Liberal Studies Seminars

Each year, Duke GLS offers a wide array of Liberal Studies (LS) Seminars developed exclusively for its students, including the GLS core course.  Students in the program also can take graduate courses (500-level and higher) from across campus.  For further details about course grades and requirements, see the RegistrationDegree Requirements or Academic Policies pages.  

LS 780-93
Spring 2022
Mondays, 2-5 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive, and online
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Through conversation, practice, and engagement with critical makers and thinkers, we’ll investigate how digital tools create knowledge, produce relations, and build worlds. We’ll look at how our digital tools, techniques, algorithms, search, and research are situated within and alongside systems of oppression (racism, sexism, ableism), both by design and by virtue of their being designed with/in those systems. We’ll interrogate how our tools are governing our actions and interactions as researchers, and how they are guiding our digital research insofar they are quietly influencing our projects. 

We’ll think together about how to tell the stories of our research and projects knowing they are co-authored by the tools we use, and we’ll think through methods for how those tools might be hacked, or refused, to manifest more just systems. At its core, this class-qua-learning-lab is really about how we experience the world. If you are already using a digital tool for your research project, you’ll be invited to do a self-study of that tool with the goal of producing a short statement about how the tool is participating in and co-authoring your project.

Spring 2021
Tuesdays, 7:00-9:30 PM
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Our current pandemic is, for many, revealing critical failures and design flaws in the foundational systems that guide our daily functioning. These revelations open problem spaces for entrepreneurial thinkers and tinkerers to ask What new techniques and technologies might we design in light of our current context? How might we think through the pandemic as we move through it?

In this class, we will approach the world as creative designers and intentional inventors. We will take as our premise that Today is the beginning of Tomorrow, and we will work together to deliberately redesign that Tomorrow. A local entrepreneur has called our quarantine period a “Pause” but that feels a missed opportunity for those of us ready to break and remake the world. Novelist Arundhati Roy in April wrote in the Financial Times that “the pandemic is a portal” and Hala Alyan reminds us that “this is not a rehearsal”. If the pandemic were a portal, one that we are not rehearsing but are actively performing, what would we want when we emerge on the other side?
There are new social techniques already emerging: foot taps are replacing handshakes, facemasks are becoming fashion statements, and mutual aid networks are devising new forms of community and mutuality. There are also new technologies, both simple and sophisticated, that are being deployed to remake our world: basic plastic parts are being added to crosswalk buttons in Milan to transform them to knee-operated mechanisms, robots are being used to enforce social distancing in Singapore. What else can we (re)create?
If today were the start of a new world - and please pretend this here with me for a moment - how might we reimagine industries, cultural practices and global networks? Each of you will choose your own topics of exploration (what will you remake?) and your own forms of research transmission (how are you delivering your research or prototype?). Throughout the course, we’ll cover a wide range both. If you are coming to the class with a research topic already in mind, fabulous, let’s cultivate that and manifest both research and research transmissions together.
As we explore topics and transmissions (inputs and outputs), we’ll be reading philosophers, economists, novelists, feminists, educators, artists and entrepreneurs.

Together we’ll explore these questions:

  • How do our things, spaces, artifacts, environments design us?
  • How has the pandemic, and let’s think broadly here, (re)designed our spaces, things artifacts, environments, actions, reactions, and interactions? 
  • How can we use speculative research to redesign the world?
  • How can we call on a wide variety of knowledges to inform our practice?
  • How can speculative fiction provide a model for future ways of living and/or ways of dreaming futures?

The development and initial offering of this new course in the Spring of 2021 was supported through the generosity of GLS alumna Lottie Applewhite.

Amanda Starling Gould is the Senior Program Coordinator, for Educational Programs & Digital Humanities, at the Duke University John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. She administers the FHI’s Story+ Interdisciplinary Humanities Research program, consults on digital humanities projects and innovative pedagogical interventions for FHI’s Humanities Labs and Digital Humanities Initiative, and collaborates with partners across Duke (and beyond) to design creative – and sometimes remote – research and storytelling experiences.She also co-teaches a course on failure, empathy, embodiment, and resilience called “Learning to Fail” for Duke University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative with Dr. Aaron Dinin, and leads a faculty/staff/community reading group on Mindful Pedagogy and Practice. Past teaching and research work investigated global environmental health communication, digital media, global environmental humanities, environmental justice, EcoCritical DH, sustainable humanities scholarship, embodied media(ted) experiences, and the narrative, performative, and artistic aspects of the health humanities. To read more about Dr. Starling Gould's research, see her website
Laurie Mauger
LS 760-35 - Science in the Public Eye
Fall 2020
Tuesdays, 7:00-9:30 pm
Room TBA
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Understanding the role of science in everyday life is a critical aspect of modern society. Science is often discussed through social media, news outlets, and politics without details of the underlying concepts. “Science in the Public Eye” is designed to give all students taking it a broad introduction to fundamental scientific concepts, expose them to the natural world, and make them a more informed citizen. In this course, students will investigate topics that are often discussed through these platforms. We will explore the science behind the topic, popular opinions, and discuss misconceptions. We will focus on topics ranging from vaccinations, disease epidemics, genetically modified organisms, and antibiotic resistance to the Endangered Species Act and climate change. Our main goal through our classroom discussions will be to focus on effective communication of the topic. 

