Monday, October 29, 2012

At OSU: About the Jewish Future in America, Voting, and Engagement


Problems, Possibilities, and Projections 
Sunday, Oct. 14 | 12 pm  
Columbus Jewish Community Center | 1125 College Avenue 

What does the future hold for American Jewry? Are we doomed to falling numbers and lower commitments? Or is there hope for growth and vitality? What will happen to our philanthropic commitments and relationship with Israel? How will synagogues, federations and JCCs fare? What about intermarriage? If there is anyone who can answer these questions it is Professors Steven Cohen and Ira Sheskin, two of our country's top Jewish demographers, who have their finger of the pulse of the American Jewish present and future.


Sunday, Oct. 14, 7 pm  
Ohio State's Fawcett Center | 2400 Olentangy River Road

Ohio is a critical state again in the 2012 elections. Jews are important in the Ohio vote and in many other states. What issues are most important to Jewish voters?  
Have their priorities changed? Which way have Jewish voters gone historically?  
Are there regional differences in the Jewish vote? Learn the answers to these questions and much more from some of the country's top experts on Jews and voting.

Professors Steven Cohen and Ira Sheskin   
                  Ohio State Emeritus Professors Herb Asher and Herb Weisberg
                  Joyce Garver Keller, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities    

Variations in Jewish Engagement 

Monday, October 15, 12pm

OSU Hillel | 46 E. 16th Ave., 43210 

Includes a free lunch, rsvp required by Wednesday, October 10, call (614) 292-0967. 
Many young Jews have shifted their focus from people and organizations to purpose and principles. They resist what they see as coercive expectations and once widely accepted normative standards such as intermarriage and support of Israel as optional, tentative, and at best a means to expressing a higher Jewish purpose.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reflections on Sam Karres' Art - By Artemis Leontis

An Artist’s Sketchbooks
Reception to Honor Artist Sam Karres
and His Gift to Hatcher Graduate Library by Artemis Leontis

Sketchbooks are an artist’s laboratory, where the artist gathers his ingredients: his eyes’ and hands’ quick view of life as it unfolds.

This at least is true of the sketchbooks of Sam Karres, an artist of miraculous dexterity. Born in Wyandotte, Michigan in 1929, Karres completed a degree in Art at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in 1953, and worked as an illustrator for Ford Motor Co. from 1955 until his retirement in 1980. Whether a student, or fully employed, or a retiree with time to devote fully to his art, Karres was always sketching. The paint- ings he shows at Karres Gallery at the end of Sixth Street near the train tracks in Royal Oak draw their ideas from sketchbooks he began to fill from the time he was a young boy.

In a conversation with me this summer, the 83-year-old Karres talked about scenes that inspired him in Detroit over the course of a lifetime: the storefronts, music halls, cafe’s, restaurants, bars, public and private spots that lit up at night, became dreamlike in the day. A regular visitor to Greektown, always with sketchbook and pencil or pen and ink in hand, Karres made personal contact with its dramatis personae. Over the course of decades, the regulars in Greektown made cameo appearances in his notebooks, whether seated darkly in a corner with a demitasse of coffee or ecstatically dancing to the rhythms of a bouzouki band.

Sam Karres’s dialogue with Detroit was intense. Whenever he sat drawing, things began to happen, as if the city’s scenes in the second half of the twentieth century took shape for Karres’s art: “I can sit down on a bench anywhere and start sketching and nothing’s happening,” he said. “Suddenly, an airplane, a bird, a guy on a bike and before you know it you got a terrific composition.” His hand was both agile and incisive. According to Dan Georgakas, author of My Detroit, the artist’s work is “both a familial photo album offering images to refresh our memories and a personal diary that probes emotions those images sometimes belie. Motor City is privileged to have such an impassioned testament to draw on, and Greek America is fortunate to have a large place within that saga.”

This past year, Sam Karres donated thirty-seven sketchbooks to U-M Hatcher Graduate Library, with assistance from Dr. Denny Stavros, his lifelong friend and a steadfast supporter of Hatcher Library and the Modern Greek Program at U-M, who documented the gift. The sketchbooks date from 1975 to 1996, with a few drawings made during the first decade of the 21st century. They are mostly in pen and ink. They offer a witty, luminous point of entrance into Sam Karres’s art. The sketchbooks will henceforth be part of Hatcher Library’s collection of materials, supporting the study of both Greek America and Detroit.

