Italian @ Manchester
'Manchester è città illustre, sede di cultura, centro della fabbricazione dei cotoni.'
A. Valgimigli, La colonia italiana di Manchester 1794-1932.
Italian studies at Manchester has an illustrious history reflecting the strong civic relation between the city, business and learning that has endured from the settlement of Italian families in the early nineteenth century to the present day. Predominantly craftsmen, this diaspora community of carvers, guilders, instrument makers and fine art dealers were at the forefront of bringing Italian culture to the region and were instrumental in establishing links with the city's libraries and institutes of higher education. Dr Andrea Crestadoro, for example, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Turin, moved to Salford in 1852 and became the second Head Librarian of Manchester's recently established Free Reference Library in 1864 while the Right Reverend Dr. Louis Casertelli, the son of a precision instrument maker who moved to Manchester from Como, became Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford and University Lecturer in Persian languages.
Italian was first taught at the Victoria University of Manchester, when it was still referred to as Owens College, in 1884 by Sig. Azeglio Valgimigli from Pisa who lived in the city for over seventy years. As the university's first lecturer in Italian, and in conjunction with Bishop Casartelli, he was instrumental in establishing a Chair of Italian at Manchester in 1919 through a joint endowment raised by the Manchester Dante Society and the generosity of the shipping magnate Arturo Serena. The Manchester Dante Society had been founded in 1906 by a group of academics, interested laymen and clerics and was one of the first outside Italy along with 'The Dante Society' at Harvard which was founded by Longfellow. This interest in Italian history and culture was consolidated by the generosity of the legacy left by Manchester's first cotton millionaire, John Rylands, which enabled the foundation of the Rylands library and the wholesale purchase of a series of collections of early Italian books and manuscripts which had been built up by English aristocratic families on the Grand Tour. Consequently Manchester University still holds the finest UK collection of early Italian printed material and the second most complete set in the world of the books from the foremost Italian Renaissance printing press, the Venetian Aldine collection.
In 1919 after the war, a Manchester branch of the British-Italian League was also established and worked closely with the Dante Society to promote relations between the two countries. In 1931 both societies were instrumental in establishing the annual Herford Memorial Lecture at the university in memory of the Dante Society's President, Professor C. H. Herford who had been one of the Society's founders and a great scholar of both English and Italian literature. Over the years speakers have included A. P. d'Entrèves, Carlo Dionisotti, Roberto Weiss, Dorothy L. Sayers, Frances Yates, Uberto Limentani, Nicolai Rubinstein, and a young Pat Boyd in 1971.
Today Manchester still hosts an Italian Consulate that houses business, legal and educational offices which serve the North West and promotes Italian culture in the region. In addition, the Manchester Branch of the Società Dante Alighieri is amongst the most dynamic in the UK organising a regular programme of cultural and social activities on Italian themes throughout the year in conjunction with the city's universities and cultural agencies. Members of Manchester's Italian diaspora community continue to make the news nationally and internationally, the most recent being the footballer Simone Perrotta, a member of the 2006 Italian World Cup winning squad who was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester and emigrated to Italy at the age of six. Italian Studies at Manchester University seeks to build upon this impressive heritage and involve its students in activities which combine both academic study and engagement with the long standing Italian history and culture of the region.