How to teach Dante

Combine a love of mediaeval literature—especially Dante—and a passion for studying texts from as many angles as possible and you might come up with nearly a dozen articles and a special cluster in a leading academic journal.

Kirilika Stavreva, an English and creative writing professor at Cornell College.
Kirilika Stavreva, an English and creative writing professor at Cornell College. (Credit: Envisage Studios)

Kirilka Stavreva, an English and creative writing professor since 2001, collected and edited 11 articles—including one she wrote herself—about multidisciplinary approaches to teaching Dante for the winter 2013 edition of the journal Pedagogy.

The articles focus on the different ways Dante’s “Commedia” can be explored, from historical to psychological perspectives. One article looks at using Geographic Information Systems to examine the geography of Dante’s Florence and what that can tell readers, while another details a student-created wiki to explore characters and reference materials.

Dante’s “Commedia,” also known as “The Divine Comedy,” was written in the early 14th century and is widely considered one of the most influential literary works the world over.

In her article, “The Triple Cord: Teaching Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and Creativity,” Stavreva describes a pedagogical approach to the poem through a sustained artistic effort. Students craft small-book “reflectories” that combine analytical interpretation with artwork and Dante-inspired poetry. “My ultimate goal in teaching the ‘Commedia’ was to incite students’ curiosity about the myriad discourses crisscrossing the poem and to build up their capacity for sustained analysis of what the poem does with these discourses,” she wrote.

Stavreva, who earned her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and her undergraduate degree in English literature from Sofia University in Bulgaria, will teach her Dante course in Italy this fall. Because of Cornell’s One Course At A Time curriculum, she can teach a three-and-a-half-week course abroad and then return to teach other blocks on campus.

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