Dec 1, 2014

Note from the Editor: On the Relaunch of Digital Dante

It is 2014 and we have arrived at the relaunch of Digital Dante, the website created by Jen Hogan in the early 1990s. As we embark on the new iteration of Digital Dante, a word about the site’s history and a tribute to the intrepid and farsighted Dr. Hogan is in order.

Jen conceived of the Digital Dante project as a graduate student more than twenty years ago. She was a philosophy student, interested in epistemology, and she was embarked on a Ph.D. within the context of Columbia University’s Institute for Learning Technologies, where she worked with the Institute’s founder, Robbie McClintock. She wanted to create a website around a text that would embody the values of a liberal arts education; she thought of using Plato’s Republic or Rousseau’s Emile, but chose Dante’s Commedia instead because it struck her as better suited to pushing the envelope on a multimedia environment.

When Jen approached me in the early 1990s she was such an innovator! There were no multimedia Dante websites at the time. Jen’s commitment to Digital Dante led her to take my year-long Dante course in 1994-1995 and initiated our collaboration, a highlight of which was our meeting with the poet and translator Allen Mandelbaum, who immediately saw the value of what Jen was creating. After spending nearly a decade on the development of Digital Dante, Jen got her Ph.D. in 2000 and left the site to reside within the Institute for Learning Technologies, where it remained for the next decade: consulted by Dante readers and students the world over, but not subject to further development.

Time passed, and over this time many more Dante websites came into existence. And yet folks kept contacting me to let me know that Digital Dante remained important to them. I read an Italian article on Dante websites that praised Digital Dante, which by then had been for many years dormant and untended. I realized that we could not allow such a valuable resource to degrade, and so began the work of relaunching the website.

This new iteration of Digital Dante has been made possible by the extraordinarily helpful and supportive folks at CDRS, Columbia’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. Rebecca Kennison and Mark Newton have guided our rebirth with the devotion of Virgilio guiding Dante. And in its current iteration Digital Dante is deeply sutured to Columbia’s Italian Department. We have built a team that boasts recent Ph.D.s in Dante Studies who have gone on to teach elsewhere as well as current graduate students. The invigorated site will thus provide a venue for collaboration with scholars at other institutions as well as for the new research and perspectives of Columbia’s emerging dantisti.

The Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote: “It is unthinkable to read the cantos of Dante without aiming them in the direction of the present day. They were made for that. They are missiles for capturing the future.” In a similar vein, the great Italian philologist Gianfranco Contini wrote: “Our genuine impression, upon meeting Dante, is not of bumping into a tenacious and well preserved survivor, but of catching up with someone who arrived before we did” (“L’impressione genuina del postero, incontrandosi in Dante, non è d’imbattersi in un tenace e ben conservato sopravvissuto, ma di raggiungere qualcuno arrivato prima di lui”). In that spirit, Digital Dante endeavors to aim Dante’s missiles in the direction of the present day. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, to catch up with him now and again.

We look forward to an exciting future.

– Teodolinda Barolini

Digital Dante is a collaboration among the Department of Italian, Columbia University Libraries/Information Services’ Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, and Columbia University Libraries/Information Services’ Humanities and History Division. Images originated from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and were digitized by the Preservation and Digital Conversion Division of Columbia University Libraries/Information Services.