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Dr. Joanna  Drell
Dr. Joanna Drell
Professor of History
Chair, Department of History

Joanna Drell teaches courses on medieval-Renaissance European history (900-1600 C.E.), Medieval Italy, Renaissance Italy, the Crusades, medieval frontier societies, the medieval family, and the ancient/medieval epic tradition.  She has a particular interest in issues of identity, memory, family, and the historical/literary dialogue between medieval southern and northern Italy.

Her current book project, Reimagining the Past, examines historical memory of Norman Italy outside the Regno.  Inspired by curious revisions of medieval southern Italian history in the works of Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri, she focuses on how northern Italians and continental Europeans, c. 1100 to c. 1400, understood the multicultural Kingdom as a political and social entity.  The pluralistic Regno – a kingdom where Christian, Muslim, Jew, and Greek, Latin, Lombard, Norman and Angevin commingled –  was fodder for the medieval poet and chronicler, political polemicist, and merchant diarist.  Drawing on materials both well-known (e.g.  Dante, Giovanni Villani, Chretien de Troyes), and more obscure (e.g. merchant records, unpublished archival documents), she asks why the Norman period was so compelling to outsiders.  What parts of the Regno’s experience were emphasized or altered? Was southern Italy [the ‘Mezzogiorno’] seen from without as a monolith or is Sicily at times distinct from the mainland in some ways?  In essence, how and why did outsiders shape the history and culture of the Regno?  Evaluating a variety of texts through the lens of medieval southern Italy permits a deeper understanding of both these literary monuments and the intercultural complexities that underpinned them.    

Grants and Fellowships

UR Faculty Summer Research/Travel Grants (2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008)

NEH Dante Summer Seminar:  Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Medieval World [June-July 2009]
American Philosophical Society Franklin Grant
The Rome Prize, The American Academy in Rome (NEH Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Post-Classical Humanistic/Modern Italian Studies

American Catholic Historical Association Marraro Book Award


“Crusading and The Kingdom of Southern Italy,” New College Conference on Medieval-Renaissance Studies, Sarasota FL, March, 2014.

“Reception of Norman Italy Beyond the South (or Why is Robert Guiscard in Dante’s Paradiso?), The Medieval Academy of America, March, 2013, Knoxville, TN.

“The Voice of Medieval Aristocratic Women,” Cultural Connections, The University of Richmond, Spring, 2012.

“From Robert Guiscard to Andreuccio of Perugia:  Northern Italian Perspectives on the Regno during the Middle Ages,”  Eighteenth International Medieval Conference, Leeds University, England, July, 2011.

The Medieval Mezzogiorno, a Cultural Mosaic,” Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Art History, March 31, 2011.

“Reading the Mezzogiorno in Dante,” New College Conference on Medieval-Renaissance Studies, Sarasota FL, March 12, 2010.

Chair/Comment and Session Organizer:  “Scholarly Roads Leading to Rome:  new Research Avenues on the Eternal City,”  The American Historical Association/Society for Italian Historical Studies, New York City, January 4, 2009.

Round Table: “The Medieval Nobility:  The State of the Question [Italy],” Forty-First International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May, 2008.


Medieval Italy:  A Documentary History (in collaboration with Dr. K. Jansen, Dr. Frances Andrews), University of Pennsylvania Press: July, 2009 (paperback, 2010).

Kinship and Conquest:  Family Strategies in the Principality of Salerno during the Norman Period, 1077-1194, Cornell University Press: June 2002.


“From Lemons to Legislation, Welcoming Foreigners in the Medieval Regno," Festschrift in honor of Errico Cuozzo, ed. Jean-Marie Martin.  Naples, Winter 2016.

“The Normans in Sicily,” Oxford Bibliographies Summer 2014.

“The Effects of the Crusades on Norman Southern Italy,”  Crusading and Pilgrimage in the Norman World, eds. Paul Oldfield, Kathryn Hurlock, Boydell and Brewer (Woodbridge, UK, 2014).

“Aristocratic Economies: Women and Family,” The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, eds. Judith Bennett and Ruth Karras. (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 327-342.

Using Dante to Teach the Middle Ages:  Examples from Medieval Southern Italian History.” Pedagogy 13:1, 59-65 (2013).

Antiques Consuetudines” and Civic Identities in the Kingdom of Southern Italy and Sicily (1050-1300)‘  Festschrift  in honor of Anthony A. Molho, ed. Diogo Ramada Curto, Julius Kirshner, Eric Dursteller, and Francesca Trivellato.  (Leo S. Olschki Publishers, 2009), pp. 303-320.

“Family Structure in Salernitan Society,”  Salerno nel XII secolo: istituzioni, società, cultura, ed. Paolo Delogu and Paolo Peduto. (Centro Studi Salernitani “Raffaele Guariglia”, 2004), pp. 103-118.

“The Aristocratic Family in Norman Southern Italy,” in The Normans in Southern Italy, ed. G. A. Loud.  (Brill Publishers, 2002), pp. 97-113.

“Cultural Syncretism and Ethnic Identity:  The Norman “Conquest” of Southern Italy and Sicily,” The Journal of Medieval History, XXV, No. 3, 1999, pp. 187-202.

"Family Structure in the Principality of Salerno Under Norman Rule,"  Anglo-Norman Studies XVIII, 1996, pp.79-103.


 “Norman Italy and Crusades: Thoughts on the Homefront,“ Crusading and Pilgrimage in the Norman World, eds. Paul Oldfield, Kathryn Hurlock, Boydell and Brewer (Woodbridge, UK, 2015), pp. 51-63.

"Family Structure in Salernitan Society,"  Salerno nel XII secolo: istituzioni, società, cultura, Paolo Delogu and Paolo Peduto ed., Centro Studi Salernitani "Raffaele Guariglia", 2004, pp. 103-118.


City and Community in Norman Italy (Cambridge U.P., 2009) by Paul Oldfield,  The English Historical Review,  cxxvi. 518 (Feb. 2011).

Florence and Its Church in the Age of Dante, by George Dameron, The Historian (Winter, 2009).

To Have and To Hold:  Marrying and Its Documentation in Western Christendom, 400-1600, by Philip L. Reynolds and John Witte Jr. (eds.), The Journal of Interdisciplinary History  (Winter, 2009).

The Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria and Sicily, and of His Brother Duke Robert Guiscard by Geoffrey Malaterra (University of Michigan Press, 2005) by Kenneth Baxter Wolf.  The Journal of Medieval Latin, 19 (2009).

Ph.D., Brown University
M.A., Brown University
Contact Information
108 Ryland Hall
(804) 287-1828
(804) 287-1992 (Fax)
Areas of Expertise
Medieval Europe, Medieval/Renaissance Italy
Households, Family, and Gender in the Middle Ages
Medieval Southern Italy and Sicily
Medieval Frontiers
The Crusades