Ronald G. Musto, FAAR 1979
Ron Musto and his wife Eileen Gardiner are medievalists from A to Z: PhDs, writers, editors, and publishers.
A Fellow in Post-Classical Humanistic Studies (1978), Ron focuses on, among other things, the Trecento in Italy, including the history of Rome and Naples. His Apocalypse in Rome: Cola di Rienzo and the Politics of the New Age (California, 2003) won the American Historical Association’s Marraro Prize for best book in Italian studies. Ron has also been researching and writing on the history of medieval Naples since 1985 and is about to finish a comprehensive monograph with Routledge, Writing Southern Italy before the Renaissance: Trecento Historiography of the Mezzogiorno. This Fall Ron will return to the Eternal City for the major annual conference on early modern Rome: he’ll speak on Cola di Rienzo’s painting cycles commissioned for important Roman sites in 1346/47.
After a few years as wandering academics, during which Ron taught at Columbia, NYU, and Duke, and Eileen at UMass Boston, the couple returned to the New York book trade. (Both pre-meds, they had met as undergrads in a chem lab at Fordham in 1965. Banned from further political activity at Fordham after a — nonviolent — campus anti-war protest in 1966, they launched the Fordham Student Coop Bookstore to compete with the campus store. Realizing the power of the book, they never left the trade.)
After a few years in New York commercial publishing, relying on their skill sets and taking a cue from the lack of English translations of Medieval and Renaissance books, as well as of modern Italian fiction, Ron and Eileen founded Italica Press in 1985.
Over the years Italica Press has published hundreds of titles in 17 subject categories including Rome, Naples, poetry, plays, women’s literature and historical travel. There are over 70 authors in A-B alone. Imagine the glory that rests at Z. Among the titles they consider Italica Press’s most beautiful: The Centennial Directory of the American Academy in Rome. Find a copy online and grab it! Apropos of the AAR: Ron also served on the Board of the Society of Fellows in the 1990s as editor of SOF News.
After her groundbreaking and best-selling Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante (1989), Eileen went on to become one of the best-known experts on Hell. She’s published in collections for Oxford, Cambridge, Routledge and others. Friends and colleagues still report late-night viewing of her appearance in the documentary “Gates of Hell” for the History Channel. Her work for Italica includes Hell-on-Line, an interactive online encyclopedia of the “infernal otherworld,” as described in eight world cultures and includes print books on Ancient Near Eastern, Zoroastrian, Egyptian, Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Greek and Roman hell.
But their lives and aren’t always medieval. Building on his experience as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, in the 1990s Ron took a break from the Middle Ages to respond to the Reagan defense build-up and the Gulf Wars. The result was six volumes on the history of peacemaking in the Catholic tradition: from the Bible up to the 20th century. The Catholic Peace Tradition, the series kick-off, won the best book award from the Catholic Press Association.
Back at Italica Press the couple were also among the first (in 1986) to harness the power of the new Macintosh computer and of digital publishing. Their Marvels of Rome for the Macintosh was a Hypercard, interactive version of the 12th-century Mirabilia Urbis Romae. Their Aldus and His Dream Book was among the first to use PageMaker (now InDesign), and has an introduction by the founder of Aldus Corporation, Paul Brainerd, about that achievement. That kind of innovative experience led former AAR Director John D’Arms to invite Eileen and Ron to become Directors of Humanities E-Book for the American Council of Learned Societies, a position they shared for about 11 years, publishing thousands of digital scholarly monographs, before moving on to become co-Executive Directors of the Medieval Academy of America and Editors of its journal Speculum. They capped off those experiences in 2015 with their joint book for Cambridge: The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars.
Now again devoting full attention to their own writing and to Italica Press, they continue to publish both with the Press and with about a dozen university and commercial presses.
Ron and Eileen are also tireless travelers and terrific photographers of both architecture and landscapes. They love cooking — especially pasta — on both sides of the Atlantic. Two years ago they published a cookbook exploring one of their favorite places for food shopping while at home in New York. A Year in Union Square: 52 Seasonal Pasta Dishes, is a compendium of recipes invented to incorporate each week’s seasonal specialties. Yum.
And, even with all their trips abroad — taking a cue from Candide — they continue to tend their own prize-winning garden near their apartment on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
What’s Eileen up to these days? A three-volume series of historical novels involving, you guessed it, medieval hell. Hold on to your seats!
And what’s Ron doing? He’s back to contemporary issues. He tells us that a proposal for his 14th book is now going through peer review at a major university press. The working title: The Dissolution of the Universities. Stay linked.