The Dante in America Project examines the extent to which the study of Dante reinvented and reinvigorated the innovation and expansion of higher education across the United States in the late nineteenth century. The first phase of the project examines the role of the members of The Dante Society of America in the translation and diffusion of Dante’s works as part of a broader initiative to modernize university instruction. When did Dante become essential to a nineteenth century American education? And what role did scholarly and non-scholarly networks play in that process?
Having compiled the member information of the Dante Society of America into a dataset, I am currently using the tools of social network analysis (Gephi) to examine the connections between the membership of the first three decades (1881-1911) and contemporary social and religious reform networks promoting racial egalitarianism and universal suffrage. Theodore W. Koch’s contemporary bibliographical and historical investigation into the dissemination of Dante’s work in America published in 1896 for the Society delineated a scholarly genealogy which extended from Lorenzo Da Ponte to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Charles Eliot Norton with nary a mention of the contributions made by female scholars. Subsequent studies have broadened slightly the horizon of inquiry, but the narrative — and the gender — of the “Dante Club” remained intact. Yet during those same decades, women scholars were translating, adapting and teaching Dante’s Comedy in unprecedented numbers. Their emerging presence in higher education and the public sphere is registered in the membership rolls of the scholarly societies open to them, such as the Dante Society of America and the American Association for University Women, both founded in 1881. This project shines new light on these women and their contributions, and addresses the gender gap in the study of Dante’s reception in North America.
Subsequent phases will explore the role of the Society in the promotion and the establishment of Italian as a discipline in the American university, the material role of scholarly communication and the publishing industry in translation and diffusion of Dante’s Comedy and the importance of the non-scholarly community in the support and development of Dante studies in North America.