by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
| 2 | 3
The Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community website, as a first-attempt to develop a history of Alberta's Italian community, of necessity, will never be complete. Howard and Tamara Palmer, in their
Alberta: A New History, devote only a few sentences to Italian
immigrants 1. There are several reasons for this: first, they were creating a broad narrative about province building that focuses on key people and key events; second, there was not a body of academic work that documents this history for them to draw on.
The reason for this, simply put, is that the documentation of ethnocultural communities as an aspect of academic history is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the past 20 years, the study of community history (including
ethnocultural, gender-based, labour/working class history and other non-mainstream approaches) has been championed by heritage institutions and organizations. Warren R. Hofstra, writing in History News, the magazine of the American Association for State and Local History, in 1992, attacked academic historians and noted that the most interesting and innovative studies were being done in the area of "community studies." These focused on "the inarticulate, ordinary men and women who often incised their only record on the American past in a few numbers scrawled on a tax list." 2
His proposal for a "community studies" model has been espoused by many museums and is certainly the model for the
Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community website. In the site, the wealth of information about community life becomes the raw data for a social history of Alberta's Italian community. "Museums and communities," in Canada and the US, became a rallying cry for understanding diversity and also for engaging visitors from all walks of life and ethnicities. With respect to building popular support and understanding for history, it is community stories and the lives of ordinary people, which today have the most power to engage not only students but also the general public.
As Elizabeth Jameson notes in her introduction to Making Western Canada: Essays on European Colonization and
Settlement, the book "challenges uncritical histories of a peaceful, orderly, and Anglo-centric Canadian West."3 The Canadian and Alberta overviews and regional profiles written
by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. (Edmonton; Rockies, Nordegg and the Coal
Branch; Lethbridge Region; and Drumheller Valley) also challenge stereotypes.4
The Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community website, in setting down the immigration and settlement experience of hard-working men and women of Italian
descent, gives them a voice. It also makes them a part of the "official" history of Alberta. The material found on the website will, thus, become the stuff of academic history just as the essays in
Making Western Canada with their
ethnocultural, gender and other perspectives have become a part of a reinterpretation of Canadian history.