A sample of Sam Karres’s sketchbooks will be on display this fall in the Audubon Room in the Library Gallery, Room 100, Hatcher Graduate Library 913 S. University Avenue. To bring attention to this wonderful acquisition, the Modern Greek Program invites colleagues, students, and friends to a public reception in the Audubon Room on October 24 from 4 to 6pm. The artist will be present. Come meet Sam Karres and thank him for his tremendous gift!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Greek-American Review online

Announcement by Prof. Alexander Kitroeff: Haverford College's Magill Library is in the process of providing on line access to the Greek-American Review, a New York City-based monthly magazine edited by Peter Makrias that appeared between 1991-2006. It was the continuation of the magazine Nea Yorki / New York. My thanks to Mr. Makrias for entrusting me with his personal collection of back issues and to Associate Librarian Norm Medeiros for making this project possible. The contents of six annual volumes are currently available in .pdf form at:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Symposium on Italian Americans, California Italians

Italian Americans, California Italians
October 22, 2012, 9:30 am, Royce 314
Imbedded in the very title of this conference is the assumption that there is something different, even singular or unique, in Italian migration in California compared with the rest of the United States and beyond. To say "California Italians" is to suggest that this place may be akin to another Italy. We therefore address this question head on, identifying the most important traits of this relationship, challenging the very assumption or elaborating it by reference to internal differentiations within Italian migration to California.
Thomas Harrison, Chair, Department of Italian, UCLA Giuseppe Perrone, Consul General of Italy
Geographies of Migration
Moderator:  Thomas Harrison, Department of Italian, UCLA Italians in 'Our Italy': Adaptation and Success on the California Frontier
Edward Tuttle Professor, Department of Italian, UCLA Chasing Ghosts: Los Angeles' (Hidden) Italian Roots

Marianna Gatto
Executive Director, Italian American Museum of Los Angeles 
Italian Los Angeles: Hidden and Emergent Cartographies

Luisa Del Giudice
Independent Scholar, Founder & Former Director of the Italian Oral History Institute
Constructing Ethnicity: Sicilian Women and the Fishing Community of Monterey

Carol Lynn McKibben
Lecturer, Coordinator Public History/Public Service, Stanford University
Lunch Break
Representations, Landscapes, and Theories
Moderator: John Agnew, Professor, Department of Geography, UCLA The Two Bandini Families of California: Examining Transnationalism in History and Fiction

JoAnne Ruvoli
Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Italian, UCLA 
Chi ha prato ha tutto: Environmental Factors which Contributed to the Shaping of the Italian American Settler in California

Gloria Ricci Lothrop
Professor of History Emerita, California State University, Northridge 
Italian American Identity in California: Landscape, History, and the California Italian American Novel

Kenneth Scambray
Professor of English, University of La Verne
Constructing an Italian-Californian Aesthetic

Laura E. Ruberto
Professor and co-chair, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, Berkeley City College
Coffee Break
3:45 pm
Cinematic Voyages in the Italian American Community
Moderator: Claudio Fogu, Associate Professor of Italian Studies, UCSB From Pane amaro to Italians in the Golden State

Gianfranco Norelli and Suma Kurien, Filmmakers Organized by: Claudio Fogu, Thomas Harrison, JoAnne Ruvoli and Massimo Sarti.
Sponsored by UCLA's Department of Italian, the Italian American Studies Association, Istituto Italiano di Cultura(IIC) in Los Angeles, Patrons of Italian Culture at IIC, the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships in the Humanities at UCLA, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles and the Italian Consulate General in Los Angeles.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What can Greek American Studies learn from Italian American Studies?

