• JM
Assistant Professor of Italian



Office: Keiper 103


I study early modern literature and culture through the lens of the Italian peninsula. My research questions explore intersections between fiction, history writing, politics,  law, and visual arts. Intellectual history and the history of education are areas of interest too, especially the history of the liberal arts and humanities.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada I was an English literature major and Italian minor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I moved to the University of California, Berkeley for my M.A. and Ph.D. in Italian Studies, focusing on Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. It was an intellectual choice to pursue Italian Studies, but also a personal one that connected to me to family who had emigrated from Italy to western Canada in hopes of a new beginning after the Second World War. This history translates into a research interest in the ways that continuity, community, and identity, especially within families, endure intergenerational loss, change, trauma, heterogeneity, migration, etc. 

The theme is central to my largest project, in-progress,  whose subject is a plurisecular tradition of imagery designed to represent the genealogical continuity of Italy's longest-surviving dynasty, the Este of Ferrara-Modena. The work involves drawing on very disparate sources (literary, historical, legal, artistic) to unpack how these designs worked - and why they sometimes failed - to elicit emotional attachments and promote continuity accross centuries of uphevals and innovations. It's a project about the intellectual and artistic stakes and consequences of genealogy. My goal is to offer new visions of early modern fiction, and perspectives on some key  tensions that have defined the humanities since the 15th century.

With another project, I am looking into some pre-modern appearances of fantastical animals in light of current conversations about post- and trans-humanism, the lives of animals, and the anthropocentric blindspots of the humanist tradition.

My first peer-reviewed publication dealt with Italian traditions of civic engagement (impegno): What models and counter-models have defined the figure of the truth-teller in the Italian tradition, s/he who risks his own skin to speak truth to power? My most recent publication deals with an intellectual-historical relationship between philology ("the discipline of making sense of texts") and visual studies. It makes the case that humanist approaches to language and texts allowed for images, too, to be percieved and understood structurally, as expressions of distinct cultural configurations with their own distinctive "grammars" and "laws." Thus, humanist philology can be understood as part of the pre-history of what became the anthropology of art.

Much of my research relies on direct contact with early modern sources - manuscripts, early printed books, and occasionally material objects. I am grateful to have been supported to date for research travel to Italy, Germany,  the UK, and France by several sources: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; UC Berkeley's Diplomay and Culture colloquium; the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence; and most recently the American Philosophical Society.  In 2019-2020, I am a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Wolf Humanities Centre, participating in the annual research seminar which is dedicated this year to understanding and redefining Kinship in various historical and geographical contexts, and as a subject of study.

At F&M, I am teaching Italian language at various levels and developing new courses in Medieval & Renaissance Studies, Comparative Literature, and Connections. I shape my teaching, as much as I can, around the most precious gifts of my intellectual life so far: The fine balance between learning and creativity; and the feeling that arises when (in the words of August Boeckh) "we can suddenly recognize what someone else already understood." As a language teacher, I am especially interested in helping students to engage with visual culture, film, and literatre from the very beinning of their studies. Inspired by (Renaissance) humanist education and its histories, I gravitate towards the pedagogies that have emerged around social semiotics, literacy, and design.

I keep another webpage here:  https://fandm.academia.edu/JenniferMackenzie


Ph.D. Italian Studies (University of California, Berkeley)

M.A. Italian Studies (University of California, Berkeley)

B.A. Honours English (University of British Columbia) 

Research Areas

Italian literature, historiography, culture, esp. 1400-1650

Chivalric romance and epic, novella, history of the novel

Renaissance humanism, humanist pedagogy, history of the humanities

History of the book, history of philology,  illustrated books

Legal studies, law and humanities, critical legal studies

Material culture, history of antiquarianism , history and anthropolgy of art   

Reception of early modern Italian texts in English literature                                                                                     

Peer-reviewed Publications 

"Lorenzo Valla's Critique of Jurisprudence, the Discovery of Heraldry, and the Philology of Images."  Renaissance Quarterly (72.4 2019): https://doi.org/10.1017/rqx.2019.376

“Che l’antico valore nelli italici cor non e’ ancor morto: Carla Benedetti’s Challenge.” California Italian Studies, 2.1 (2011): http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8356753w.

Selected Presentations

"Philologies of the Image Amongst Guarino da Verona and his Students in Este Ferrara." Philology and Visual Culture - Philological Communities in Contexts in the Early Modern World.  Panel at the Renaissance Society of America Annual Convention. Toronto, 2019.

“The Existence of Griffins: Gothic, Grotesque, and the Problem of Style at the Este Court.” The Problem of Style in the Fifteenth Century.  Panel at the Renaissance Society of America Annual Convention. New Orleans, 2018.

Insignia urbium italiae: Borders, Border-Crossings, and the Making of Jacopo Strada’s ‘Italian’ Atlas for Hans Fugger and Maximilian II.” Borderless Italy: 15th Annual Conference of the California Interdisciplinary Consortium for Italian Studies. UC Santa Barbara, 2016.

Theutonicus quondam Italicum reperit. A German meets an Italian in Law and in Fiction: Semiotics, Travel, and Conflict.” The Sacred and the Civic: From the Medieval City to the Modern Metropolis. NYU Villa la Pietra, 2015.

“Image Genres Between Theory and the Imagination in the Sixteenth Century: Ariosto and Emblem Studies."  Society for Emblem Studies 10th Conference. Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel, 2014.

“The Coat-of-Arms and the Portrait in the Dynastic Histories of Este Ferrara.”  Emblems and Enigma: The Heraldic Imagination. London Society of Antiquaries, 2014.

Chi troppo abbraccia niente spesso tiene: George Gascoigne’s Italian models  and the Struggles of Authorial Self-fashioning in Elizabethan England.”  Foundations of Modernity. Yale University, 2009.

F&M Courses

and Office Hours


Italian 101: Elementary Italian Language and Culture, 1

Italian 102: Elementary Italian Language and Culture, 2

Italian 201: Intermediate Italian Language and Culture, 1

Italian 372: Italian Renaissance: Creativity, Learning, Design / "The Book and the Hand"

CNX1: Becoming a Brand: Image, Identity, and the Art of Storytelling 

Italian 375: Il Viaggio in Oriente: Medieval and Early Modern Travelers to the East 

Spring 2020 Office Hours: Mondays and Fridays 11:00-12:00; and by appointment