Nancy Bisaha Professor of History and Director of Medieval & Renaissance Studies
Nancy Bisaha was born and raised in central New Jersey. She received her BA from Rutgers College in 1990 and her PhD from Cornell University in 1997, where she worked under the direction of John Najemy. In 2004 Bisaha published Creating East and West: Renaissance Humanists and the Ottoman Turks (UPenn Press), which examines the ways in which humanists created an intellectual discourse depicting the Ottoman Turks as a cultural and religious other. She recently published a translation of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini’s De Europa in collaboration with Robert Brown. Bisaha is currently working on an intellectual biography of Pope Pius II and an article exploring the early roots of human rights theory.
In addition to teaching survey courses on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Bisaha teaches such courses as “The Dark Ages c. 400-900,” “The Crusades,” and “Constantinople/ Istanbul: 1453.” Bisaha is currently Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program.
- BA, Rutgers University; PhD, Cornell University
- At Vassar since 1998
Research and Academic Interests
- CLCS/GRST/MRST 101. Civilization in Question
- HIST/MRST 117. High Middle Ages, 950-1300
- Europe, c. 1400-1458, a translation of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini’s De Europa (1458), translated by Robert Brown, introduced and annotated by Nancy Bisaha (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2013)
- Creating East and West: Renaissance Humanists and the Ottoman Turks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)
- Released in paperback in 2006. Turkish translation: Doğu ile Batı’nın Yaratılışı, tr. Melek Dosay Gökdoğan (Ankara: Dost Kitabevi, 2012)
- “The Medieval University as Refuge,” EuropeNow Issue 30 (October 2019)
- “Reactions to the Fall of Constantinople and the Concept of Human Rights,” in Reconfiguring the Fifteenth-century Crusade, ed. Norman Housley (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)
- “European Reactions to the Fall of Constantinople,” in The Routledge Handbook of Christian-Muslim Relations, ed. David Thomas (Routledge Press, 2017)
- “European Cross-Cultural Contexts Before Copernicus,” in Before Copernicus: The Cultures and Contexts of Scientific Learning in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Jamil Ragep and Rivka Feldhay (McGill Press, 2017)
- “Inventing Europe” with Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini,” in Images of Otherness in Medieval and Early Modern Times: Exclusion, Inclusion, and Assimilation, edited by Anja Eisenbeiss and Lieselotte Saurma-Jeltsch (Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2012)
- “Discourses of Power and Desire”: The Letters of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (1453), in Florence and Beyond, a festschrift honoring John Najemy, eds. David Peterson and Daniel Bornstein (University of Toronto Press, 2008)
- “Pope Pius II and the Crusade,” in Crusading in the Fifteenth Century: Message and Impact, ed. Norman Housley (Palgrave, 2004)
- “Pius II’s Letter to Sultan Mehmed II: A Reexamination,” Crusades 1 (2002)
- “Petrarch’s Vision of the Muslim and Byzantine East,” Speculum 76 no. 2 (April 2001)
- “The Early Ottoman Empire,” in Medieval Trade, Travel, and Exploration: An Encyclopedia, ed. John B. Friedman (Garland Press, 2000)
- “New Barbarian or Worthy Adversary? Humanist Constructs of the Ottoman Turks in Fifteenth-Century Italy,” in Western Views of Islam in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Perceptions of the Other, eds. Michael Frassetto and David Blanks (St. Martin’s Press, 1999)
- Bisaha has published reviews with CHOICE, the American Historical Review, Speculum, and the Crusades. She has served as an internal reviewer for several journals and presses.
In the Media
Vassar Has Some New Medieval Treasures
Vassar alumna Diana Pearson ’78 has donated more than 80 manuscripts and other material from her late husband’s rare book and manuscript collection to Special Collections at Thompson Library. Some students in a medieval history class spent an hour viewing one of the manuscripts, and more students and scholars will benefit from the generous donation in the future.
Why history says Notre Dame will rise again
Nancy Bisaha was quoted in a National Geographic story about the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Students in a Medieval and Renaissance Studies Class spent a morning hurling balls of clay at a kiddie pool, learning the workings of a medieval weapon, a trebuchet.
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