I first had a close look into Italian American studies in 2009, while working on an article about the ways in which diaspora has been discussed in Greek American studies (see, I was curious about the scope and range of this field, about the kinds of questions Italian Americanists were asking. What can Greek American studies learn through a dialogue with Italian American studies? The effort was tentative and I did not include my observations in the published paper due to space limitations. Since then my interest in Italian American studies has grown in the context of my wider research interest in European ethnicities. I will therefore make it a habit to start posting news and developments from that field. As a start, here is what I originally wrote in 2009:   

"I cannot resist the temptation here to report a number of achievements by Italian American studies. This is not for comparative purposes, as this field is attached to different demographics and histories of development, but to instigate thoughts for further research on Greek America. It is instructive, for example, to reflect on the topics covered in the 2005 conference “Speaking Memory: Oral History, Oral Culture, and Italians in America” (November 2-6, 2005). I reproduce the panels almost in their entirety because of their impressive range and scope:“Italians of Los Angeles,” “The Building of Urban Spaces and Neighborhoods,” “Creative Writers on Italian-American,” “Communication in Talk and Gesture,” “Re-Tracing Family Memories: Autobiography, Family Narrative, and Poetry,” “Italian American Writers of Southern California,” “Women: Omissions, Transmissions, Transformations,” “Festival, Ritual, Reclamation,” “Oral Expressions: Proverb, Folktale and Narrative, “Californians' Mediterranean Fascination,” “Authenticity and Storytelling,” “Narrating Musical Experience: Italian Traditional Musicians Speak,” “Community/Academic Bridges: Promise and Problems,” “Varieties of Religious Experience,” “Italian American Heritage: Preservation and Advocacy,” “Italian/American "Stories": Different Perspectives,” “Performing Style: Memory and Meaning in the Music of 20th-Century Italian Americans,” “Italians of California,” “Orality and Orature in Italian and Italian American Experiences,” “Museums and the Depiction of Italian American Identity,” “Food Preparation, Presentation, and Representation,” “Italians and Italian Americans: Perceptions and Misperceptions,” “Blending Genres: Methodological Explorations in Working with Memory,” “Italian Americana Presents Its Authors,” “Fascism: Propaganda and Responses outside Italy,” “Language and Cultural Identities,” “Italian/American Cinema: Formal Re-presentations,” “Italian American-ness in Literature: From Individual Authors to Anthologies,” “Generational and Cultural Crossing: From Oral History to Memoir,” Traditional Music and Dance in Contemporary Diasporas,” “Do the Films We Watch, Watch Us? Hollywood and Italian American Culture,” “What Is Italian American Poetry?,” “Italian American Identity between Construction and Negotiation,” “Branching out into the Community: Grass Roots and Genealogical Resources for Scholars of Italian America,” “Oral History Research: Methodologies and Applications,” “Stories from the Ancestors, Past and Present (Reading),” “The War Experience,” “Truth, Dare, Consequences, Promise or Repeat? (A Reading-Performance),” “Musical Crossings,” “Nurturing Italianità: Nourishing Italian American Identity,” “The Italian American Way of Death (Open Mike),” “Italians in Hollywood, Theatre and Radio,” “From Oral Sources to Written and Visual Resources,” “Our African Black Mother and a Just, Not Violent, World,” “Italian Translation of Work by Italian American Poets.” The impressive range and scope of the conference shockingly illuminates the unrealized potential of our field. For the full program see For yet another conference see, “‘Italians in the Americas’: An International Conference,” April 24-26, 2008 ("

The Diffusion and Cultural Power of Espresso

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Museum Collections in Greek America

For those Greek American cultural organizations envisioning to establishing ethnic museums yet lacking the necessary funds, a partnership with local institutions may provide an alternative strategy for heritage preservation (and enhanced cultural visibility). The following, a job opening for a curator for an Italian American collection, may provide a starting point for thinking about this route.

Curator, Italian American Collection at the Senator John Heinz History Center, Museum Division

The Curator of the Italian American Program's principal responsibilities are the documentation of the Italian American community in Western Pa. through artifact collections, archival collections, and oral histories, and the interpretation and presentation of the community's history through programs and publications, including articles, books, exhibits, lectures, events, web-site, computer interactives, and demonstrations. The Curator works with History Center staff and the Italian American Advisory Committee to develop a strategy for collecting and programming that supports and accommodates the overall strategies of the History Center. He/she implements that strategy by soliciting collections or responding to offers of donations. Also in keeping with the strategy, pursues oral histories, attends conferences related to Italian American and immigrant history, writes articles for publication, and organizes public programs and events.

Because the Curator's activities must dovetail with the goals and mission of the History Center, he/she must participate in department/division planning, project meetings, Museum Division projects where his/her expertise is needed, or in those projects which require the participation of all Museum Division staff, such as exhibit installations. This is a full-time position reporting to the Museum Division Director.

