Oral History / Politics / American Studies / Italian Studies

The Battle of Valle Giulia
Oral History and the Art of Dialogue
Alessandro Portelli

A reflection on the profound bond between public history and personal struggle, from Berkeley to Vietnam, from Tuscany to Harlan County

History, we are often taught, is driven by vast social, political, and economic forces. But each political event, each war, each clash in the streets or at the picket lines, is experienced by individuals. It is this profound bond between public history and personal struggle, Alessandro Portelli contends, that gives oral history its significance and its power.

In The Battle of Valle Giulia —the title comes from an Italian student protest of the 1960s—Portelli reflects on how to connect personal memories with history, how to fittingly collect and represent the complexity of memory. Crossing cultures, classes, and generations, he records the private and singular experiences of Italian steelworkers and Kentucky coal miners, veterans and refugees of World War II, soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Italian resistance fighters and Nazis, and members of student movements from Berkeley to Rome. By listening to those whom others presume are "without historical memory"—such as youthful protesters, or the rural Tuscan women who saw every father, son, and brother killed by Nazi soldiers—Portelli clarifies the process by which narratives come into being as oral history, and he illustrates the differences and distances between story-telling and history-telling.

Portelli's articulate discussion of dialogue, representation, narrative and genre link historical analysis with literary and linguistic theory and with the concerns of contemporary anthropology.

"Superb. These are wholly sophisticated essays, engaging the deepest questions from a position of full familiarity with the current theoretical literature. And yet they are marvelously accessible and readable, because of Portelli's clear, personally grounded, humane, candid, and limitlessly curious intelligence."—Michael Frisch, author of A Shared Authority

"Brilliant, thought-provoking, highly original."—Ronald J. Grele, author of Envelopes of Sound

Alessandro Portelli, professor of American literature at the University of Rome–La Sapienza, is the author of many books, including most recently The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories and The Text and the Voice: Speaking, Writing, and Democracy in American Literature.


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Cover of Valle Giulia is red and black, with a vague cross shape to it.

May 1997
LC: 96-036474 D
374 pp. 6 x 9
ISBN-10: 0-299-15374-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-299-15374-8   
Paper $21.95 x

The cloth edition, ISBN 978-0-299-15370-0, is out of print.

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