Each week we will read and discuss scientific and nonscientific readings on the assigned topic. We will compare and contrast the readings and discuss misconceptions that the general public might get from only reading nonscientific articles. Students will work individually or in pairs to lead one of the weekly discussions. Students will also research a recent topic in the news and prepare a 5-7 minute presentation on the topic. In addition, students will work in groups to prepare an educational video or other form of scientific communication (podcast, infographic, newspaper column, etc.) geared towards any age group about a topic related to the course. 

The development and initial offering of this new course in the Fall of 2020 was supported through the generosity of GLS alumna Lottie Applewhite.

Laurie Mauger is a Lecturer in the Department of Biology. She received her Ph.D. in 2010 from Drexel University on population genetics and conservation of American crocodiles in Costa Rica. Since graduating, her research has focused on involving undergraduate students in research on projects focusing on population genetics of crocodiles, caterpillars, ringtail cats, and ants. Today, Dr. Mauger focuses mainly on pedagogical research investigating the impact of course-based research projects on student learning and attitude towards science and nature. She has published 5 scientific papers and is working with students to submit several more. Dr. Mauger has taught a variety undergraduate level courses on genetics, evolution, general biology, conservation biology at institutions such as Princeton University, Drexel University, and Southern University and a graduate level course in population genetics at Cedar Crest College. She joined the faculty at Duke in 2018.

About Laurie Mauger

Laurie Mauger is a Lecturer in the Department of Biology. She received her Ph.D. in 2010 from Drexel University on population genetics and conservation of American crocodiles in Costa Rica. Since graduating, her research has focused on involving undergraduate students in research on projects focusing on population genetics of crocodiles, caterpillars, ringtail cats, and ants. Today, Dr.

Deborah T. Gold
LS 780-57
Summer 2020
Mondays, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
*Being taught on-line
Begins *Monday, May 11 - Ends Monday, July 20 (no class on May 25)
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The purpose of this course is to better understand the processes and outcomes of death and dying. The US and other developed countries have become death phobic and have avoided interactions around death and dying. Both death and dying are culturally bound and strongly influenced by religious beliefs, we will take a interdisciplinary approach to our examination of these phenomena (including sociological, psychological, religious, biomedical, and social psychological). This will help us better understand how and where people die, multiple beliefs about life after death, and what drives the American population to experience anxiety and fear about death and dying more than any other culture in the world.


The course includes an overview of the biological process of dying and biomedical definitions of death, the social and psychological aspects of death and dying in modern American culture, death and dying as multicultural phenomena, the clinical issues around death and dying, and the management of those issues in an aging society.


Requirements include four short response papers, an oral presentation, and a final research paper.

About Deborah T. Gold
Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Sociology, Psychology & Neuroscience

Deborah T. Gold is Professor of Medical Sociology in the Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Sociology, and Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University Medical Center, where she is also a Senior Fellow of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. Professor Gold received her B.A. in English and Latin from the University of Illinois, her M.Ed. in Reading from National Louis University, and her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. Her primary research interests are in the psychological and social consequences of chronic disease in the elderly.  She has done seminal research on osteoporosis and its impact on quality of life.  She has also studied the psychosocial impact of breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, syncope, head and neck cancer, Paget’s disease of bone, and dementia in older adults. Her current research examines compliance and persistence with medications for older adults with chronic illnesses.

Susan Thorne
LS 780-70
Summer 2020
Wednesdays, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
*Being taught on-line
Begins Wednesday, May 20 - Ends Wednesday, July 22
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For most of the past five hundred years, the overwhelming majority of the global population was governed by one of the major imperial powers (Ottoman, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, English, Hapsburg, and Russian/Soviet as well as the Chinese and Japanese Empires).   It was not until after the Second World War that the sun began to set on this age of empire, when anticolonial movements secured national independence and the nation state became the preeminent form of governance.  The long-standing impact of imperial governance on historical developments throughout the (formerly) colonized world is widely acknowledged.    Less recognized are the reciprocal effects of empire on the imperial home front.  Many of the technological, economic, cultural, and political attributes in which the developed world has taken a racialized pride were in fact products of the colonial encounter.  The economic “revolutions” of the 17th and 18th centuries (commercial, financial, industrial and consumer), political democratization—the inclusion of white workers and eventually women in the political nation-- in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the “tribal” warfare that nearly destroyed Europe between 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, were all profoundly shaped by the colonial contexts in which national and international events unfolded. 


