My research deals with the interpretation, use, and manipulation of the past in the politics and culture of later medieval Europe. I am particularly interested in the medieval cities of Italy, many of which used legends derived from the classical tradition (specifically Roman history and the classical Latin authors) as political and cultural propaganda: "Our city was founded before yours, by a more famous person than your founder; therefore we're better than you." My first book, Urban Legends: Civic Identity & the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250-1350 (a study of these legends in the medieval Italian cities) was published by Pennsylvania State University Press in April 2011.
This is also the theme of my second book, tentatively titled SPQR: The Branding of Rome. This is a study of the later fortunes of the Roman SPQR abbreviation (short for Senatus PopulusQue Romanus, or "the senate and people of Rome"). After a vivid classical life on the coins, monuments of ancient Rome, the SPQR abbreviation was revived in medieval Rome as the logo of the city itself—not its former empire. In this fashion SPQR persisted through the rule of the medieval commune, the Renaissance popes, the new government of Risorgimento Italy, and Mussolini's Fascism—and still today it is the logo of the Comune di Roma. (See, for example, my Pinterest boards of SPQRs and SPQXs—the latter is my term for when other cities adopt the SPQ– formulation.) My book will focus on the SPQR's medieval revival and Renaissance appropriation, between about AD 1100 and 1600. My initial article on this topic, "Whose SPQR? Sovereignty and Semiotics in Medieval Rome," appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of the journal Speculum, and I spent 2008–9 as a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome while working on it.
Meanwhile, my interest in urban culture and its relationship to its past has led me into two further projects. First, I am translating Jacopo da Varagine's History of Genoa for Manchester University Press; Jacopo was archbishop of Genoa in the late thirteenth century, and is best known for his medieval bestseller The Golden Legend, a collection of saints' lives. Besides bringing greater attention to Genoa, an important but often neglected medieval Italian city, my translation seeks to broaden the perspective offered by the present sources for medieval Italy that are available in English translation, most of which deal exclusively with Florence and Venice. Second, linked to my project on Jacopo, I am also editing a Companion to Medieval Genoa, under contract with Brill, that will introduce undergraduates and non-specialists to the medieval history of Genoa. My work on Genoa has therefore expanded into an exploration of how topography and landscape interact with the past to shape identity narratives. This has enabled me to combine traditional skills such as palaeography, medieval Latin, and hagiography with new digital technologies such as GIS analysis.
I am interested generally in medieval urban life, the history of urban development, medieval cultural and intellectual history, classical Roman history, classical and medieval Latin, palaeography and codicology (the study of medieval manuscripts and their writing), book history, medieval architecture and technology, and reception history generally (that is, the later history or "afterlife" of a famous person or idea).