Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Alessandro Portelli, March 4, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - Introduction and background

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Partial Transcript: Um--it's March 4th, Friday, March 4th, 2016.

Segment Synopsis: Alessandro Portelli explains who he is. He begins to talk about his past and where he comes from. He also talks about what he is currently doing as a job/hobby/passion. He begins to talk about his childhood and family. He also discusses politics and how they changed as he grew.

Keywords: Country; Education; Middle class; Oral history; Rome (Italy); Rural; Soccer; Steel workers; Terni (Italy); Villages; Working class

Subjects: Fascists; Italy.; Middle class.

00:12:11 - Tradition--Storytelling and music in Terni, Italy

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Partial Transcript: Um-- I'm curious about what you observed in terms of story telling or music in Terni.

Segment Synopsis: Portelli explains that he was not aware of the musical traditions in Terni. He said there were not many that he knew of, but soccer was something that was around. When he went back to research he said he found some musical tradition in the city. He goes on to explain how Terni and Eastern Kentucky are similar. Then he begins to describe a special genre of music called "Stornello" in Italy and how it explains history.

Keywords: Ballads; Children; Culture; Floating verses; Folk songs; Industry; Kids; Soccer; Stornello; Storytelling; Teenagers; Terni (Italy)

Subjects: Music.; Soccer.; Tradition.

00:18:29 - Culture and politics--Family and transitions

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Partial Transcript: It seems like--in your remembrances, in your reflections on Terni--uh-- you so seamlessly can go between culture and politics...

Segment Synopsis: Portelli begins to speak on politics in his family, and also his various political awakenings. He explains that during high school he studied in America for a year. He says that this "cured" him of his Anti-Communist ideals. He also begins to explain how American politics educated him. He was able to educate Americans on various world governments in ways that challenged the perspective of their Nationalism.

Keywords: American music; Anti-communism; Communism; Little Rock nine; Nationalism; Politics; Protests; Terni (Italy); Youth

Subjects: America.; Culture.; Fascists; Italy.

00:27:49 - Culture and politics--Music and transitions

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Partial Transcript: That was my first awareness of folk music.

Segment Synopsis: Portelli talks about the music in America and how that affected his politics. He explains that he returned to Italy, and from there he began to work. He talks about projects he helped put together at this time, and his travels. He discusses his various transitions politically through music and experiences that he had.

Keywords: Blue Moon of Kentucky; Field work; Folk music; Folk revival; Harlan County (Ky.); I Hate the Capitalist System; Italian politics; Kentucky; Law schools; Malcolm X; Marriage; New York; Pete Seeger; Sarah Ogan Gunning; Which Side Are You On

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Communism.; Italy.; Liberal

00:37:30 - Appalshop--First experience

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember who--uh--Well, first of all--We just covered a lot of territory.

Segment Synopsis: Portelli explains that he had not heard of Appalshop at this time. He takes a detour and explains he went back to school and got a degree. Then, he begins to explain his first experience with Appalshop and Kentucky.

Keywords: American Studies; Bill Richardson; Brookside miners strike; English Studies; Hazard (Ky.); Highlander Research Center; Honeymoon; Josephine Richardson; Music; University; Woody Guthrie

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Italy.; Kentucky

00:42:05 - Appalshop--Return and collaboration

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Partial Transcript: I came at the Appalachian center. I was their first--uh-- international fella.

Segment Synopsis: Portelli explains that in 1983 he returned to work at Appalshop and give talks, and his whole family was with him. He talks about various other visits to Appalshop. He also discusses collaborations that were done in Italy, and what they did while there. He tells many stories about people he knows and what he remembers of them.

Keywords: America; Barbourville (Ky.); Communists; Rural; Union College; Working class

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Italy.; Kentucky

00:47:49 - Appalshop--Connections and memories

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Partial Transcript: Well I wanna--uh, uh--ask a question, again, more targeted at Appalshop.

Segment Synopsis: Portelli begins to discuss what he liked about Appalshop, and how he hopes his own organization will eventually be like it. He tells of people he met and memories he has of various visits to Appalshop. He explains that he has watched Appalshop grow. He explains that some collaborations were held in Rome.

Keywords: Collaboration; Fundraising; Italy

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Kentucky

00:53:19 - Appalshop--Projects and interviews

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Partial Transcript: During this era of--uh--you know, the 70's and into the 80's-- can you remember particular Appalshop projects that excited you and excited your imagination, or allowed you to seek new connections?

Segment Synopsis: Portelli discusses individual projects that he liked and why he liked them. He speaks on differences in Italian (Catholic tradition) and American (Calvinist tradition) cultures. He speaks on meeting various individuals, and what it was like to interview them. He also explains what he observed when he interviewed Italian Americans, and how he felt about the experience. He also explains the connections between parts of Italy and Appalachia. His team was interested in looking at parts of America that people overlooked and learning from the people.

Keywords: Assimilation; Calvinsim; Catholicism; Culture; Elizabeth Barret; Frank Majority; Guns; Gurney Norman; Italian-American identity; Italy; Marxism; Migration; Missions; Periphery; Perspectives; Poor; Socialism; Stranger With A Camera

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Kentucky

01:12:03 - Appalshop--Joining of countercultures

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Partial Transcript: I'd like to--um--talk to you a little more about Gurney.

Segment Synopsis: Portelli explains his relationship with Gurney Norman and how he helped guide Portelli through Appalachia. He discusses projects that they worked on. He begins to compare various parts of the cultures of Italy and America. He explains that Gurney helped him understand various cultures in America. He says that he admired Gurney's wisdom. He discusses how he perceives most of the Appalshop material and how Gurney influenced his perceptions. He explains that through Appalshop and its people he was able to learn how to meet and commune with people who are different. He learned to respect various beliefs without imposing his own on others.

Keywords: Community; Counter cultures; Culture; Gurney Norman; Hazard (Ky.); Pac Man; People; Religious; Spiritual

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Italy.; Kentucky

01:22:54 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: May I ask one last question of you?

Segment Synopsis: Portelli is invited to reflect on his work with Appalshop and he does this. He tells how the experiences with Appalshop helped him as a teacher. He tells of a play that was based off of his interviews in Appalachia. This reflection leads to the conclusion of the interview.

Keywords: Appalachia; Appalachian Studies; Community; Folk; Folk schools; Italy; Music; Quilt (Theater production); Teaching; Theater

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Kentucky