The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia
History, Culture, People, and Ideas
Edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode
Temple University Press, 424 pp., hardcover $50

This recent volume is comprehensive and interdisciplinary, featuring essays from a variety of contributors. It is organized into four sections that focus on important periods of Philadelphia’s history.

Section one explores the colonial period and the American journey toward independence. Readers learn of the role Philadelphia played in importing, embracing and transmitting Italian ideas (topics include Palladian architecture, Cesare Beccaria’s legal theories, and the Founding Fathers’ interest in Italian thought).

Section two considers the 19th and 20th centuries, industrialization, and the European “Grand Tour.” It shows how travel and contacts with Italy influenced the city’s intellectual, aesthetic and artistic identity (topics include scholarly enterprises, museums and exhibitions, singers, composers, and the Curtis Institute of Music).

Section three focuses on immigration, the building of communities, and the Italian American experience. Essays discuss how immigrants assimilated into their new city through institutions, positions of leadership, and creative endeavors (topics include South Philly, the Italian Market, artists, musicians and other prominent Philadelphians).

Section four is dedicated to contemporary Philadelphia and the impact of deindustrialization and globalization. It explores urban planning, the Italian legacy at local universities (Temple, St. Joseph’s, Drexel and Penn), the sociocultural role of Italian cuisines, architectural vestiges (such as Philly’s “Bridge of Sighs”), and initiatives for strengthening the relationship between Philadelphia and Italy (like Ciao Philadelphia).

Editors Canepari and Goode explain that their book considers “the flow of ideas, people, objects, and cultural practices between Italy and the United States” and aims “to highlight gems heretofore overlooked.” The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia succeeds in this endeavor and is a rewarding read and trove of information. It brings into clearer focus the breadth and complexity of Italian cultural heritage in the United States through the unique experience of Philadelphia and its residents. With its well-structured format, pleasant-to-read essays, and wealth of images (211 color photos, 29 halftones), this book is of equal value and interest to scholars, students and lovers of all things Italian.

Giuseppe Bruno-Chomin
University of Pennsylvania