After the Earthquake: Meet Stefano Ventura

As previously mentioned on this blog, the November 23, 1980 Earthquake decisively split Irpinia into a “before” and an “after.” (Click here and here for two related articles.)

For Stefano Ventura, reconstruction in Irpinia goes beyond the act of rebuilding– it includes the reconstruction of a cultural identity that dates back centuries and placing that identity in the post-earthquake world. Stefano teaches Italian and history at the high-school level in Arezzo, Tuscany, and holds a PhD in Contemporary History from the University of Siena, focusing his doctoral research on the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake, as well as other seismic events in Italy that have happened over the past 50 years. He has worked with the Osservatorio sul Doposisma della Fondazione MIdA sine 2010 and he is also part of the editorial team of Lavoro Culturale, where he writes about catastrophic events and how they are remembered by their respective societies.

This past November, in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake, Stefano published his latest book, Storia di una ricostruzione: L’Irpinia dopo il terremoto (The History of a Reconstruction: Irpinia After the Earthquake), where he dives into the process of physical, cultural, and mental rebuilding after this tragic event. We recently had the chance to sit down with him to learn more about his work and how he sees the quake having affected Irpinian cultural identity.

“I hope my words have opened a window on Irpinia, even for those who are far away, but who always keep their memories and their origins alive.”

– Stefano Ventura

Tell us about your book and how it outlines the events of November 23, 1980.

This book is a summary of my studies over the years. It seemed right to me, on the occasion of the earthquake’s 40th anniversary, to paint a picture of time and of themes, from both a historical and social point of view. I started with testimonies from the evening of the earthquake, focusing on how the people of Irpinia remember and deal with the memory of the earthquake. I then described the emergency itself and volunteer experiences. Then, I explained the various laws that were written for reconstruction, talking about how reconstruction was politically administered. I also gave examples of how the towns were rebuilt, namely those who chose to return to the way they were before and those who have changed as a result of the quake. I also discussed the economy, work and industries that were created after the earthquake leading up to the present day and the current situation of the areas most affected by the earthquake.

Stefano Ventura

What does the 1980 earthquake represent for the people of Irpinia and for Irpinians living abroad?

Those who have experienced the shock directly cannot forget. Even those who came later cannot forget this event, because it is ever-present and re-emerges in many ways. I believe that memory must first of all be useful in the present. With this, I am referring to prevention. We must always bear in mind the risk of living in an area with strong seismicity, knowing the earthquake as a natural phenomenon and knowing how to prevent it by acting in time. The memory of the earthquake is a difficult memory– it forces the survivors to deal with moments of pain and suffering, while the public narrative speaks of the Irpinia Earthquake as a negative example of scandals and waste.
For the many Irpinians abroad, the earthquake was an equally painful moment. In a book that we published with the Observatory on Doposisma called Terremoto 20 + 20. Ricordare per ricostruire. (Earthquake 20 + 20. Remembering to rebuild), we have included an article by Manuela Cavalieri who interviewed Italian Americans from Washington states who were originally from Irpinia. In this article, she told of their commitment to donate funds and aid to their hometowns, to help rebuild damaged churches. This assistance from the Irpinian diaspora was very important– this bond is always present, even if the generations pass.

What did you learn while writing this book about Irpinia and Irpinian cultural identity?

When you are involved directly with the subject you are writing about, it is difficult to be objective and to keep your distance. The earthquake is a very strong theme from an emotional point of view; there is the pain of the people, adding to that, there have also been many injustices. I tried to look for documents, sources, and statistics that could help me tell things with more impartiality. I, too, have not lived in Irpinia for 20 years, but studying the earthquake and its consequences was the way to maintain contact and attachment to my roots. Being from Irpinia can be a value if you don’t stay still in your own small town, always combining tradition and innovation.

How was your book received? Where is it available?

We live in hard and strange times, even the publication of a book is no exception. You can’t make presentations and you can’t write dedications. I can’t really understand what impressions those who have read the book or who have listened to webinars and live broadcasts on the web have had. I hope that the next few months will be calmer to be able to go back to doing these things, too. The book can be ordered in all bookstores, in Italy, and is available abroad via Amazon.

Do you have anything else to add?

Thank you for showing attention to my work. I hope my words have opened a window on Irpinia, even for those who are far away, but who always keep their memories and their origins alive.

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