Francesca Southerden

(781) 283-2966
Italian Studies
B.A., University of Oxford (Somerville College); M.St., D.Phil., University of Oxford (Hertford College)
FND 224D

Francesca Southerden
Assistant Professor of Italian Studies

Specializing in Italian medieval and early modern literature, especially Dante and Petrarch.

My research in Italian studies focuses on the relationship between subjectivity, language, and desire in the poetry of Dante and Petrarch. Centered on the literature and culture of the medieval period, but considering how developments in that period open up towards modernity, my research has a strong interdisciplinary focus. I use psychoanalysis, classical and contemporary linguistics, and the philosophy of language as tools to explore concepts of personal identity and selfhood. Recently, I have also become interested in the theories of the passions in scholastic philosophy through to contemporary texts.

My first book, Landscapes of Desire in the Poetry of Vittorio Sereni (Oxford University Press, 2012), is a study of the discourse of desire in Sereni’s [1913-83] work in dialogue with the major figures of the Italian poetic tradition, including Dante and Petrarch. My second book-length project, which I am working on at the moment, is entitled Dante and Petrarch in the Garden of Language: Towards a Relational Poetics. It is a comparative study of Dante and Petrarch’s relationship to language and the ways in which that relationship inflects, questions, and problematizes issues of identity, relationality, and poetic voice. The book proceeds from the view that such issues arise and are brought to fruition in the garden space, understood in its Edenic extensions as a point of origin of both the human being and vernacular language. I am also co-editor, with Manuele Gragnolati, Tristan Kay, and Elena Lombardi, of Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages (Legenda, 2012).

I believe that an interdisciplinary and comparative approach can also be an invaluable tool for teaching. I teach courses in both the Department of Italian Studies and the Medieval-Renaissance Program. I aim in all my classes to encourage students to develop their skills of critical inquiry through close reading and textual analysis. In addition to Italian language courses at all levels of the curriculum, courses I regularly teach also include ITAS 263-01: Dante’s Divine Comedy (in English) and Me/R 275-01: Between Transcendence and Transgression-Desire from Dante to Milton. The course on Dante (ITAS 263-01) introduces students to the incredible world of the Divine Comedy and provides an insight into the many facets of medieval culture, which Dante assimilates into his poem and makes his own. This course will next be offered in Spring 2016. The Divine Comedy is often referred to as the ‘poem of desire’ and was also my inspiration for Me/R 275-01: ‘Between Transcendence and Transgression’, which allows students to trace the evolving discourse of desire from the origins of the vernacular love lyric through to Milton’s Paradise Lost via Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, and Ariosto. This fall, I am looking forward to teaching a new first year seminar on the theme of nature, Me/R 110: With Nature, Against Nature-Mapping Passions and Identities in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, which also has a cross-disciplinary and comparative focus.

Since 2007, I have been a member of a collaborative and interdisciplinary research group in medieval and early modern studies based at Somerville College, Oxford, where I have participated in colloquia and seminars for two projects on performativity and polemic. The results of this collaborative venture have been the publication of two volumes: Aspects of the Performative in Medieval Culture, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati and Almut Suerbaum (De Gruyter, 2010) and Polemic: Language as Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Discourse, ed. by George Southcombe, Almut Suerbaum and Benjamin Thompson (Ashgate, 2015).

True to my Italian roots, I enjoy socializing with friends, cooking—and especially eating — good food. I have been fortunate to have traveled widely and to have lived in several countries, which has given me the chance to discover and absorb many different cultures. In my spare time, I love reading novels, watching films, and doing yoga, though not necessarily all at the same time. I am also a keen runner and can often be seen jogging around campus. profile