Europe did not simply export “western civilization”, for good or ill, to the colonized world. This course will explore the connections through which a global modernity has emerged: connections between past and present, between colonized and colonizer, between underdeveloped and developed nations, between the West and the Rest.  Our method of inquiry is necessarily transnational and implicitly comparative.  It is also interdisciplinary.  We will be examining the colonial past and postcolonial present from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives: in addition to imperial, economic, military and social history, these include journalism, economics, international relations, law, medicine, anthropology, literary criticism, cultural studies, sexuality and gender studies, and public policy.


Requirements:  extensive reading, weekly reaction papers, and an independent research project.

About Susan Thorne

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2019-2022

Susan Thorne, Associate Professor of History, teaches courses on the social history of Britain and the British Empire, and on the history of European expansion more generally. She is currently working on Charles Dickens’ influence on Anglo American “ways of seeing” the children of the urban poor.  The Dickensian Affect:  Reckonings with Reform in Early Victorian Southwark (in progress) juxtaposes Dickens’s representation of criminal poverty and urban childhood in his most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8) to archival accounts generated by the poor law’s reform during the 1830s and hungry ‘40s. 

Robert Healy
LS 760-34
Spring 2020
Wednesdays, 6:15-8:45 PM
242 Classroom Building
*NEW COURSE* Begins January 15* - Ends April 15 (note: *Monday classes begin on Wednesday, January 8 to accommodate Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on January 20; no class on March 11)
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People take the places where they spend their waking hours for granted.  Yet the landscape we inhabit is a complex product of history, of economics, of government action and of personal tastes.  For most of American history, where people lived depended on where they worked (and hence on the needs of the firms that employed them) and where they shopped and played depended on where they lived.  Technological changes, particularly highways and the Internet, would seem to fundamentally change those relationships, yet the hand of the past still lies heavily on the landscape.  This course will show how various forces produced the American landscape, the surprising role of a few “visionaries,” and how land use choices affect the natural environment.


Living:  Early cities, birth of the streetcar suburb, the “landscape of race,” post WWII suburbanization, slums and Urban Renewal, the abortive “New Town” movement, exurbs, urban revival, gentrification, second homes, New Urbanism


Working:  the Industrial Revolution, early offices, the elevator and the “skyscraper,” multi-story and one-story industrial buildings, agglomeration economies, growth of the service sector, women in the labor force, open offices, working from home, WeWork


Shopping:  the “high street,” the department store, Sears and catalog sales, the automobile and strip commercial, chain stores, Big Box I, Big Box II, the shopping mall (open and enclosed), outlet stores, dollar stores, e-commerce


Playing:  Olmsted and urban parks, National parks, rail tourism for the rich, automobile tourism (Blue Ridge Parkway), festival tourism (from Chatauqua to Woodstock to Burning Man), the Disney parks, virtual tourism


Impacts on the Environment – Air, Water, Land, Climate – Andrew Goudie (Human

Impact on the Natural Environment – Table 5.7 of fourth ed. – 7th ed online at Duke); urban wildlife


Driving Forces


The work-live-school nexus

Transportation technologies


Visionaries (Andrew Jackson Downing, Olmsteds – father and son, Wallace Nichols, William Levitt, Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, Victor Gruen, James Rouse, Andres Duany)

Government Action (the Vernacular Landscape v. the Official Landscape)

Literature and Art:  The Jungle, The Warmth of Other Suns, John Cheever (Checkov of the Suburbs—the Swimmer), Stepford Wives, David Sedaris, art (Riis, Lozowick, Ashcan School, John Sloan)

About Robert Healy
Nicholas School of the Environment

Bob Healy is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Policy in the Nicholas School and of Public Policy Studies in the Terry Sanford School. Before coming to Duke in 1986, he was a researcher with The Urban Institute, Resources for the Future and The Conservation Foundation/World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. He has written ten books, mainly on issues of land use, environmental management and economic development. The latest are Knowledge and Environmental Policy (MIT 2011) and Environmental Policy in North America (Toronto 2013). Locally, he has long been involved with efforts to protect the New Hope Creek watershed. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.

