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.
He is the author of Boccaccio and the Invention of Italian Literature: Dante, Petrarch, Cavalcanti, and the Authority of the Vernacular (Cambridge University Press, 2013), which examines a single manuscript, Vatican Library, Chigi L V 176, written entirely in Boccaccio’s hand, which compiles works of Dante, Petrarch, Cavalcanti and Boccaccio himself. This study reveals Boccaccio’s key role in the creation of the Italian literary tradition not only as author of the Decameron but also as a scholar and scribe. The research and writing of the book was supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the American Philosophical Association, and the Fulbright Foundation.
His new book project, Dante and the Afterlife of the Book: Rematerializing Literary History, continues to integrate philological materials into literary criticism, but takes a diachronic instead of synchronic approach by analyzing the material tradition of Dante's first book, Vita nuova, from its earliest manuscripts to the most recent editions and adaptations. Experimenting with a new mode of literary history that takes the literary work’s survival seriously, the book both recounts a fascinating history of reception and rereads Dante’s enigmatic first book through the lens of these later transformations, alterations, and appropriations. This project received the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome.
Eisner is also the editor-in-chief of a new online research project entitled Dante’s Library, sponsored by a Humanities Writ Large Grant, which aims to reconstruct the material texts of the literary, philosophical, and theology works that Dante would have known and read.
He has also published several articles on Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch that have appeared in PMLA, Renaissance Quarterly, Dante Studies, California Italian Studies, Annali d’Italianistica and Le Tre Corone.