I am mainly interested in communications between literary traditions in the medieval Mediterranean — especially Arabic and the Romance vernaculars — and in the way that we remember that history today. My first book, The Kingdom of Sicily, 1100-1250: A Literary History, traced the transition between Arabic and Italian literary traditions in medieval Sicily; my second, European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean, rereads a southern European tradition of scholarship that identifies the origins of modernity in the contact between Islamic and Christian civilizations in the medieval Mediterranean. My current project, tentatively titled “Lingua franca in the Mediterranean,” studies linguistic strategies used to communicate across the boundaries that language creates. I’m interested especially in situations where language is pushed to the very edge of its capacity to signify — maybe even beyond: when translation transforms, and sometimes baffles, meaning; when new languages emerge from the fragments of old, in order to allow communication between people whom our historical narratives tell us did not communicate. In particular, I’m studying the original “lingua franca,” a pidgin Italian used by merchants, pilgrims, corsairs and slavers in the medieval and early modern Mediterranean; translations of works of natural philosophy having to do with language, especially portions of Aristotle’s Organon; the translation of tales across the Mediterranean and their transformation as they pass between languages and cultures; and historical characters who, because they habitually traveled the Mediterranean, were jacks-of-all-languages — pirates and merchants.
Recent and Selected Publications
The Kingdom of Sicily, 1100-1250: A Literary History. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and a Counter-Orientalism. University of Pennsylvania Press (forthcoming).
A Sea of Languages: Literature and Culture in the Pre-modern Mediterranean (co-edited, with Suzanne Akbari). University of Toronto Press (forthcoming).
“Beyond Mimesis: Aristotle’s Poetics in the Medieval Mediterranean.” PMLA 124 (2009): 583-91