Daniel Bornstein

​Professor of History
Department of History Study Abroad Advisor
Stella K. Darrow Professor of Catholic Studies
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    • Washington University
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    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Bornstein's research focuses on the religious culture of medieval and Renaissance Italy, with a special interest in popular devotion and the role of religion in daily life.

    Professor Bornstein is presently completing a study of religion, culture, and society in the diocese of Cortona, following the evolution of lay/clerical and urban/rural relations over an extended period of time. His starting point is the late thirteenth century, when Cortona began to define its distinct ecclesiastical identity around the body of the local saint, Margherita. He then examines the impact of the Black Death of 1348 and subsequent epidemics, to see how religious institutions and devotional life responded to demographic catastrophe, economic crisis, and social unrest.  Finally, Bornstein assesses the effects of political change over the course of the fifteenth century, when Cortona lost its independence and became part of the Florentine state.

    Once the Cortona project is finished, he will turn his attention to two projects addressing interrelated issues of religious belief and practice, gender formation, and cultural communication. The first is a study of the transmission and reception of religious ideas in late medieval Italy. The central figure in my study is Giovanni Dominici (1355-1419), a prominent religious reformer and ecclesiastical politician who dedicated much of his career to crafting social and religious models for women. He wrote for laywomen and cloistered nuns on topics ranging from mystical theology to child rearing and household management. What is most unusual, however, is that we have writings by the very women to whom Giovanni’s works were addressed. 

    These writings allow us to measure with rare precision the ways women responded to the social, cultural, and religious messages that were being directed at them. The second project is a study of the body-snatching nuns of Corpus Domini. Bornstein's starting point is a dramatic episode of relic theft: in 1476, in the midst of a dispute with another convent over patronage rights to the parish church of Santa Lucia in Venice, the Dominican sisters of Corpus Domini took the body of the virgin-martyr St. Lucy and hid it under their staircase, provoking outraged reactions from both ecclesiastical and secular authorities. This episode will shed light not only on relic theft in Renaissance Venice, but on competition and rivalry between female religious communities, the involvement of cloistered women in parochial functions and the care of souls, and the intrusion of state agencies in the supervision of convents.

    Professor Bornstein welcomes inquiries from students interested in pursuing graduate work in the religious, cultural, and social history of medieval and Renaissance Italy. Current graduate students are working on such topics as civic saints, healing cults, and the religious life of Rome during the Avignon papacy.

    Selected Publications


    Medieval Christianity, ed. Daniel E. Bornstein (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009) (volume 4 of A People’s History of Christianity, general editor Denis R. Janz)

    Florence and Beyond: Culture, Society and Politics in Renaissance Italy, ed. David S. Peterson with Daniel E. Bornstein (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008)

    Bartolomea Riccoboni, Life and Death in a Venetian Convent: The Chronicle and Necrology of Corpus Domini, 1395-1436, ed. and trans. Daniel Bornstein (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)

    Women and Religion in Medieval and Renaissance Italy, ed. Daniel Bornstein and Roberto Rusconi (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1996)

    The Bianchi of 1399: Popular Devotion in Late Medieval Italy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993)

    Mistiche e devote nell’Italia tardomedievale, ed. Daniel Bornstein and Roberto Rusconi (Naples: Liguori, 1992)

    Dino Compagni’s Chronicle of Florence, translated with introduction and notes by Daniel E. Bornstein (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986)


    The National Endowment for the Humanities

    American Philosophical Society

    National Humanities Center

    Villa I Tatti

    Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation



    Socio corrispondente della Accademia Etrusca di Cortona


    Recent Courses

    Medieval Christianity
    Women and Religion in Medieval Europe
    Saints and Society
    Europe in the Age of Reformation
    Renaissance Florence and Venice


    Life and Death in a Venetian Convent

    Life and Death in a Venetian Convent

    These works by Sister Bartolomea Riccoboni offer an intimate portrait of the women who inhabited the Venetian convent of Corpus Domini, where they shared a religious life bounded physically by the convent wall and organized temporally by the rhythms of work and worship. At the same time, they show how this cloistered community vibrated with news of the great ecclesiastical events of the day, such as the Great Western Schism and the Council of Constance.

    Medieval Christianity

    Medieval Christianity

    The fourth volume in A People's History of Christianity series accents the astounding range of cultural and religious experience within medieval Christianity and the ways in which religious life structured all aspects of the daily lives of ordinary Christians. With ranking scholars from the U.S. and the Continent, this volume explores rituals of birth and death, daily parish life, lay-clerical relations, and relations with Jews and Muslims through a thousand years and many lands. 

    Florence and Beyond

    Florence and Beyond

    This volume celebrates John M. Najemy and his contributions to the study of Florentine and Italian Renaissance history. Over the last three decades, his books and articles on Florentine politics and political thought have substantially revised the narratives and contours of these fields. They have also provided a framework into which he has woven innovative new threads that have emerged in Renaissance social and cultural history. Presented by his many students and friends, the essays aim to highlight his varied interests and to suggest where they may point for future studies of Florence and, indeed, beyond.