Marcella Bencivenni

2016 CUNY Distinguished Scholar

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire broke out on March 25, 1911, and is considered the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City and one of the deadliest in U.S. history. The fire killed 146 garment workers and most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women and girls. The fire’s tragedy helped spur a broad social movement that led to important labor reforms and has also generated enormous scholarly interest. Yet, while firmly embedded in the popular imagination, the fire has surprisingly received scant attention among scholars of Italian immigration. Professor Bencivenni’s book intends to correct this omission by recovering the stories of “forgotten” Italian immigrant women and by exploring the legacy of the fire in American memory. Rescuing the “Italian” story from historical oblivion will not only provide a more nuanced understanding of the Italian American experience and U.S. immigration, but it will also contribute to a larger conversation about subjugated memory, ethnic repression, and historical consciousness.

Marcella Bencivenni, who has taught history at Hostos since 2004, has been awarded a Distinguished CUNY Fellowship for the Spring 2016 semester for her book project titled “Italian Immigration, The Triangle Fire, and the Politics of Memory.” She is the author of Italian Immigrant Radical Culture: The Idealism of the Sovversivi in the United States, 1890-1940 (New York University Press, 2011) and co-editor of Radical Perspectives on Immigration (Routledge, 2008). She has also published over a dozen book chapters, articles and historiographical essays on topics related to Italian immigration and U.S. labor history and has recently appeared in the popular television program “Who Do You Think You Are?” featuring  Italian-American actress Valerie Bertinelli on a search for her family’s lineage.



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