Justin Steinberg has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Steinberg, Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, is a scholar of medieval Italian literature, focusing on Dante as well as Boccaccio and Petrarch, and is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Dante Studies. He is one of 71 applicants to receive an NEH fellowship this year out of more than 1000 applicants across the United States.
Steinberg says he plans to use the fellowship to conduct research in Italy and support his residency at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti in Florence, where he hopes to make progress on his book project, “Mimesis on Trial: Boccaccio’s Realism, Legal Institutions, and the Rise of the Novella."
The project, Steinberg notes, “argues that the most important development in legal procedure in Western Europe—the emergence of the inquisitorial trial—is entwined with the most important development in Western literary style—the emergence of realistic representations of daily life.”
Steinberg will use the novellas of Giovanni Boccacio to show how fourteenth-century Italian works responded to changes in how trials were conducted. As the courts took a greater interest in the day-to-day lives of citizens, so too did literary accounts of everyday life include finer detail.
“I was suprised to learn during the course of my research about the ancient rhetorical origins of the ‘probable’ in ‘probable cause,’” says Steinberg. “In this context ‘probable’ indicated not the statistically likely but what most of the community would acknowledge as appropriate, what they would ‘approve’ of.”