A look at the past: Student exhibit on Italian culture in the Valley

One Youngstown State University student decided to highlight the local Italian-American population’s impact on the Mahoning Valley in an exhibit being showcased in the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor.

YSU senior Paula Schaefer majors in both American studies and Italian. With the prominent influence of Italian culture in this slice of the country, she decided to combine her two majors for her senior capstone, titled “Italian Americans of the Mahoning Valley: 1890-1924.”

“It covers topics like the conditions in Italy at the time, the voyage to the Americas, the workplaces that the Valley had to offer such as the steel industry, the different Italian neighborhoods and how we preserve the Italian culture today,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer looked at two specific areas with a dominant Italian population.

“The two communities I focused on are Niles and Smoky Hollow in Youngstown. This was a way to look at both Trumbull and Mahoning Counties,” she said.

Schaefer noted that her own family’s ties added a whole other level of interest and intrigue to the project.

“My family on my mother’s side is from Niles, so I really enjoyed being able to look back at what their lives were like while they were growing up. I think it’s really important for people in this area to learn and appreciate the culture of one of the most influential groups,” she said.

Schaefer explained that after her project made it to the Youngstown Historical Center of Labor and Industry, it took on a life of its own that she never would’ve expected.

“The exhibit opened Dec. 5, 2013. We had a very successful opening event in which about 75 people attended,” Schaefer said. “The project has definitely been more than I ever expected it to be.”

Donna DeBlasio, professor of history at YSU, was on Schaefer’s committee for a symposium held at the center earlier this month. She was very happy with the outcome of the project.