Pasquale Toscano named a Jacobus Fellow

Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Feb. 22, 2024

José de Jesús Montaño López, Geneva Smith, Pasquale Toscano and Ryan Unger have been named winners of the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship, Princeton University’s top honor for graduate students.

The Jacobus Fellows will be honored at Alumni Day ceremonies Saturday, Feb. 24.

The fellowships support the students’ final year of study at Princeton and are awarded to one Ph.D. student in each of the four divisions — humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering — whose work has exhibited the highest scholarly excellence. All four fellows plan to pursue academic careers.

Pasquale Toscano

Pasquale Toscano

Toscano, a fifth-year doctoral student in English who came to Princeton in 2017, earned his bachelor’s degree in English and classics from Washington and Lee University in 2016. He also earned two master’s degrees from the University of Oxford, one in English in 2018 and the second in classics in 2019.

His dissertation, “Stand and Wait: Dynamics of Dis/ability in the Greco-Roman Epic Tradition,” reevaluates six writers from different times and cultures — Ovid, Aelius Aristides, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley Peters — each of whom, Toscano argues, attempted to renovate the epic tradition by finding new ways to represent impairment.

Toscano has written on disability both for other academics and for public audiences, appearing in The New York Times, Vox and The Atlantic as well as Disability Studies Quarterly and the Classical Receptions Journal, among others.

“It’s imperative to be concerned about disability for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s the most fluid identity category of them all,” Toscano said. “Anyone, at any time, can become disabled walking out of the house and getting hit by a truck, as I did. …. On the intellectual side of things, disability is everywhere,” he continued. “This is one of the oldest categories of difference that literary authors are dealing with. Starting with Homer, “Gilgamesh” — to get a handle on any of these poems, we have to understand how they’re using and why they’re using disability.”

Toscano had four advisers: Jeff Dolven, professor of English; Brooke Holmes, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Classics and director, Gauss Seminars in Criticism; Rhodri Lewis, a senior research scholar and lecturer with the rank of professor in English; and Nigel Smith, the William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature.

“Pascal’s dissertation is about the epic tradition, about the poems that follow on Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” cascade through Virgil’s “Aeneid,” towards a whole list of later poems that celebrate the strength and ability of heroic warriors and their contributions to a national culture,” said Dolven. “It is a kind of poetry that has been important to nation-building and national imagination since it was first written. And Pasquale’s interest is in who’s left out of that heroic narrative, or what stories might these poems be telling about bodies that are less able than Achilles’s body?”

Holmes highlighted Toscano’s “singularly impressive portfolio of publications — seven (!) in press or already published — in addition to numerous conference presentations, and across a range of fields. It would hard to find a more accomplished graduate student in the humanities at this point in their career. Pasquale’s record is breathtaking.”

During his time at Princeton, Toscano has mentored students in several capacities, including advising as a resident graduate student at Whitman College and organizing a postgraduate professionalization event series. He has also co-designed and co-taught a course through the Collaborative Teaching Initiative, “Bodies & Belonging in Milton’s Epic Tradition”; taught incarcerated students through Princeton’s Prison Teaching Initiative; and served as the Graduate Action Committee academic chair and Working Group for Graduate Issues chair.

Among his many awards, Toscano received Princeton’s 2019 Centennial Fellowship and the 2022 Harold Grim Prize, the latter awarded annually by the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference for the best article on the Reformation published in 2021. After completing his Ph.D., Toscano will join Vassar College as an assistant professor in the English department.

Read about all four winners in the full University homepage article: