Oral History Archive

Oral History Archive

The idea of this project has two points of origin. First, over the past few years, and especially since I have been at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, a number of scholars, particularly of political science, have approached me about research on Italian-American politics in general, as well as with specific regard to some individuals. Unfortunately, we have not been able to give them the assistance they needed, as, instead, we can do more readily with regard to other components of the Italian-American community.

Except for those individuals such as Fiorello LaGuardia and Vito Marcantonio, very little is available on our elected officials. What then makes this even more paradoxical is that, given the large number of elected Italian Americans on both the state and local levels in New York, for sure, as well as in surrounding states in the North East, no significant depository of information on these groups exists. This sets up close to insurmountable challenges for anyone wanting to engage in research on Italian Americans in the political realm. In addition, it potentially places Italian Americans in a minority position with regard to the study of other ethnic groups and politics.

This project thus has it origins in the need to create an oral history archive of Italian-American elected officials in the state of New York, to create a depository of information that has yet to be compiled, and, as a result, ultimately recognize the existence of an Italian-American body politic.

This archive will have multiple uses. It will offer to both the general public as well as to the researcher a first-hand account of, among other issues, the following topics: why the elected official decided to seek office; what her/his political stance is and how it might have developed over the years; how her/his Italian-American background might have shaped the elected official’s political formation.

Dr. Ottorino Cappelli, Professor of Political Science at the Univeristà di Napoli “L’Orientale” and Scholar in Residence at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, is the director of this project. Assisted by William Schempp, Producer for Italics, and others from both Italics and the Italian American Digital Project, Dr. Cappelli has thus far interviewed approximately half of the Italian Americans in the state Assembly and Senate.

For each interview, Dr. Cappelli draws up a series of questions each elected official will be asked to address; such questions form the base of the interview process. Each official is then interviewed on camera with the assistance of Mr. Schempp and other staff members of the Calandra Institute’s TV program Italics; each interview is approximately an hour long.

All interviews are then individually stored on the master DV tapes; for research purposes, they will be transferred to DVD format for eventual viewing. Unless approved by the individual elected officials, DVDs will not be copied and distributed; they will remain the property of the Oral History Archive, housed and viewed at the Calandra Institute, and available on the web, through a free subscription, to scholars, students, etc. This will guarantee the integrity of the Archive and the information gathered therein.

Once the interviews have been completed and logged, they will be culled for common points of interest, and a “promotional” video DVD of approximately an hour and a half will be produced in order to highlight the Archive. This video will be available through web streaming and to the public on DVD.

Other eventual outcomes of such an Archive are the various studies (articles and books) that scholars will now be able to conduct, as a result of having consulted the Archive. Such studies to be done by professors, graduate students, and journalists will finally afford Italian-American elected officials their place in regional and national ethnic political history. An Italian-American body politic will begin to take shape, and Italian Americans, from the point of view of both a legislative body and voting block, should ultimately occupy a more significant place within the political landscape of the United States.

Anthony Julian Tamburri