Olivia Holmes Wins 2015 Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship

The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2015 Fellowship is Olivia Holmes, Associate Professor of Medieval Studies and English at Binghamton University (SUNY). During the Fellowship period, she will work on a book tentatively titled Boccaccio and Exemplarity: Setting a Bad Example in the "Decameron," which examines how he revises earlier exemplary narratives in favor of a more complex and ambiguous morality. She will be mentored by Dana Stewart, also of Binghamton University.

Olivia Holmes earned a joint Ph.D. in Comparative and Italian Literature and Theory from Northwestern University in 1994 and is currently Associate Professor of Medieval Studies and English at Binghamton. She has also taught Italian literature at Yale University, Colby College, and Dartmouth College. Her previous research was mostly devoted to medieval lyric poetry and Dante, but more recently she has begun to explore prose story-telling traditions. Her first book Assembling the Lyric Self: Authorship from Troubadour Song to Italian Poetry Book won the American Association of Italian Studies Book Award in 2001. Her second book, Dante’s Two Beloveds: Ethics and Erotics in the “Divine Comedy” came out in 2008. She is co-editing with Dana Stewart the volume of essays Reconsidering Boccaccio: Medieval Contexts and Global Intertexts.

Her new project Boccaccio and Exemplarity: Setting a Bad Example in the “Decameron” places the 14th-century story-collection, the Decameron, in the context of the array of didactic story-traditions—including collections of fables, historical anecdotes, and saints’ lives—from which its plots were largely drawn. Giovanni Boccaccio asserts in the Prologue to his anthology that his tales provide readers with useful advice by showing the consequences of human behavior. Rather than a one-sided perspective, subordinate to a moral framework, the tales generally relay a complex ambiguity, in which differing points of view are admitted and not only virtue is rewarded. Holmes examines Boccaccio’s texts in terms of both medieval notions of literary exemplarity and recent critical claims about narrative’s ability to promote empathy and emotional intelligence.

The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowships are designed to provide financial assistance to women medievalists who are close to completing a significant work of research that will fulfill a professional promotion requirement. The 2009 MLA Report, “Standing Still: The Associate Professor Survey,” indicates that women are much more likely than men to “stand still” in the course of their academic career and to be “caught in the middle” of the promotion ladder. The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowships aim at placing many more women scholars at the top scholarly tier. A special feature of the Bonnie Wheeler Fellowships is the designation of a mentor, who is responsible for reading the work-in-progress of the fellow and for offering feedback, constructive criticism, and encouragement.