Amy Laura Hall
LS 770-78
Spring 2020
Mondays, 6:15-8:45 PM
GLS Conference Room
*Begins *WEDNESDAY, January 8 - Ends Monday, April 13 (note: *Monday classes begin on Wednesday, January 8 to accommodate Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on January 20; no class on January 20 and March 9
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Sin has been narrated as social and as personal in mainstream, North American storytelling - as a matter of lies writ large and as a result of individual choice. Through a close reading of these works in North American literature, we will think through different ways of reckoning with trauma, accident, and systemic injustice. We will also consider ways that each author offers possibilities for continuing to risk the possibility of change, and even love. Readings include: Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral by Jessie Redmon Fauset, Does Your House Have Lions? by Sonia Sanchez, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood, and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.


Course requirements: Weekly in-class discussion of material and weekly close-reading papers (approximately 2 pp. double-spacing) on the text for the week. Participation in class is 40% of your grade; papers, 60%. Listening attentively to your neighbor is as important as speech for your participation grade. Visiting with me about the texts outside of class also counts as participation.

About Amy Laura Hall
Divinity School

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2021-24

Amy Laura Hall is the author of four books: Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love, Conceiving Parenthood: The Protestant Spirit of Biotechnological Reproduction, Writing Home with Love: Politics for Neighbors and Naysayers, and Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich. She has also written numerous scholarly articles in theological and biomedical ethics. Her new essay on Kierkegaard and love will appear in the T&T Clark Companion to the Theology of Kierkegaard (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019). Her book Laughing at the Devil was chosen for the 2019 Virginia Festival of the Book and as a focus lecture for the Chautauqua Institution in June, 2019. She continues work on a longer research project on masculinity and gender anxiety in mainstream, white evangelicalism.

Professor Hall has served on the steering committee of the Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy Center, the Bioethics Task Force of the United Methodist Church, and as consultant on bioethics to the World Council of Churches. She has served on the steering committee of the Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy Center and as a faculty member for the Focus Program of the Institute on Genome Sciences and Policy. She served as a faculty adviser with the Duke Center for Civic Engagement and as a faculty advisor for the NCCU-Duke Program in African, African American & Diaspora Studies. She currently teaches with and serves on the faculty advisory board for Graduate Liberal Studies and serves as a core faculty member of the Focus Program in Global Health. Hall serves as an elder in the Rio Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Martin Miller
LS 780-15
Fall 2019
Tuesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
Classroom Building 241 (East Campus)
Begins August 27 - Ends November 26 (no class on October 8)
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This course will focus on the extraordinary cultural developments which emerged in Russia during the period when the country evolved from an Imperial autocracy to a socialist empire. The great divide were the revolutions of 1917, which together ended the Romanov monarchy and brought to power a radical Bolshevik party intent on constructing a utopian transformation of society. In the years prior to the First World War during the reign of Nicholas II, Russia experienced a paradoxical set of currents dominated by political decline and cultural awakening. The upsurge in innovations in literature, painting, photography, dance and the cinema that dominated the Silver Age before the revolution maintained some degree of continuity in the early years of the post-revolutionary society of the Soviet Union. Under the banner of socialist construction, new forms of artistic endeavor and experimentation were encouraged and funded by the new regime. Yet, by the end of the 1920s, the ruling communist regime established a doctrinal consensus that led to the abolition of all other political parties at home and the creation of a global confrontation abroad that would later be named the Cold War.


We will analyze these contradictory forces, which were so influential during the transition period from tsars to commissars in Russia. Using both print sources as well as examples of the exciting art forms of the era, we shall seek to answer a number of problems which emerged in this historical time frame, including the important question of how culture and politics interact with one another in two entirely different governmental systems.



Edward Acton, Russia

Steven Marks, How Russia Shaped the Modern World

Selections from the literature, plastic arts and cinema of the time period will be made available,



There will be several short response papers in which students will analyze the artistic forms under study in their historical context, and a longer essay due at the end of the term which will permit research in greater depth on any aspect of Russian culture.


About Martin Miller

Martin Miller received his Ph.D. in Russian history at the University of Chicago and has taught at Stanford University and the New School for Social Research. He has been a member of the History Department at Duke for many years. Dr. Miller has conducted archival research in Russia and Western Europe, and has received numerous grants, among which are the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the National Council on Russian and Eastern European Studies, and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX).