Requirements: Masters in history, museum studies, or cultural studies. A knowledge of material culture (how to look at and understand objects), historical interpretation, experience with oral histories and community work, object handling according to museum standards, and strong written and oral communication skills are required. Experience with digitization and using technology to share content preferred. A working knowledge of the Italian language is a plus.

Contact: We are an Equal Opportunity Employer. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or disability. Qualified applicants should submit a cover letter (including salary requirements) and resume to: Renee Falbo, Director of Human Resources, Senator John Heinz History Center 1212 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222


Monday, October 1, 2012

Review of "Italian Folk: Vernacular Culture in Italian-American Lives"

Joseph Sciorra, ed. Italian Folk: Vernacular Culture in Italian-American Lives

New York, Fordham University Press, 2011, pp. 288, $ 28

If immigration and ethnicity entail a process of becoming, the vernacular serves as a key resource in personal and cultural transformation. This volume powerfully brings this point home with insight and conviction. It does so in an interventionist spirit, entering a terrain where immigrant folkness has been historically reified along a rigid polarity either as an undesirable sign of vulgar backwardness, or as a sanitized marker of celebrationist pride. Italian Folk, edited by Joseph Sciorra, effectively moves beyond this duality to reclaim folk expressivity as an agent shaping meaningful lives, informing artistic communication, and offering means for coping with cultural dislocation. It underlines its role in contesting hegemony, but also notes its capacity in reproducing hierarchies.

It is only appropriate, therefore, that the editor’s introduction situates the vernacular as a contested expression, to subsequently advocate a particular scholarly location of exploring it: «listening with accent» (p. 7). This calls for a research practice that is attuned to the multiplicity of experiences associated with living between cultures. Heeding this invitation, a host of folklorists, ethnographers, art historians, historians, literary scholars, and ethnomusicologists set out to chart the importance of Italian-American expressive culture in a variety of contexts. This review discusses three prominent threads in the book, namely the significance of the vernacular in a) making Italian-American landscapes; b) in reclaiming, even inventing, family and ethnic inheritance; and c) in forging transnational links and ethnic genres. The creative appropriation of folk resources is a theme running throughout all three trends.

Landscapes and the built environment are sources of deep human attachment, yet the least transportable. Immigrants, it turns out, often creatively transform places in the host country to establish a sense of transnational continuity. Significantly, the vernacular arts have been vital in easing immigrant dislocation, as Kenneth Scambray shows in his discussion of two «ethnic» landscapes in California, Baldassare Forestiere’s Underground Gardens, and Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers. Folk art here provides the expressive means for immigrants to inscribe upon the landscape memories of a life abandoned yet not forgotten, mobilizing a poetics of built environment.

The residential landscapes of urban and suburban Italian-American yards in the New York Tri-state region provide yet another example of creative transformation of place shaped by folk knowledge. As Joseph Inguanti notes, «the aesthetics of labor, thrift, and abundance» shape the ways in which Italian Americans express religious affiliation and mobilize recollections of horticultural knowledge, including water and land use, to produce public «landscapes of memory» (p. 84) within open residential spaces. What is more, as Lara Pascali illustrates, the past enters into conversation with the present in the organization and usage of domestic space, this time in the interior architecture of the ubiquitous two kitchen homes of postwar immigrants in three cities, Toronto, Montreal, and New York City. If the upper floor of these dwellings represents «dream spaces» (p. 59) of formality and social distinction, the basement kitchen sustains vernacular activities associated with traditional food preparation, consumption, and sociability, while embracing the material comforts of American modernity in a hybrid combination of cultural influences.

It is not only artists and homeowners who ethnicize space. Ethnic collectives have also an interest in claiming a presence in places of national significance. Joan Saverino navigates the politics to assert an Italian presence during the interwar period in Reading, Pennsylvania, where the ethnic manipulation of national symbols, like the figure of Columbus, were instrumental in redefining national spaces into «ethnic sites of memory» (p. 153).

