Professor Arielle Saiber reflects on her time at Bowdoin
May 6, 2022
After 22 years at Bowdoin, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Arielle Saiber is departing from the College for a new adventure. Saiber will join John Hopkins University as Professor of Modern Languages and Literature following the end of the academic year.
“I have an incredible appreciation for the College for its support in research and teaching, for my colleagues in Italian and the Romance languages department as a whole,” Saiber said. “I also have the deepest appreciation [for] the students who have made my life amazing. It’s very hard for me to leave such extraordinary students and such an exceptional school.”
When Saiber arrived in Brunswick, freshly after defending her doctoral dissertation at Yale University, the College did not have an Italian department. She moved into Mustard House—a residence on Maine Street owned by the College—to start her work and fell in love with the College.
“The day I moved in … I saw little children—two- and three-year-olds—in the quad playing with bubbles that were being blown in the air, and there were little butterflies flying through the bubbles and I thought, ‘wow this place is magic,’” Saiber said.
At the time, the College only offered students the opportunity to learn Italian up to an intermediate level. Saiber was able to see the Italian department blossom to what it is today, now with more professors and lecturers hired to expand it.
“Not many liberal arts colleges have an Italian major. So, it’s really exciting that [Bowdoin does]. A number of our students have gone on to get Ph.D.s themselves and become scholars and teachers of Italian literature and language,” Saiber said.
Now, the department is able to offer courses like “Digital Florence” and the “World of Science Fiction” to students with instruction in either Italian or English.
Saiber has studied a number of different research topics over her tenure at the College. From exploring Dante to understanding the intersections between mathematics and literature in premodern Italy to science fiction, Saiber has a wide breadth of expertise.
“I am interested in the literature, art, architecture, philosophy and the history of science and mathematics between the 1200s [and] 1500s. Dante is absolutely central to the research that I do, and over the years I’ve just done more and more work on Dante” Saiber said.
Dante was an Italian poet, writer and philosopher, best known for his work “The Divine Comedy.” The first American to fully translate the text into English was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a former professor of the College.
“It is just such an honor to be able to study Dante all the time—to teach Dante not just anywhere, but at a place where Longfellow was, as Dante is my hero,” Saiber said.
Saiber’s love for Dante is palpable to her students, who often find references to Dante in pop culture and modern life that they bring to her. She amassed so many in her early years at the College that she began to digitize them and create a website to keep track. With the help of Bowdoin’s IT department and her co-editor, Elizabeth Coggeshall, she created Dante Today, a crowd-sourced website that catalogs Dante references in the modern day.
“She’s really just like a ball of energy, and that even translated on[to] Zoom,” Kate McKee ’22, a student of Saiber’s, said. “One person from the Divine Comedy’s class said ‘even though this was a Zoom class, it was, by far, the best class that [he’d] ever taken,’ just because she transports that energy into every thought, every discussion and every activity.”
Saiber serves as McKee’s honors advisor in the Italian department and has guided her throughout the process of researching and writing, as well as applying to grants and even graduate school.
“She has been an incredible mentor to me,” McKee said. “She really challenges my ideas and she really [pushes] me to think more clearly, and more deeply about the kind of stuff that I study while also always being very encouraging and really validating my ideas. I’m just constantly taken aback by her because she is such an incredible scholar and really well respected in the field.”
Francesca Mauro ’22, a romance languages major, shared these sentiments.
“She treats me more as a thought partner than a student … even though she is the expert on Dante, she gets excited about what students are contributing,” Mauro said.
Juliana Vandermark contributed to this report.
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What an exceptional scholar, mentor, professor, and friend! Those of us who have taken classes with Arielle should consider ourselves very, very lucky.
She will be dearly missed.