The Italian American Archive Project
Conceived and Directed by
Peter Carravetta, Stony Brook University
Of all the American cultures, the Italian Americans are the ones who have the least amount of representative texts and materials from their rich history to represent them. Most other groups, from the African Americans to the Jews, from the Native-Americans to the Latinos and the Asians, have over the years gathered all sorts of materials that document their multifarious experience in the American epic. Each of the above groups have encyclopedias and historical resource materials in sets of four, or six, or even twenty volumes. A corresponding number is available online. This is noble on their part, and inspiring. Yet we have no equivalent documentation to protect and project our social and historical memory.
Considering that the Italian migration to the United States represents the greatest peacetime exodus in modern History – 5 million in 33 years, about 20 million over a century, – and that through second, third and fourth generation Americans of Italian descent are now (depending on definitions & statistics) the third or fourth largest ethnic group in America, it is surprising that no major reference work on their social and cultural history is yet available.
Series Director Prof. Peter Carravetta, the Alfonse M. D’Amato Chair of Italian and Italian American Studies at Stony Brook University, believes it is high time to fill this huge inexplicable lacuna in our cultural memory by creating a multi-volume Italian American Heritage Library or, even more succinctly, The Italian American Archive.
I have recently been nominated Alfonse M. D’Amato Professor in Italian and Italian American Studies here at Stony Brook University. I would like to fill a huge lacuna in the documents and scholarship available in the field by creating a multi-volume Italian American Archive, a sort of philologically accurate Documentary History with critical introductions and commentary where appropriate. At least one volume would be of materials translated and edited from Italian. As anyone who has taught any aspect of the Italian American experience, and in particular the manifold realities of the Great Migration, knows only too well, this reference work is sorely needed. I need not tell you that hundreds upon hundreds of primary sources and some key secondary materials lie forgotten, unedited, unavailable for classroom use or public circulation, and in some cases are totally uncatalogued in little-known or hard to reach libraries. The initiative will consist in both, a series of perfect-bound volumes impeccably edited under the supervision of established historians, critics and philologists in the specific area, often working as a collective, and easily accessible and inexpensive shorter paperbacks for classroom use. In addition, the material will be made available on a web platform provided by a major university press.
The Series Director is already at work to constitute such an Editorial Board of Consultants. These volumes will not be written by experts about Italian Americans, rather, they will be made up of what we call primary sources, direct expressions and testimonials of the players and of the people about and around them in time and context. The editor(s) of each volume will assure document integrity, supply needed footnotes where required, or supervise the selections according to exacting philological and historiographical principles.
In order to get this project off the ground, the Director presented an early draft of this proposal at the UNICO National Convention in San Francisco in 2010. It was subsequently introduced and discussed among experts at the the D’Amato Conference on Creating Italian American History, held at Stony Brook, Manhattan campus, on October 29, 2010. He is also planning a new Summer Seminar to be held at Stony Brook University, that would bring together a number of historians, sociologists, editors, publishers and doctoral students to fine tune the project, establish a timetable, and assign specific research tasks.
From these early steps, it became evident that we will need some seed money for an established publisher to make a commitment to what amounts to a five to seven year undertaking at least, and to create an academic opportunity for younger scholars to work on the project.
The Research and Scholarship Fund
In order to get the Archive off the ground, besides the Board of professional scholars, I have also created a dedicated fund with the Stony Brook Foundation, called the Italian American Archive Research & Translation Fund (IAART Fund), with the purpose of raising necessary revenues to get the Archive going. The fund is a Tax-exempt Organization (NYS Tax-Exemption certificate 131988). With the concurrent in-progress creation of a Doctoral Program in European Studies at Stony Brook University, within which translation studies will represent a key area of research, we hope someday soon to be able to offer fellowships to researchers who would come to study at Stony Brook and do some of the necessary spade work to exhume thousands of documents for this Archive.
In view of this, we also plan to hold Fund Raising events from time to time to bolster and speed up the project. Many in our community have decried the rather uninspiring track-record of major sponsorships by Italian Americans to promote their own culture. UNICO, OSIA, and others have already done so much – in the case of UNICO that includes the partial sponsorship of the D’Amato Chair – but we need individuals to step up to the plate and consider the Archive a necessary project, and this usually takes the form of contributors who may want to honor their family or their forebears or their town or region with a substantial grant, enough to sponsor fellowships, travel to archives, translations when materials were written originally in Italian, and editing and publishing. Serious candidates should contact me – Peter.Carravetta@stonybrook.edu — so I can direct them to the proper official of the Stony Brook Foundation to work out the terms and conditions. Smaller or anonymous contributions can be made directly by printing the attached card and following instructions.
- If anyone, or their association, wishes to contribute to the Italian American Archive Project, they may do so here: Archive Project Contribution Form
Sample Projected Volumes (subject to modification once the Board meets) would have titles which reflect the field, or the source, of the materials which would go into such an important undertaking. Again, this is orientative at best. In view of the potential editors and sponsors involved, the actual electronic platform may be structured differently.
1. The Archivio of the Commissariato Generale dell’Emigrazione, instituted in 1901, published the Bollettino dell’Emigrazione from 1902 to 1927. Selections from a substantial number of reports, statistics and first-personal narratives to be made available, in translation, in at least two volumes.
2. Scalabrini Fathers in North America have done an inestimable amount of work in helping immigrants in the early part of the XX Century. They have worked in just about every state of the Union where Italians landed; Their records – amounting to nearly 100 feet of shelf space – are located at the Center for Migration Studies, in Staten Island, NY.
3. An edition of photographs culled from the Italian-American Reference Photographs 1870-1970: and the Photographic Archives Collection (1850’s-1980), both located at the Center for Migration Studies, NY, as well as the Library of Congress and other private collections.
4. There are a number of Italian American authors – educators, writers and musicians — who never really “made it” for a variety of reasons during the past century. But whose heritage we should know, as they represented us, our forefathers, where we come from.
6. At least two volumes can be produced in collaboration with the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC), at the University of Minnesota. In particular, selections from their extensive Periodicals Collection, fully annotated and indexed.
7. Italian Americans in American Politics. Not necessarily hagiographic, but also critical, with materials from the period, letters, newspapers articles and legislations they championed. From Joseph Mazzei to Fiorello La Guardia, from Sacco and Vanzetti to House Representative Marcantonio, from Senator Al D’Amato to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
9. What They Found. A large collection of articles, policy statements, opinion pieces and other documents concerning Italians as they were landing in North America, from the period immediately after the Civil War to the beginning of World War One. But also how they were represented once they were assimilated and became, over time, true Americans.
10. The multiple identities of Italian Americans. 1945-1970. A final volume that extends to the waning of the Italian immigration and the onset of Italian tourism, business ventures, and bilateral relations between the United States and Italy as the latter becomes a European economic superpower.
It should be understood that there already exist scholarly books on the above topics. Indeed the list can be very long, but these are specialized studies. This is not the issue. The Archive should be seen as a documentary social history not merely for Italian Americans, but most especially for non-Italians and non-Italian Americans, that is, for journalists, cable networks, opinion makes, politicians and administrators from all sectors of society who may want, and need, at a moment’s notice, some factual information, some real witnesses, some unquestioned sources for the incredibly rich and complex collective memory of Italians…so they would no longer be justified in entering the public arena with ready-made, reductive, misinformed and generally prejudiced views and opinions about Italian Americans.
Alfonse M. D’Amato Professor
(2008, 2010, rev. 2012)