Brill: Leiden, Boston 2015.
Wirth, Christa. Memories of belonging: descendants of Italian migrants to the United States, 1884–present. Brill, 2015. 406p bibl index afp ISBN 9789004284562 cloth, $167.00; ISBN 9789004284579 ebook, $167.00
Using a comprehensive, engaging case study of her ancestors’ migration from Italy in the late 1800s up through the experiences of their descendants in the US and Switzerland today, the author presents a sophisticated theoretical model of how family memory, knowledge, and history are created, contested, altered, re-created, and eventually passed on to the next generation. Wirth (history, Univ. of Zurich, Switzerland) notes how collective and individual memories are intertwined—constantly shifting over time and space—and how they are used in the construction of ethnic identity. The author pays particular attention to the role that generation, gender, social class, and location play in memory and the process of forming an ethnic identity. Though the theoretical model is valuable in itself, readers will no doubt find her methodological approach fascinating. The author used a wide variety of unique sources and techniques to gather her data. They included not only in-depth oral history interviews with 18 descendants of the original migrant couple but numerous private documents, political and legal documents, cultural artifacts, and US public and vital records as well. The result is an important contribution not only to the field of Italian American studies but also to the larger disciplines of migration studies, memory studies, and oral history.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty.
J. R. Mitrano, Central Connecticut State University
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