Columbia Library columns (v.7(1957Nov-1958May))

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  v.7,no.3(1958:May): Page 34  

Concerning the Italian Collection



AST YEAR, the Thirtieth Anniversary of Casa Italiana was
celebrated and an Endowment Fund drive was inaugu-
^arated to secure support for the Casa's cultural activities.
One of the after-effecrs of this anniversary was the suggestion
that an article about the Italian Collection might be timely.

If we are to believe the words of Lorenzo Da Ponte in his
Memoirs, the Italian Collection in 1825 consisted of "an old,
worm-eaten Boccaccio with a broken binding." Further, we learn
that this "collection" was expanded within a few years, mainly
by his efforts, to more than seven hundred selected volumes. Yet
Da Ponte, Columbia's first noteworthy Professor of Italian,
though he had a library, had no pupils!

Now why, in Da Ponte's time, was student interest in Italian
studies practically non-existent, whereas today it is thriving fairly
well in numerous high schools and colleges throughout the na¬
tion? One answer is that Italian-Americans were few, if any, at
that time, whereas today they are numerous. This answer is not
enough, however, for it might imply that Italian culture offers
fruits of provincial rather than of universal interest; actually the
reverse is true. Recent experience indicates that interest in
ItaUan studies is spreading steadily beyond the ranks of ItaHan-

In his day, Da Ponte expressed the opinion that students pre¬
ferred to study French and Spanish because these languages were
useful in business while Italian was not. However, records of the
time indicate that interest in the study of those languages was
also weak. Actually, the main interest in language study was cen¬
tered on Latin and Greek, which could scarcely be said to haye
had much value in commerce. No doubt, their accepted value,

  v.7,no.3(1958:May): Page 34