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James Coleman

  • Assistant Professor of Italian
  • DUGS/Advisor for Italian


  • PhD, Italian Literature, Yale University
  • MA, Italian Literature, Middlebury College
  • BA, Classics, Yale University

Research Interests & Fields of Study

James Coleman works on the literature and culture of Italy between the 14th and 18th centuries. His first monograph, entitled A Sudden Frenzy: Improvisation, Orality, and Power in Renaissance Italy (2022, University of Toronto Press), explores the intellectual and cultural history of improvisation and oral poetry in Renaissance Italy, examining the rich interplay between the classicizing culture of Italian Renaissance humanism and the improvisational performance tradition that constituted one of the most popular forms of entertainment. His book won the 2023 American Association of Teachers of Italian Book Award in the First Book category, and received Honorable Mention in the First Book category for the 2022 American Association of Italian Studies Book Prize

Coleman is now working on a new book project, tentatively entitled Reading Archipelagos: Italian Humanism and Renaissance Books of Islands. The project, supported by a 2019-2020 residential fellowship at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, focuses on the category of books known as the isolari (Books of Islands). This genre, which emerged in 15th-century Italy and remained popular well into the 17th century, offered a shifting combination of visual and textual representations of islands, maps and navigational aids, travel narratives and advice for wayfarers, archaeology and epigraphy, poetry and mythology, ancient history and current events, natural history and ethnography.

His work on these texts is informed by the methods and concerns of three of our department’s research networks: Nation/Transnation, Environment, and Film & Media. The book project examines the uses of the Books of Islands across transnational readership communities, assesses their innovative combinations of media, and analyzes representations of the environmental drivers and consequences of human migration and commerce through the islands of the early modern Mediterranean.

He is co-editor, with Andrea Moudarres, of Luigi Pulci in Renaissance Florence and Beyond: New Perspectives on his Poetry and Influence (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018).

Coleman uses digital approaches in both his research and teaching, with particular interests in applications of network analysis and mapping tools. His ongoing digital projects include a visualization of fifteenth-century humanist correspondence networks, and an interactive map of the spaces of the first Renaissance Books of Islands. He is eager to work with students interested in a range of topics relating to Italy and the Mediterranean, the Middle Ages and early modernity, the FRIT research networks with which he is particularly engaged, and/or the digital humanities.

Selected Awards and Honors

  • Villa I Tatti Fellowship - The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Florence, Italy), 2019 – 2020.
  • Fulbright Fellowship for research in Florence, Italy, 2008 - 2009.


  • Reading Archipelagos: Mediterranean and Global Networks and Texts, 1300-1700 (graduate)
  • The Eternal City: Rome from Antiquity to Today
  • Italy and the Mediterranean World from Marco Polo to Leo Africanus
  • Renaissance Italy: Humanism, Power, and the Arts
  • Renaissance Humanism (graduate)
  • Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio
  • History of the Italian Language (graduate)
  • Machiavelli in Context (graduate)
  • Dante (graduate)

Selected Publications

“Islands in Flux: Migration and Ecological Change in Early Modern Isolari (Books of Islands).” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance 26.1 (2023): 91-108.

A Sudden Frenzy: Improvisation, Orality, and Power in Renaissance Italy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2022.

“Forging Relations Between East and West: The Invented Letters of Sultan Mehmed II,” In Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450-1800. Ed. Earle Havens and Walter Stephens, 118-34. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.

“Boccaccio’s Demogorgon and Renaissance Platonism.” Italian Studies 74.1 (2019): 1-9.

 Luigi Pulci in Renaissance Florence and Beyond: New Perspectives on his Poetry and Influence, co-ed. and introd. with Andrea Moudarres. Turnhout: Brepols, 2018.

 “Translating Impiety: Girolamo Frachetta and the First Vernacular Commentary on Lucretius.” Quaderni d'Italianistica 35.1 (2014): 55-71.

 “Boccaccio's Humanistic Ethnography (De Canaria),” In Boccaccio: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works. Ed. V. Kirkham, M. Sherberg, and J. Smarr, 265-71. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

 “Furor and Philology in the Poetics of Angelo Poliziano,” In New Worlds and the Italian Renaissance. Ed. Andrea Moudarres and Christiana Purdy Moudarres, 251-89. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

 “Observations on Vico as Reader of Lucretius.” New Vico Studies 25 (2007): 35-51.

 “Mitomania e metamorfosi di Olimpia.” Paragone Letteratura 48, 49, 50 (August – December 2003): 114-125.

Research Interests

Medieval and Renaissance Italian literature; theories and practices of improvisation; geography and literature; classical reception