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Italy’s Years of Lead

Italy’s Years of Lead

"If you look at events in Italy from the late 1960s to the late 1980s without any context, it would seem that at some point Italians divided themselves between communists and neo-fascists, and started killing each other. But that's not what it was." Vincenzo Bisignano was an 18-year-old union activist during Italy’s Years of Lead. The controversial decades were characterized…

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A Rusting Freighter Spurred World Attention to a Refugee Crisis

A Rusting Freighter Spurred World Attention to a Refugee Crisis

When Saigon was overrun by Communist forces on April 30, 1975, thousands of Vietnamese began a rush for freedom. One of them was Luu Dat Phuoc, a successful businessman whose assets had been confiscated by the Communist government. Luu’s businesses were in Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Minh City after Vietnam fell to Communist forces, and included an import-export business and…

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Blurred Nationalities across the North Atlantic

Blurred Nationalities across the North Atlantic

Long before the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of people were constantly moving between the United States and British North America, and Leghorn, Genoa, Naples, Rome, Sicily, Piedmont, Lombardy, Venice and Trieste. Predominantly traders, sailors, transient workers, Catholic priests and seminarians, this group relied on the exchange of goods across the Atlantic to solidify transatlantic relations; during this period, stories about the New…

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The Gentrification of Griffintown

The Gentrification of Griffintown

Dedicated to my grandmother Maria Luisa Agostino, my great-aunt Carmela and my father-in-law Domenico Adornato who, like thousands of other Calabrese immigrants, cultivated their roots in Griffintown – “u villaggiu” – for over 50 years. Griffintown lies by the Lachine Canal just south of Montreal’s downtown. Neglected for decades after the closing of the Canal in 1970, the area is…

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Special Agent 203: The Motivations of Augusto Bersani

Special Agent 203: The Motivations of Augusto Bersani

Bersani had begun to work as an RCMP informant in 1937 while he was still minister at the Italian Church of the Redeemer. For Vincenzo Monaco, Monday, 10 June 1940, began as another typically long day of bread deliveries for Corona Bakery – a business he and his brother Donato had started in the early 1930s. He loaded his horse-drawn…

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Enrico Tonti: The Most Powerful Man in America

It is widely accepted that the Italian contribution to the exploration of the New World ceased after a brief period of great discoveries. Cristoforo Colombo discovered America in 1492, and Giovanni Caboto landed in Newfoundland in 1497. Amerigo Vespucci explored the east coast of South America: his map was the first to recognize that the lands that the Europeans had…

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The Quadriga – War Booty in Venice’s Piazza San Marco

The Quadriga – War Booty in Venice’s Piazza San Marco

Objects plundered by conquering armies go by many names: war trophies, spoils of war, war booty, and, in art historical discourse, spolia. Walking through any Italian city with an eye to the history of public statuary, we can discover the often dramatic lives of what are now meeting spots for an evening passeggiata. As we linger, waiting for our companion,…

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Giovanni da Verrazzano – Explorer of Canada

Giovanni da Verrazzano – Explorer of Canada

Giovanni da Verrazzano’s name belongs on the same marquee as the great navigators Cristoforo Colombo, Giovanni Caboto and Amerigo Vespucci. Da Verrazzano – explorer, navigator, ethnographer, and merchant adventurer – was the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America between South Carolina and Nova Scotia. He travelled with his brother, cartographer Gerolamo, and together they were the…

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From Russia Without Love: Letters from the Russian Front – 1942 (Part 1)

On the Luganskaya Front An endless column ahead of me is standing still on the frozen trail to Lugansk. It is a column only in a manner of speaking. It would be better to call it an infinitum of wrecks lined up one behind the other. Wrecks… Everything is decrepit, worn out, perforated, consumed, and dented - a perfect match…

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Antonio Meucci’s “Teletrofono”: The True Story Behind the Invention of the Telephone

Antonio Meucci’s “Teletrofono”: The True Story Behind the Invention of the Telephone

When, around the spring of 1989, I was told by a journalist that that year was the 100th anniversary of Antonio Meucci's death (which occurred in Staten Island, New York, on October 19, 1889), I inquired among the more important Italian telecommunications organizations - manufacturers, service providers, universities and professional societies - to ascertain whether they had in mind to…

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