Members of the Class of 1976 initiated the tradition of a Dante Seminar Reunion, as part of annual Reunions. Subsequently, a second series of Dante Reunions followed - held in Italy. The stories of how these came about are told in the following excepts from Bob Hollander's Princetoniana Oral History interview in 2012 (interview conducted by Tom Swift '76).
The Princeton Dante Reunions
SWIFT: How and why did the Dante reunions begin?
HOLLANDER: Members of your class -- certainly Carolyn Calvert, Charlene Cosman, and Jim Marketos -- had some gathering at the end of the year for some reason. Somebody said, “Why don’t we have a Dante reunion? A reunion of this class.” One thing led to another. Charlene reminded me the other day that we had about 30 people as early as the first one. I don’t know if it was that many. But it did catch on. This last was the 36th, one that I missed. I missed another when I had a stroke in 2004. And one other, when I was in Italy. I’ve missed three of them. If you teach for a living, and if you care about teaching and it’s not just an annoyance on your way to your desk, you will understand what it means to have your students want to come back for more of their own free will and in their own free time. What more positive thing can they say to you? I feel myself very favored to have this. The reunion is wonderful. I see these faces from the past -- some of them come back after a long period of being away and much changed. The last few years, as we’ve gone on accumulating, those gathered number somewhere between 70 and 90. It’s a lot of people. It’s quasi-lecture -- there’s too much lecturing, but it’s hard not to. People do interrupt and we go somewhere that wasn’t planned, like a precept. It is a great joy.
SWIFT: You’ve managed to make friends with former undergraduates and those friendships last for a long time. That strikes me as unusual.
HOLLANDER: Yeah, I suppose it is. I only began to think about that a few years ago and realized that I probably have more friends that are former students than all others put together. I don’t think I make friends easily, but I certainly have made friends in the Dante course. I don’t set out to do that. I’m there as a teacher. I do have urgent expectations of how much work students should do. When I see an “A” in the Dante course, I know that student has really worked. It’s not just about being smart, it’s about doing the homework and really getting to know the poem. And the exams -- I don’t know if you know about the exams. There are 200 items from the poem on sheets. Students get them the second day of class -- I don’t give them out the first day because people drop and it costs the department money to mimeograph. And that’s it. Here’s the midterm and here’s the final. The passages on the exams will only come from here. If you know everything on here really well, you get an A. As simple as that. Now go and do it.
SWIFT: Two hundred?
HOLLANDER: Two hundred. And eight of them will be on the final exam. I used to give 12 or so. I don’t know how I got away with that. Getting an A means getting all of those not only right, not only what’s going on, but saying smart things about them. That’s very hard. It would be hard for a pro. There’s no wiggle room. The students understand that. It’s fair. Everybody knows what’s being asked – a lot. Princeton students, anyway the ones who are drawn to this course, because there’s a lot of word of mouth about the course, know what they’re getting into.
The Dante Reunions in Italy
SWIFT: How did you become an Italian tour organizer?
HOLLANDER: Do you mean the castle?
HOLLANDER: OK, that’s the second Dante reunion. We had to postpone it this year. I hope next year we can go. Anyway, we started in 2000. I was with the mayor of Certaldo, who is a good friend. I said, “We’ve got this group that meets every year to talk about Dante, former students of mine. They’d like to come to Italy and have a special reunion in some place that works for a group of, say, 20 or 30 people.” She said, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning.” The next day she and her husband drove me to this castle, which is an 11th-century -- some say 10th -- castle, where characters in Dante actually were involved. Of course they’d redone it. It was a medieval walled town -- I don’t know what the population was, but maybe 70. Now they use it for car salesmen and other such meetings. The owners love us, the Dante group. It is six days of extraordinary stuff -- fellowship, everything.
SWIFT: It sounds wonderful.
HOLLANDER: It’s better than wonderful.