Guest Speaker Explores the Relevance of Dante’s Work in the 21st Century – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Guest Speaker Explores the Relevance of Dante’s Work in the 21st Century

Indiana University (Bloomington) Professor Akash Kumar offered talk this spring that considered contemporary reflections on Dante.

The French, Francophone and Italian Studies Department hosted a talk “Of Straw Bosses, Race, and Mediterranean Migration: Dante in a Global 21st Century” by guest speaker and Dante expert Akash Kumar this spring.

While exploring issues of cultural and religious differences and gender, Kumar’s talk focused on the reflections of Dante’s poetry as seen in the rhetoric of far-right Italian politician Matteo Salvini, the Jamaican poetry of Lorna Goodison, and the American visual art of Kara Walker. The discussion also highlighted Dante’s work used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Primo Levi and Matteo Renzi.

“We brought Professor Kumar to campus to help the general campus community see how relevant Dante, a 700-year-old Italian author, is to poetry, art, politics and culture today,” says Associate Professor Courtney Wells, chair of the French, Francophone and Italian Studies Department. “Because Professor Kumar spoke about uses of Dante in modern political discourse, students and community members were able to get a sense of Dante’s continued impact on culture today. One of our main goals was to get our campus community to see Dante’s huge and continued role in the shaping of the liberal arts.”

Kumar’s research focuses on the crossing of poetry, philosophy and science in early Italian poetry of the 13th century and in Dante, and the interactions between Western and non-Western cultures in popular activities, such as game playing and storytelling. He holds a BA in comparative literature from New York University and his Ph.D. in Italian and comparative literature from Columbia University where he worked with the preeminent American Dantist Teodolinda Barolini.

The French, Francophone, and Italian Studies Department at HWS offers courses that acknowledge the richness and diversity of French-speaking and Italian-speaking cultures. At HWS, students are encouraged to immerse themselves in language and culture both in the classroom and in study abroad programs offered through the Center for Global Education. This year, HWS established an Italian Studies Minor.