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‘Italian Legacy in Philadelphia’ an impressive compendium


By Al Kemp, Managing editor

When Andrea Canepari was a student at University of Pennsylvania Law School studying for his Master of Laws degree, and later representing Italy as the Italian consul general from 2013 to 2017, he found himself a keen observer of the rich culture surrounding him.

One social constant he observed was that while the Italian influence in Philadelphia was impossible to ignore – indeed, Italian culture and heritage seemed woven into the city’s DNA – there seemed to be no clear roadmap linking the past and present.

Canepari has now tried to fill in what was missing with an impressive coffee-table book, “The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia.”

Co-edited by Canepari and Judith Goode, professor emerita of Anthropology and Urban Studies at Temple University, the book is a collection of 31 interdisciplinary essays examining the Italian influence as far back as America’s Colonial era, lavishly illustrated with more than 200 photographs.

Canepari and Goode divide the essays into four sections: Independence and Early Republic; The Expanding Industrial Metro-polis; Made in America; and Contemporary Philadelphia.

Jennifer Thompson’s essay, “A Dazzling Array,” looks at Italian art and the Philadel-phia Museum of Art. Jeffrey Cohen’s “Making Place” examines building patterns in South Philadelphia. Dr. Fred Simeone contributes an essay on the Simeone Foundation Auto-motive Museum. Inga Saffron contributes “Recalling Italy in Bricks and Mortar.”

Sidebar articles are sprinkled throughout the 400-page volume, examining topics ranging from the Italian Americans of south-ern New Jersey to filmdom’s Rocky Balboa.

When Canepari represented Italy as the Italian consul general, he spearheaded an Italian cultural month, Ciao Philadelphia, in partnership with area civic, academic, cultural and business leaders. Ciao Philadelphia grew into a series of more than 700 events at its peak, highlighting the area’s cosmopolitan and sophisticated character while also recognizing the vital contributions of its Italian and Italian-American community.

In a foreword to the book, former diplomat and state treasurer of Pennsylvania Joseph M. Torsella describes it as “a continuation of [Canepari’s] diplomacy.”

“It unearths and highlights centuries of connections – in the arts, commerce, science, the built environment, politics, and so on,” he writes. “Though some are well known, many are surprising, and collectively they are staggering in their breadth and impact.”

Under the stewardship of Canepari and Goode, this impressive volume is an epic undertaking that is not content to merely examine the history of the Italian legacy in Philadelphia.
Much more than that, taken as a collective, the essays answer a higher calling, chronic-ling the everyday practices and traditions of earlier generations that have become integral parts of American culture, a legacy that thrives today in Philadelphia and beyond.

“The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia” is published by Temple University Press and available at select booksellers and amazon.com.

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