Allegra di Bonaventura (PhD 2008, History; JD 2002) has joined the staff of the Graduate School as assistant dean, working with Pamela Schirmeister and Edward Barnaby. Together they provide guidance and support to students in the humanities and social sciences.
di Bonaventura’s portfolio includes running the Dean’s Fund, which gives financial support to student-organized research workshops, seminars, and colloquia. She is also responsible for non-degree students, student leaves, fellowship programs, and joint degrees with the law school.
di Bonaventura continues to work half time as an assistant editor of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin, where she focuses on Franklin's Italian and law-related correspondence.
In My Master’s House: The Untold Story of Family and Slavery in Early New England, based on her dissertation research, is scheduled for publication in January 2013 by W.W. Norton & Company. The book explores family life in early New England and exposes the surprisingly deep legal, religious, and familial interconnections among New Englanders of every origin and social caste.
An inquisitive mind, lively sense of adventure, and extraordinary ability to multi-task have led di Bonaventura’s educational and career paths in fascinating and unexpected directions. She holds two Master of Arts degrees, a business diploma, and both a JD and PhD from Yale. She has lived in Germany, France, England and Italy, where she was a Fulbright Fellow, as well as traveled widely in Latin America and Asia.
After graduating from Middlebury College with a joint major in German and history and a minor in French, di Bonaventura won a fellowship to study German literature at the University of Mainz, where she earned a Master of Arts degree. From there, she went to the UK to pursue a diploma in Business Studies from the London School of Economics. That led to three years on Wall Street performing investment research and portfolio management for an investment counsel firm. The next year she fulfilled a life-long dream traveling the Andean spine of the South American continent.
In the early1990s, she came to Yale to get a PhD. After completing her MA and MPhil and having two children, she embarked on her dissertation research: a study of family and domestic life in early America. John Demos served as her adviser, and former GSAS Dean Jon Butler was a member of her dissertation committee. The diary of Joshua Hempstead (1678-1758) was at the core of her studies. Hempstead was a Connecticut shipwright and farmer who left a forty-seven-year diary documenting his daily life, work, family, and community. His house is now a museum in New London.
“I had originally intended to do a focused case study of early American men’s domestic lives based on Hempstead and his diary, with a particular interest in relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants. Over the course of my research, however, I learned that Joshua held a slave, Adam Jackson (1700-1764), for more than thirty years. The two men lived and worked together in very close quarters that entire period. My topic eventually shifted to encompass the domestic and family lives of both Hempstead and Jackson.”
In part because Hempstead was a Justice of the Peace and a legal practitioner, di Bonaventura sifted through 100 years of New London county court records and, she reports, she “became increasingly frustrated with my inability to understand legal procedure and nuance. I decided to pursue a long-held desire to get a legal education. I applied only to Yale Law School and decided to go in the midst of my PhD, hoping to develop an understanding of legal procedure and history.”
She graduated Yale Law School in 2002 with a JD and won a Golieb Legal History Fellowship from NYU Law School, where she spent a year resuming her research while studying for the Connecticut Bar exam. She then practiced law for a year as an associate at Wiggin & Dana in New Haven, specializing in trusts and estates and nonprofit law. For the next two years she was an Olin Fellow in Law and Economics at Yale Law School. She completed her PhD in 2008 with a dissertation titled “This Little World: Family & Slavery in Old New England, 1678-1764.” At Commencement, she won the William Egleston Prize for the best dissertation in American history, and Norton bought the rights for publication as a trade book.
While turning her dissertation into a book, she expanded the topic again.
“Through my research I was able to learn a considerable amount about the families of both Jackson and Hempstead and was able to extend the story to include the first three American generations for each of them The book shows that the familiar archetype of the New England family was also no stranger to 'dysfunction.' It is filled with strange domestic goings-on, like bestiality, adultery, murder, cross-dressing, abuse, divorce, and infanticide,” she says. “It is a lot of fun to write.”
After completing her PhD, di Bonaventura was a Mellon Special Collections Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at Sterling Memorial Library. The following year, she joined the Ben Franklin project, and this January, she took on a new position at the Graduate School.
“It is great to be back at the Graduate School, working with students and faculty and giving back to an institution that has given me so much,” she says.