Scots Italian? Academic wants your stories as archive takes shape

Scots Italians
Scots Italians: Paolo Nutini, Paul Di Resta, Nicola Benedetti and Armando Iannucci are just some of the famous Scots with Italian heritage.SWNS, Rex Features, SNS Group

For years, they have been an integral part of Scottish culture and the social lives of our nation’s people.

From Armando Iannucci, Tom Conti and Peter Capaldi to Paul Di Resta, Dario Franchitti and Paolo Nutini, Scots Italians have certainly helped shape our country and have played a role in moulding its modern identity.

Now, for the first time, an academic is working on archiving Italian migration to Scotland to reveal the stories of thousands of people who have moved from the land of La dolce vita to the sunny shores of 'Scozia' since the late 1800s.

Professor Federica Pedriali, the director of the project and a lecturer of Italian at the University of Edinburgh, has enlisted the help of classical music superstar and Scots Italian Nicola Benedetti as the project takes off.

Last week, the official launch of Professor Pedriali’s Italo Scots Research Cluster was marked with an event at the Scottish Parliament, hosted by East Kilbride MSP Linda Fabiani.

In attendance were Archbishop Mario Conti, Italian Consul General Mauro Carfagnini, historian and author Terri Colpi, entrepreneur Tony Crolla, playwright Ann Marie Di Mambro and legal experts Lorenzo Alonzi and Cesidio Di Ciacca.

“Until now nothing has really been done in terms of archiving what Italians have produced over time,” said Professor Pedriali.

“The community has been here in big numbers since the 1880s. It is one of the oldest established immigrant communities in Scotland.

“As time is going by, several witnesses of many important things which happened in the past century are now passing away.

“It is time that something is done about personal affects, photographs, anything that has been kept by families.

“It is at risk of being lost. We want to talk about the future while preserving the past.”

Professor Pedriali says Italians first moved here to make money before returning home.

With the ups and downs of political turmoil and war in the first half of the 20th century and periods of intense poverty in their homeland, Professor Pedriali adds many Italians from the Tuscany region settled in the west of Scotland, with other Italians from the south ending up in Edinburgh and the east.

It is thought around 30,000 people of Italian descent live in Scotland today.

One of the key periods of history which the 50-year-old academic is keen to preserve is the stories of Scots Italians in the Second World War.

In July 1940, a month after the fascist Mussolini’s Italy declared war on Britain, one of the most tragic chapters in the history of Scots Italians occurred off the coast of Ireland.

At the time, Britain was worried about what impact Italians living in the UK could have in the war. Many were apprehended by the authorities.

The Arandora Star, which was sunk in 1940

The Arandora Star, which was sunk in 1940

The Arandora Star was tasked with carrying Italians, Germans and other ‘aliens of state’ from Liverpool to Canada. It was sunk by a German U-boat. Of the 1673 people on board, 805 lost their lives.

The only surviving Scots Italian who was on the ship that tragic day is 92-year-old Glaswegian Rando Bertoia, who stays in the south side of the city.

His story, and that of the Arandora Star, are key parts of the new archive project and will feature in a new documentary as part of the study.

So far, 50 collections of material including photographs and video footage have been gathered by Professor Pedriali and the researcher who is working on the project with her.

One of the collections relates to another important chapter of the Second World War, the Battle of Monte Cassino at the beginning of 1944.

One of the key conflicts of the Mediterranean theatre, the Allies attacked the Axis forces for four months, with a Benedictine monastery destroyed by an Allied bombing raid forming the key defensive point in the line for the Germans.

After fierce fighting, and the deaths of over 100,000 soldiers, the monastery - or abbey - fell and Rome was eventually captured a few months later.

As part of the archive project, Professor Pedriali will visit the battlefield with Edinburgh schoolchildren who were chosen after winning the Scottish edition of the Gadda Junior Prize, which recognises scholarly excellence in Scotland and Italy.

While there, they will unveil 40 photographs from Dominic Scappaticcio, a Scots Italian who returned to the area in 1946 to document its destruction.

The professor and the children will also be joined by Ayrshire musician Benedetti, who will perform a recital at the Abbey.

Professor Pedriali, who grew up in Italy and moved here 30 years ago, said: “Nicola is a leading star in the music world, but she is also interested in the conservation of cultural heritage. She is a wonderful player, and it is going to be a wonderful event in the open air of the Abbey.

“The additional value of this is she embodies the two cultures in one, and it is fantastic that she has accepted to come.”

As well as the collection and archiving of material, and trips like the one to Monte Cassino, the Italo Scots Research Cluster aims to interest young people by employing Laura Pasetti as an artist in residence. She will create a play based on the findings of the archive.

While the project has just been officially launched, the funding for it began in September last year after a grant from the Carnegie Trust.

The money runs out in August but Professor Pedriali is confident that a further funding package will be secured to allow the project to continue indefinitely.

It is also hoped that exhibitions and workshops will be organised in the future, with members of the Scots Italian public asked to contribute their own stories and add to the archive.

Eventually, the central feature will be a free to access website with all the materials available for members of the public to study.

 Professor Federica Pedriali

Professor Federica Pedriali

“The Italian community is one of the many immigrant communities in Scotland,” added the Professor.

“We can start dialoguing with the less settled, newer immigrant communities. The experience of how the Italians settled over time can be useful.

“This is a community which hasn’t spoken that much about itself.

“Following the Second World War, Italians with the ice cream parlours and their coffee places, then chip shops, were providing a place for socialising for the younger generation.

“It has been an important influence on the every day level. It is difficult to come across somebody who has not met Italians in that capacity. It is a form of public service.

“They have always been on the street level, running shops, primarily through food.”

For Professor Pedriali, she now hopes to record the thousands of stories of Italians who have peppered Scottish history.

She added: “When thinking about the contribution of Italians to Scotland, I could quote Alex Salmond. He said the Italian community is one of the strongest and brightest threads in the fabric of Scotland.”

  • If you want to know more about the Italo Scots Research Cluster and how you can get involved, check out its website

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