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The Casa Italiana—a neo-Renaissance palazzo located on Amsterdam Avenue near 117th Street—has been the most important expression of the Italian presence on Columbia University's campus since its construction in 1927. Still admired today as one of Columbia's most beautiful and elegant buildings, over the course of nearly a century it has been home to fascinating and complex people and stories.

Established as a center for Italian scholarship and the promotion of Italian culture, the institution evolved over the decades and eventually (in the early 1990s) developed into the Italian Academy, an institute for advanced studies. Both the Casa and the Academy made a substantial contribution to the academic study of Italy in America and the understanding of Italian cultural, intellectual, and scientific identity abroad.

The Casa's 90th anniversary (in 2017) was celebrated with an exhibition titled "From Da Ponte to the Casa Italiana" which recounted the history of the individuals, both Italian and American, who contributed to the formation of Columbia University's rich tradition of Italian studies.

In making the original show available to a wider audience, this digital exhibition retraces the people, architecture, and historical events at the dawn of Italian studies at Columbia, starting with Lorenzo Da Ponte—Mozart's witty librettist who, in 1825, became Columbia's first professor of Italian—and covering figures such as the NY writer and scholar Clement Clark Moore and the former revolutionary Italian hero Eleuterio Felice Foresti.

The galleries illustrate the complex and often controversial dimensions of the Casa's history, highlighting protagonists such as the talented but equivocal Giuseppe Prezzolini and Columbia's president Nicholas M. Butler, as well as Italian American students and community members. The Casa played a significant role in U.S.-Italy relations from its foundation; and at one point it came under fire, accused of ties to Mussolini and pro-Fascist leanings. 

Synthesizing archival documents with the work of historians, the exhibition tells the compelling stories of the Casa and several of its leading figures, whose influence on the university and the city of New York can still be felt today. 


This digital exhibition stands on the shoulders of the gallery exhibition and the book of the same title, both developed in 2017. 

In designing this digital version for 2024, we drew again on materials that we had found with the assistance of staff from the following at Columbia University: the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library (abbreviated in picture credits here as "Avery"); the Rare Book and Manuscript Library ("RBML"); the Historical Photograph Collection ("HPC"); the Preservation and Digital Conservation Division; Art Properties; Columbia University Archives; the Office of Public Affairs; the Spectator; and the Department of Italian. We drew as well on the Center for Migration Studies of New York; the Museum of the City of New York; the New-York Historical Society; the White House Historical Association; and the Library of Congress. 

Special thanks go to the many students and research assistants who through the years brought enthusiasm and creativity to the excavation and presentation of this story. 

My colleagues on the Italian Academy staff have offered support throughout; I am very grateful for their encouragement. In recent months, I benefited from the work of Abigail Asher (editor and exhibition designer), Mick Schommer (digital production), and Caterina Guderzo (production support). 

—Barbara Faedda, Curator