Susan Thorne
LS 780-88
Fall 2019
Mondays, 6:30 - 9:00 pm
Classroom Building 242 (East Campus)
Begins August 26 - Ends November 25 (no class on October 7)
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David Simon’s The Wire (HBO 2002-2008) is a graphic depiction of the war on drugs in postindustrial Baltimore. Hailed by adoring critics as “the best television series of all time,” the series’ depiction of inner city conditions has frequently been compared to Charles Dickens’ fictional depictions of early Victorian London. In fact Dickens gets top billing in many reviews: “Baltimore has found its Dickens” or “Dickens for the twenty first century” or “Running like the Dickens”. Or, as the New York Times reviewer actually said out loud: “If Charles Dickens was alive today, he would watch The Wire, unless, that is, he was already writing for it.”1 This course interrogates The Wire‘s Dickensian credentials, with respect to Dickens’s most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8). Despite, or perhaps because, of the considerable distance between their geographical and temporal settings as well as genre, their juxtaposition provides a revealing vantage point from which to scrutinize the Victorian past as well as the present. The journey of Dickens’s parish boy to and through Victorian London, his capture and eventual escape from Fagin’s gang, is echoed in the struggles of The Wire‘s young corner boys. That said, the differences between each text’s “way of seeing” crime and the city are at least as instructive as their obvious parallels. We will locate these fictional tales of two cities in their respective historical contexts. Early Victorian London and postindustrial Baltimore make useful bookends for a survey of the modern city’s evolution from its emergence during the world’s first industrial revolution to its near collapse in globalization’s economic wake. How do urban crime, policing and punishment change over the course of the last two centuries? How have perceptions of urban crime changed over time? What does each text imply about the relationship between crime, individual morality and social inequality? And most important of all, how does each text teach us to “see” the urban poor “see through” law and order discourses about crime, criminality and poverty.

Course sources

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, edited by Fred Kaplan (Norton Critical Edition 1993)

“This Norton Critical Edition of a Dickens favorite reprints the 1846 text, the last edition of the novel substantially revised by Dickens and the one that most clearly reflects his authorial intentions.” Please note that our reading assignments include supporting material gathered in this edition, such as reviews of Oliver Twist and information about the historical context, which you won’t find in other editions of the novel.

Khalil Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard UP 2010)

Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America (Liveright, 2017)

The Wire (HBO 2002-2008)

The Wire is available on closed reserve in the Lilly Library. It is also available on HBO’s streaming service. There are 63 episodes. Each season engages the theme of crime in the city from a different institutional location:

Season One: Drugs (organized crime, policing)

Season two: Docks (organized labor, ethnicity, globalization)

Season Three: City Hall (political corruption)

Season Four: Schools (public education, childhood on the streets)

Season Five: Journalism (includes episode “The Dickensian Aspect”)

About Susan Thorne

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2019-2022

Susan Thorne, Associate Professor of History, teaches courses on the social history of Britain and the British Empire, and on the history of European expansion more generally. She is currently working on Charles Dickens’ influence on Anglo American “ways of seeing” the children of the urban poor.  The Dickensian Affect:  Reckonings with Reform in Early Victorian Southwark (in progress) juxtaposes Dickens’s representation of criminal poverty and urban childhood in his most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8) to archival accounts generated by the poor law’s reform during the 1830s and hungry ‘40s. 

Martin Eisner
LS 770-83
Summer 2019
Wednesdays, 6:00-9:00 pm - Begins May 29-Ends July 31
Location TBA
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If “fame is a form, perhaps the worst form, of incomprehension” (Borges), there may be no more famous author than Machiavelli. His name continues to be invoked for both praise and blame by a diverse public that includes management consultants, relationship experts, psychologists, and Alexander Hamilton biographers. Investigating the development of Machiavelli’s thought as it emerges in conversation with contemporary and classical texts, this course addresses questions that have lasted for over 500 years: is he a republican or an apologist for tyrants, a realist or an idealist, Renaissance humanist or modern theorist? We will pay particular attention to how his reading of literary works, such as Ovid, Dante, and Boccaccio, shaped his political thinking in The Prince, Discourses on Livy, and The Art of War. We will also explore his remarkable dramatic and literary works, such as the Mandragola and Golden Ass, for what they reveal about Machiavelli’s distinctive ideas about power, deception, language, and representation. A major concern throughout will be the fame of Machiavelli’s ideas in later thinkers such as the American Federalists, Nietzsche, Gramsci, and Arendt, and the misunderstanding of his thought in fascism and modern conspiracy theories. Just as Machiavelli searched history for answers to his own political situation, our guiding question cannot help but be “What would Machiavelli do?” 

About Martin Eisner
Romance Studies

Martin Eisner is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at Duke University and Director of Graduate Studies for both the Department of Romance Studies and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He specializes in medieval Italian literature, particularly the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, as well as the history of the book and media.