Inheritance, the claiming of deep connection with the past, centers ethnic identities. It establishes, oftentimes invents, family and cultural continuity to address contemporary concerns. Simone Cinotto, for instance, discusses the economic and social imperatives leading to a particular invention of the ethnic family in Italian Harlem (1920-1940), which, he argues, must be understood in the context of immigrant adaptation, including the socialization of the second generation into ethnicity. Reacting against the idea of naturalized familism in Italian culture, he points to the ideology of the ethnic family as a site of cohesive ties and mutual support, actualized around domestic food rituals in the context of a public sphere hostile to new immigrants’ foodways and values. The invented dimension of continuities is also the focus of Luisa Del Giudice’s contribution. In her deeply personal narrative, she delves into the legacy of female healers in her family to confront «broken lines of inheritance» (p. 194) across generations: through this «spiritual archeology» she identifies the self-healing power of folklore. 

The reclamation of inheritance, this time ancient folk-magic practices in the context of neo-paganism, is the focus of Sabina Magliocco’s piece, which connects Stregheria (Italian-American revival Witchcraft) with identity politics in the 1990s. Access to folk-magic among Italian Americans entails identification with «the forgotten and the oppressed» (p. 213) thus aligning ethnicity with the subaltern to rebuff accusations of white ethnic dominance.

The personal and the scholarly are entangled in this volume when researchers further incorporate their own family inheritance in their analysis. Thus Peter Savastano’s thick description of the ritual changing of St. Gerard’s clothes at St. Lucy’s in Newark, NJ, demonstrates the power of enactment in religious observances to reclaim heritage and for him personally «to arouse emotionally and physically what had been dormant» (p. 176) during the years of personal lack of involvement with the Catholic religion. Savastano renders visible the multiple perspectives circulating among the Saint’s devotees who often challenge the Church’s teachings, particularly those connected with alternative sexualities. Ritual spaces may function as sites of contesting hegemony. Similarly, John Allan Cicala’s insider status enables a nuanced exploration of his family’s relation with the traditional preparation and consumption of a ceremonial meal, Cuscuszu. Tradition here requires that family cohesion is maintained, albeit in a highly controlled setting to prevent the eruption of past conflicts. Certain aspects of the past are animated while others are suppressed, bringing to the fore the analytical importance of family biographies.

Ethnicity, of course, is never a self-sustained entity. It is produced through transnational connections, cross-fertilizations with the host society, commerce, and social contingencies. Marion Jacobson’s analysis of the making of Valtaro musette is paradigmatic in this respect. It traces the emergence and eventual consolidation of a new musical genre, simultaneously fluid in its capacity to enter in cross-cultural exchanges, but also static in its folklorizing claim of representing an ethnic essence. The negotiation between the past and the present propels creative change. This point is at the heart of Sciorra’s analysis of Vincenzo Ancona’s (1915-2000) art in relation to life history. A multifaceted immigrant artist, Ancona grappled with the trauma of displacement, animating vernacular poetry as a venue for self-transformation. «Self-authoring» here entails engagement with history, memory, transnational connections, the experience of the present, and the prospects of the future, encapsulating a host of attachments, and registering art as a site of critique as well as a place for the self to inhabit cultural betweenness.

In its attention to expressive diversity, Italian Folk documents the pervasiveness of the vernacular in ethnic lives without losing sight of power relations, opening up rich prospects for research. Folk ideologies not only anchor lives but also sustain regional, class-based, and inter-racial hierarchies. Ethnic foodways, for instance, may be celebrated at the expense of alternative culinary traditions. The question of pedagogy, appreciating expressive culture while simultaneously critiquing its ideological potential to harm Others, presents the challenge of translating this dynamic to an «ethnic» audience that increasingly understands the vernacular via the apotheosis of heritage as a positively valued resource. A new scholarly territory takes shape in exploring the interface between the vernacular and wider social discourses. How and in what ways, for example, the receding immigrant knowledge about horticulture could be animated in relation to contemporary environmentalism? How to appreciate the aesthetics of the vernacular without asserting cross-cultural hierarchies? These trajectories inevitably guide questions about the ways in which the personal, the familial, the ethnic, and the transnational intersect with wider discourses beyond the «ethnic community». Engaging with this task, Italian Folk positions Italian-American folklore as an interdisciplinary endeavor that charts the vernacular as a usable past not merely in the service of ethnicity but also social movements committed to environmental causes, anti-racism, and the empowerment of historically stigmatized identities.

Yiorgos Anagnostou (The Ohio State University)

Altreitalie 44, 2012