The initial idea of an association dedicated to Giovanni Boccaccio was put forth during the conference to commemorate the sixth centenary of Petrarch’s death at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC: Francesco Petrarca, Citizen of the World. In the first Newsletter of the American Boccaccio Association of Spring 1974, we read:
Long a formless and persistent desire of isolated Boccaccisti throughout the country, an American Boccaccio Association came into being during the World Petrarch Congress in Washington on April 10, 1974. The scene and setting was the cafeteria of the Library of Congress, within jubilant shouting distance of the Folger library, where Vittore Branca would shortly speak on Petrarch and Boccaccio, stressing the power of the disciple to enkindle and rekindle the poetic flames of his laurel-crowned master. (Boccaccio Newsletter, spring 1974)
Immediately afterwards, the same Newsletter explains the intended purposes of the new association, which still remain the same today: the encouragement of Boccaccio studies among American scholars, regardless of their particular disciplines; the establishment of a permanent Boccaccio Studies Center, which today is provided virtually by our new website; the hosting of an annual Boccaccio Studies Forum, which has been held annually since 1974 at the yearly MLA Convention; the publication of a semi-annual newsletter; and the sponsorship of a Review of Boccaccio Scholarship, containing studies, abstracts, and reviews of pertinent matters, which is currently provided by our on line journal Heliotropia.
A few months after its founding, the American Boccaccio Association held its first general meeting on Sunday, December 29, 1974, during the Modern Language Association Convention in New York. It was on that occasion that the details regarding the nascent scholarly organization were first decided. The Association was guided by a committee that included its first president, Professor Aldo S. Bernardo, three vice-presidents, an executive secretary and a treasurer; an honorary president in the person of Professor Charles S. Singleton; and a Provisional Constitution with bylaws. Though it has not thus far been possible to determine with absolute accuracy who initially promoted the establishment of the Association or who penned the first two newsletters, it is likely that the ABA took shape under the guidance of its first president, Aldo S. Bernardo (who was also the organizer of the congress Francesco Petrarca: Citizen of the World) and the first three vice-presidents: Marga Cottino-Jones, Thomas Vesce, and Joseph Reino. By the time the second Newsletter was published in the fall of 1974, Professor Christopher Kleinhenz, Professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, was already collecting information for the North American Boccaccio Bibliography. Thanks to his enduring constancy and perseverance, the Association’s members have benefited from his meticulous efforts for over three decades now.
Despite this propitious beginning, the Association not long afterwards encountered some substantial difficulties. From the fall of 1975 to the end of 1979, no newsletters were published and the Association seemed perhaps to have reached its end. In 1979, however, a new newsletter appeared and in it Professor Thomas Vesce, the incoming president of the Association, assured its members with these words: “After so many years and so many trials, I think many of the participants of the ABA would agree that the society does exist, is well, and has a bright future.” Professor Vesce went on to explain that the ABA’s development had been beset by logistical problems caused by a dispersion of its officers throughout the US and Canada. In an attempt to mitigate such problems, they decided to nominate regional representatives who were entrusted with organizing meetings in their respective areas as well as gathering material for subsequent ABA newsletters and forwarding it to the Editor. The idea of appointing regional representatives turned out to be a very clever solution to the Association’s previous setbacks, inasmuch as it encouraged an enhanced flow of information among members and provided just the sort of reorganization that was needed to ensure the Association’s future success.
In 1977, Professor Elissa Weaver was elected secretary of the Association and served as the editor of the ABA Newsletter for the following ten years. In 1987, Professor Michael Sherberg took over this role, which he fulfilled for a remarkable period of seventeen more years. We are all particularly grateful to Professors Weaver and Sherberg, not only because it was thanks to their assiduous and consistent work in compiling the Newsletters twice a year that we are today able to recreate the history of the association in its most important phases, but also because their exemplary level of involvement and dedication surely accounted in great measure for the Association’s success.
In 1983, with Professor Elissa Weaver as ABA president, Professor John Ahern of Vassar College proposed for the first time the idea of establishing a Lectura Boccaccii series. His proposal, which can be read in the spring newsletter of 1983, was received with significant enthusiasm by the ABA members who “overwhelmingly passed” the proposal at the next annual meeting. The Editorial Guidelines for the Lectura Boccaccii series were published in the spring newsletter of 1984, and the inaugural Lectura was held on 28 December of that year at the MLA Convention in Washington DC by Professor Robert Hollander who spoke on the proem of the Decameron. From that moment forward the LB series has continued uninterrupted to this day. In accordance with the original plan of publishing the lecturae “in amplified form,” Professor Elissa Weaver edited the first volume of readings, entitled The Decameron: First Day in Perspective, which was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2003. As of the spring of 2010, the third volume, edited by Professor Pier Massimo Forni and Professor Francesco Ciabattoni, is now under review by the same publishing house. Professor Kirkham, editor of the second volume, is very near the submission stage and Professor Sherberg is now editing the lecturae of Day Four. In short, what began as a hopeful initiative nearly three decades ago is now a full-fledged scholarly effort that will continue to be of great value to general readers and specialists for years to come.
Over the decades, the Newsletter has collected various kind of information, including the minutes from the annual meetings at the Modern Language Association, messages from the president, members’ work in progress and reports on activities, recent and upcoming conferences of interest to Boccaccio Studies, updates on the LB, calls for papers, publishing information, and the usual dues reminder… And, every year throughout that period is documented without fail by Kleinhenz’ s bibliography! Indeed, the Association so blossomed and prospered throughout the 1980s and early 1990s that it became a model for future organizations of its kind. In the Spring 1995 Newsletter, Professor Claude Cazalé Bérard published a “Proposal for an International Association” that would unite Boccaccio scholars throughout the world. Though such an organization has not yet been realized, it is worth pointing out that she cited the American Boccaccio Association as a guiding force in her initiative: “E qui chiederei ai colleghi americani di farci approfittare della loro esperienza per quanto riguarda l’organizzazione dell’associazione e la pubblicazione del bollettino.” These were also the years in which the use of new technologies began to make a considerable impact on the academic world. Members began collecting email address and expressing enthusiasm regarding the creation of the Decameron Web by Professors Massimo Riva and Michael Papio in 1995. In 2003, Heliotropia, the on line journal of Boccaccio studies, was founded by Professor Michael Papio and became the official ABA journal in the spring of 2005, at which point it began publishing the Association’s newsletters.
Today, in the spring of 2010, we are delighted to announce the organization of the First Triennial International Boccaccio and the launching of the American Boccaccio Association Website. In conclusion, it is clear that what began as an optimistic, though uncertain, initiative at the six-hundredth anniversary of Boccaccio’s death is now, on the eve of the seven-hundredth anniversary of his birth, a mature and vigorous Association that will endure long into the future and will continue to serve its members just as its founders had hoped.
We would like to thank Professor Victoria Kirkham who provided us with the majority of the Newsletters, which are indispensable to understanding and recreating the history of the Association. The original copies will be sent to the Casa del Boccaccio in Certaldo, where they will find their final destination. Special thanks go also to Professor Christopher Kleinhenz who kindly shared with us the missing Newsletters.