Linda Barrett Osborne and Paolo Battaglia. Explorers Emigrants Citizens: A Visual History of the Italian American Experience from the Collections of the Library of Congress

By Perrone, Lisa Ferrante | Italica, Autumn 2014 | Go to article overview

Linda Barrett Osborne and Paolo Battaglia. Explorers Emigrants Citizens: A Visual History of the Italian American Experience from the Collections of the Library of Congress


Perrone, Lisa Ferrante, Italica


Linda Barrett Osborne and Paolo Battaglia. Explorers Emigrants Citizens: A Visual History of the Italian American Experience from the Collections of the Library of Congress. Foreword by Martin Scorsese. Introduction by Antonio Canovi and Mario Mignone. Modena: The Library of Congress and Anniversary Books, 2013.

Explorers Emigrants Citizens offers a fresh perspective on Italian American history from Columbus to today, and is a welcome addition to the many books already published on this topic. As the subtitle proclaims, this volume presents a "visual history of the Italian American experience," curated from the collections of the Library of Congress, including 500 images related to the rich history of Italian Americans, some of which have never been seen before. I am, like some 17 million Americans today, the product of Italian immigration to the United States. Going through this book is like finding a treasure trove of previously undiscovered family photos and documents, accompanied by text that offers a detailed history of one's own family story as reflected in the lives of others. The authors have managed to accomplish a seemingly insurmountable task: honing in on what it means to be 100% Italian, and at the same time 100% American. With text written by Linda Barrett Osborne and Paolo Battaglia, and each chapter introduced by essays by scholars Antonio Canovi and Mario B. Mignone (and a heartfelt foreword by Martin Scorsese), Explorers Emigrants Citizens spans the story of five centuries of Italians who have become American, yet who still honor, celebrate, and cherish their roots. Accessible to all readers, Explorers Emigrants Citizens is a fitting volume to emerge from the vast collections of the Library of Congress, a "national library, made by the people and for the people, and open to the people," in 2013, the year of Italian Culture in the United States (p. 7).

As the title suggests, the volume is divided into three sections. "Explorers" traces the birth of America to Columbus and his peers, examining the history of trade and exploration in 151h-century Europe. Older documents in the "Explorers" section include copies of letters written by Columbus to the Spanish court, a rare and beautifully detailed 1507 world map based on the theories of Ptolemy and the accounts of Columbus's and Vespucci's voyages, early portraits of Native Americans by Neapolitan Carlo Gentile, and a very early daguerreotype of Giuseppe Garibaldi taken by the photography studio of Matthew Brady when Garibaldi lived in the United States in the early 1850s. Mignone's introduction to this section reminds us that there was indeed an Italian presence in the United States in the centuries prior to the start of the great wave of immigration, a time period often forgotten in Italian American history. As a result of the "reputation for extraordinary creativity and imagination" enjoyed by Italians until the end of the 19th century, many aspects of American culture in that age of economic boom were influenced by Italian artists, musicians, and thinkers (p. 29). One of the first Italian language programs in the United States was established by Carlo Bellini at the College of William and Mary (of which I am a proud graduate), in the 1770s. "Explorers" includes portraits of Italian actors, singers, and artists living in the United States in the early to mid-19th century, a copy of a letter written by Mozart's librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (who later established the New York Opera Company, the forerunner of the Metropolitan Opera), and the story of Costantino Brumidi, the Roman touted as the "Michelangelo of Washington," fresco artist for the U.S. Capitol and Senate in the 1850s. Fittingly, "Explorers" spotlights the construction of the Library of Congress, a building "heavily influenced by Italian Renaissance architecture," fabricated by craftsmen who included Italian marble carvers and builders (p. 61). Concluding the first section of the book is a chapter which parallels the 1861 breakout of the Civil War in the U. …

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