Frazier, Alison Knowles

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Frazier, Alison Knowles


Education: Columbia University, Ph.D., 1997.


Home—TX. Office—Department of History, University of Texas, 1 University Station B7000, Austin, TX 78712-0220. E-mail—[email protected]


Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, visiting assistant professor, 1995-96; University of Texas at Austin, assistant professor, 1996-2004, associate professor of history, 2004—.


American Academy in Rome, residential fellow, 1997-98; Newberry Library grant, 1999; Bibliographical Society of America grant, 1999; Delmas Foundation for Venetian Studies, 1999, 2003; Guggenheim Foundation fellow, 2005.


Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


Writer and educator Alison Knowles Frazier graduated from Columbia University with her doctoral degree in 1997. She then went on to spend a year at the American Academy in Rome under a residential fellowship, and has since been the recipient of several other research and academic awards, including a Delmas Foundation for Venetian Studies, both in 1999 and 2003, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2005. Frazier taught at Dartmouth College as a visiting assistant professor in the department of history during the 1995-96 academic year, then joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 1996 as an assistant professor. In 2004, she was promoted to associate professor. Her primary areas of research and academic interest include the lives of the saints from a humanist point of view and continental Europe during the medieval and Renaissance periods, with a particular focus on intellectual history, religion, hagiography, biblical exegesis, and visual and cultural materials such as manuscripts and printing. Beyond the scope of her academic duties, she is the author of Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy.

In Possible Lives, Frazier takes a look at a fairly obscure, little-studied body of material that is of considerable importance: a series of works of hagiography written in Latin by humanists during the fifteenth century. Recovering the original materials proved to be the most significant part of the work that Frazier put into her study, looking not only at the various types of texts and their authors, but the significance of the materials as well. The materials in question required Frazier to put forth an effort of detective work of a sort, both searching out historical relevance and literary references, and her resulting work includes a well-documented list of sources that she found applicable in her research.

The first chapter of Frazier's book serves as an introduction of sorts, in which she provides readers with a detailed outline of the ground she intends to cover over the course of the work. This gives her the opportunity to bring forth lesser-known works and to explain the basis for the materials as a whole, such as which saints proved to be favored by the fifteenth-century humanist hagiographers in comparison to others, with certain centuries—the fourth and fifth centuries, plus the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries—and certain types of saints—including early martyrs, bishops, and male saints who were from religious orders—clearly receiving more attention than others. Much of this information leads to Frazier's analysis of the continuity that took place between the medieval and Renaissance periods.

From there, Frazier goes on to look at how she believes this fascination with the saints' lives and the way the humanists chronicle them, particularly those of martyrs, serves as a way of connecting to the past, and to the important aspects of the earlier chronicles. Yet at the same time, she allows that the fifteenth-century humanist versions do not follow the models set down through previous examples of the lives of the saints. Frazier lists various reasons for this disparity, including major political influences such as the Ottoman Empire's expansion in the wake of the failure of the Crusades. These different events affected the ways that humanists interpreted martyrdom as a whole, in particular with respect to the saints' lives. Much of her analysis goes toward addressing what she perceives to be the links between religion and religious culture and more classical culture in Europe during this period. She goes on to focus on particular volumes of saints' lives, including works by Bonino Mombrizio, Giovanni Garzoni of Bologna, Giacomo da Udine, and Raffaele Maffei. Various themes pertaining to Frazier's interests are interwoven through these works, including examples of female piety, the increasing importance of martyrdom in Christianity, and both Christian and humanist relationships with Islam as a direct result of the Crusades.

Frazier's book demonstrates not only that the humanists paid prodigious attention to the lives of the saints during the fifteenth century, but that the parallels she draws between religious and classical history also have many relevant links to modern-day political issues. Daniel Bornstein, writing for the Renaissance Quarterly, concluded that "this monumental work of scholarship and labor of love succeeds admirably in rescuing humanist hagiography from undeserved obscurity. Frazier has not merely crafted a compelling interpretation of individual examples and of the entire genre of humanist hagiography: she has also constructed an essential platform for all future research on the subject." Helen Parish, in a review for the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, remarked that "Frazier … draws some persuasive general conclusions from her detailed study of this under-used set of manuscript materials." Church History contributor Nancy Bradley Warren opined: "Frazier has written an extraordinary book. Her prose is lucid, her scholarship meticulous, and her arguments both innovative and convincing. This book … deserves to be read … widely by those who work on European literatures and religions of the later medieval and early modern literature periods."



American Historical Review, June 1, 2006, David S. Peterson, review of Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy, p. 917.

Catholic Historical Review, October 1, 2007, Katherine L. Jansen, review of Possible Lives, p. 932.

Choice, December 1, 2005, R.T. Ingoglia, review of Possible Lives, p. 730.

Church History, March 1, 2006, Nancy Bradley Warren, review of Possible Lives, p. 184.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, April 1, 2006, Helen Parish, review of Possible Lives, p. 356.

Renaissance Quarterly, June 22, 2006, Daniel Bornstein, review of Possible Lives, p. 481.

Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, October 1, 2006, David J. Collins, review of Possible Lives, p. 1190.


Columbia University Press Web site, (May 20, 2008), author profile.

University of Texas at Austin History Department Web site, (May 20, 2008), faculty profile.

University of Texas Web site, (May 20, 2008), faculty profile.