series has recently published Brenda Deen Schildgen’s Dante and Violence: Domestic, Civic, Cosmic and Helena Phillips-Robins’s Liturgical Songs and Practice in Dante’s Commedia. Could you say a word about these books?
Cachey: In 2021, the seventh centenary of Dante’s death, we are proud to publish two new titles that we think express well the international character and the quality of our series: Helena Phillips-Robins Liturgical Song and Practice in Dante’s “Commedia” and Brenda Deen Schildgen’s Dante and Violence: Domestic, Civic, Cosmic. Schildgen is a senior emerita scholar at the University of California Davis, and author of important books and innovative studies. Dante and Violence fills a significant lacuna in the critical literature by providing a systematic treatment of violence in Dante’s works. Phillips-Robins, on the other hand, a Research Fellow at Selwyn College, Cambridge University, is at the beginning of her career and has written a very important first book. Gracefully written and elegantly structured, Liturgical Song and Practice is distinguished by its interdisciplinary approach, which brings together liturgical, sacred music studies, and medieval manuscript studies to inform an original interpretation of Dante’s poem in its liturgical aspects.
Q: What sorts of projects would you like to see the Devers series take up in the future?
Cachey: We are looking forward to publishing a collection of essays next year by Teodolinda Barolini, Lorenzo da Ponte Professor of Italian, Columbia University, titled Dante’s Multitudes. We are very honored to publish in our series the recent work of one of the most important Dante scholars in the world, including sixteen recent essays that range in subject matter from the treatment of social and cultural difference in Dante, to his metaphysics, his relation to Aristotle, to the philological and critical assessment of Dante’s Rime. Forthcoming in 2022 we have on tap a volume edited by Zyg Baranski and me, Dante’s “Other Works,” which features substantial critical essays by leading Dantists on what used to be called Dante’s “minor works,” i.e. the Fiore and the Detto d’Amore, the Rime, the Vita Nova, the Convivio, the De vulgari eloquentia, the Epistole, the Monarchia, the Questio de aqua et terra, and the Eclogues, as well as essays on the relationship between the “other works” and the issues of philosophy and theology. It is the first companion to Dante’s works in English. We are also planning several critical monographs to be published soon after these. Since 2011, when the series expanded its remit to include medieval Italian literature beyond Dante, we have received a broad range of proposals. We are currently considering projects focused on Petrarch and Boccaccio as well as other authors of the Italian Due-Trecento. We look forward with excitement and anticipation to the next seven hundred years of Dante, medieval Italian literary studies, and to the future of our series.
This piece originally appeared at undpressnews.nd.edu.
For more information, contact: Kathryn Pitts, firstname.lastname@example.org, 574.631.3267.