In 1921, the newly formed Institute of the Historical Research Research received a donation of Rivista Militare Italiana via “Miss M Froude from the library of Col. James”. An early donation, it made up items 780-864 of the library’s holdings – not only helping to fill the empty bookshelves, but marking the beginning of the IHR’s Italian collection.
94 years later, our Italian collection has expanded beyond Miss Froude’s donation by roughly 3500 volumes, all generally falling within the scope of early medieval to modern history. While the collection’s main strengths lie where one might suspect – for example, our extensive holdings on the city-states and kingdoms of Italy, particularly, Venetian, Tuscan, and Roman history – we also collect some specialties that make the IHR’s Italian collection unique within London and the UK. One such strength lies in our unrivaled collection of archival guides for Italy, ranging from the State Archives to the archives of little-known villages and monasteries.
Most of the collection is held on the second floor with our other European collections, where one can browse through the open stacks. However, to stay here – comfortable and easily navigated as this corner of the library is – would lead even the most eager reader amiss, for there are plenty of Italian books to discover outside of the EI class-mark.
There are the domains of history where one might expect to find the Italians. Religious history (under class-mark ER in the Foyles Room on the 1st floor) has ample holdings on the Vatican’s neighbours, like the book La nunziatura di Venezia sotto il papato di Paolo IV. The Military History Collection (under class-mark W, on the lower ground floor) is full of the travails of Italian soldiers during the World Wars and beyond. For example, you can read accounts like Salvatore Bono’s letters from Libya, Morire per questi deserti : lettere di soldati italiani dal fronte libico 1911-1912. Rivista Militare Italiana can be found in this collection, in close access, under class-mark W.20/Rmi.
One of our smaller but more interesting holdings is our collection of Italian colonial history books (largely under class-mark CLB, which is in closed access). A good place to start would be with the four volumes series Inventario delle fonti manoscritte relative alla storia dell’Africa del Nord esistenti in Italia, which offers a comprehensive list of sources available to researchers in Italy. For a more anecdotal look at the Italian experience within the colonies, there is Posti al sole : diari e memorie di vita e di lavoro dalle colonie d’Africa, an anthology of the letters and experiences of the Italian community who lived and worked in Africa during the 20th century occupation.
If one’s interest lies more specifically within Ethiopia, the library has both the accounts of a government official and sometime-prisoner Lino Calabrò (Intermezzo africano : ricordi di un Résidente di Governo en Etiopia) and the diary of the doctor, explorer, and zoologist Vito Cosimo Basile (Uebi Scebeli : diario di tenda e cammino della spedizione del Duca degli Abruzzi in Etiopia).
And, of course, there is the gem Francesco Crispi: la prima guerra d’Africa : Documenti e memorie dell’archivio Crispi ordinati, which one reader defaced so creatively:
For more information about the Italian collection, please see our collection guide.