At a time when the study of languages at Australian universities has suffered a sharp decline, Italian Studies is one area that has shown healthy expansion over the past decade, according to Associate Professor Loretta Baldassar of The University of Western Australia.
A/Professor Baldassar said this expansion was mainly due to the generous patronage of the Italian-based Cassamarca Foundation, which since 2000, has invested more than $28.5 million to fund Italian Studies lectureships at nine Australian Universities.
The universities are UWA (which administers the funds from the Cassamarca Foundation in Australia), Swinburne University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney, the University of the Sunshine Coast, Flinders University, Monash University, Griffith University, and the University of South Australia.
“Independent research has shown that the Cassamarca’s Australia project is largely responsible for Italian Studies being the only university language studies area to have expanded over the past decade – a truly exceptional contribution to Italian language and culture in Australia,” said A/Professor Baldassar, in her report to the Fourth Biennial Conference of the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies (ACIS) in Brisbane in July.
The Cassamarca Foundation is a private financial institution, based in the Italian city of Treviso. Its mission includes the promotion and advancement of Italian culture and Latin Humanism in countries with a large Italian migrant population.
According to Cassamarca Foundation President Dr Dino De Poli, the Foundation is particularly committed to Australia because of the close ties forged by migration between the two countries. After English, Italian has been the second most widely-spoken language in Australia since the late 1950s.
“The ‘Australian Project’, as it is known, is defined by many at the Foundation as its most successful international initiative,” commented A/Professor Baldassar.
“The healthy growth of Italian Studies clearly demonstrates that the current crisis in other language studies is due to a lack of funding and resources,” said A/Professor Baldassar. “This is a sad state of affairs. In a multicultural country like Australia, and in the current climate of globalisation, the need for communication and understanding across cultures is more important than at any time in our history.”