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All cultures and generations benefit from Italian contributions


By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo

This month our front-page story is about the numerous UNESCO sites about which Italy can so proudly boost. As we go through many changes being brought about as the world and this nation face the challenge of a devastating pandemic and social change, I thought perhaps to focus on the many outstanding historical Italian figures often overlooked in many history books published outside of Italy and their achievements and contributions to western world culture.

While I am not Italian by origin, I am Italian by citizenship and proud that I raised my children to honor their Italian ancestry and heritage. I have been lovingly “adopted” as an Italian by the people I lived and worked with in Italy and most welcomed by the Italian community here in the Delaware Valley.

I taught Italian for many years and was very involved in Italian-American community events and as such I learned and shared a great deal about Italian culture and history. However, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to live and work in Italy for many years that I fully recognized the great achievements of Italians and later their descendants
who spread out across the world. The great contributions of Italian inventors, architects and artists have given Italy the honor of having the highest number of cultural sites in the world as recognized by UNESCO. Every village can proudly claim the accomplishments of an honored son or daughter and will boast a treasured architectural gem, art and sculpture and unique traditions that have been passed down for generations.

Each city is a trove of history where around every corner and right under your feet the buildings, fountains and statues tell a story of highly intelligent and creative people who gave to Italy, and later the world, the beauty and the benefit of art, science, literature and knowledge which greatly improved not only their lives but the lives of those who would later migrate to Italy and across the globe.

Alessandro Volta: A pioneer in the study of electricity and inventor of
the first battery.

Salvino D’Amato: Inventor of the first wearable eyeglasses.

Santorio Santorio: A Venetian who invented the first recorded thermometer.

Vincent R. Ciccone: Inventor of the cough drop.

Charles Joseph Bonaparte: Founder of the FBI and credited with building the U.S. Navy into one of the strongest in the world.

Enrico Fermi: Enrico Fermi was a physicist and the creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor.

Who can deny the splendor of the works of Michelangelo, Rafaela, Titian, Caravaggio and numerous other artists? Who cannot marvel at the intricacies of massive statues carved from a single block of marble which show the flowing folds of a Roman woman’s gown or the curls on her head? Who would not delight at a fanciful fountain that one comes upon suddenly upon turning a corner? The plots and intrigues which coursed across the centuries as many tribes fought for control of the rich lands of Italy and the Roman Empire certainly did not stop the spirit of the Italian people as they created inventions which would benefit all mankind; art and music that would awe and soothe the souls of all who experienced them and structures which still stand as a testament to their ingenuity.

Whether you are of Italian descent or just interested in Italy’s history and culture, I urge you to take a moment to reflect on this heritage. Over the years I have heard Italian Americans express regret that their parents and grandparents discouraged them from learning Italian and showing Italian pride. Today there are now even 3rd and 4th generation Italian-Americans who want to reverse that trend by learning Italian and reconnecting to their ancestral heritage. I urge all of our readers to encourage this new generation to continue this trend and hope that Italian culture will be preserved in this country for all future generations to enjoy and be proud of.

Find an extensive list at niaf.org/research/contribution.asp.


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