When Robert J. Barbera founded The Mentoris Project as a part of The Barbera Foundation, his goal was to add to the canon of names most U.S. students learn over and over again from fifth grade through high school. He remembered hearing the names of people like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln repeated from year to year, but realized that two very important populations were missing from the standard U.S. history books and narratives: Italians and Italian-Americans. With that in mind, he started The Mentoris Project, which publishes biographies and novels based on the lives of prominent Italians and Italian-Americans, specifically those who can be considered as mentors. In the words of The Mentoris Project, these books are intended “to inspire the reader in a very tangible way: To finish the book saying, ‘I can do something great, too.'” The books published by The Mentoris Project are written by a variety of scholars and authors, and cover subjects from Christopher Columbus to Enrico Fermi.
On Wednesday, November 28th, along with the Italian Studies Program, the Leatherby Libraries were happy to host The Mentoris Project, as we enjoyed a presentation by two of the Project’s authors, Dr. Rosanne Welch, and Dr. Peg Lamphier. Project founder Robert J. Barbera also joined us, and made an extremely generous donation to the Libraries of a complete set of all of the books that have been published so far by The Mentoris Project. All of these books will be cataloged and made available for the faculty, students and researchers at Chapman University.
We heard first from Dr. Rosanne Welch, who presented on and read from her book, America’s Forgotten Founding Father: A Novel Based on the Life of Filippo Mazzei. Filippo Mazzei, Dr. Welch taught us, was a crucial figure in the founding of the U.S. A neighbor, friend, and colleague of Thomas Jefferson, Mazzei provided the more well-known Founding Father with the inspiration for the famous opening line of the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.” A passionate believer in equality, Mazzei constantly put pressure on his fellow Founding Fathers to abolish slavery, we learned from Dr. Welch. Although Mazzei later returned to his native Italy, his influence on American history is massive.
We next heard from Dr. Peg Lamphier about Louis Palma di Cesnola, a Calvary Colonel for the Union Army, and later the U.S. consul in Cyprus and the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Dr. Lamphier’s presentation and reading focused on Cesnola’s experience during the Civil War, both as a daring Calvary Colonel leading his men into battle against his general’s orders, and as a prisoner of war at the infamous Libby Prison, where he led a shoe revolt, refusing to make shoes for Confederate soldiers in exchange for being released. He received a Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts during the Battle of Aldie, and his contributions to the fields of diplomacy and archaeology later in his career were just as significant.
After the presentations, Italian Studies professor Dr. Federico Pacchioni joined both authors at the front of the room to lead the packed audience in a lively Q and A. Founder of The Barbera Foundation and The Mentoris Project Robert J. Barbera stood and shared a few words about his goals in creating The Mentoris Project.
The evening concluded with a reception, where copies of both Dr. Welch’s and Dr. Lamphier’s books were available for purchase and signing. Many thanks to both The Mentoris Project and the Italian Studies program at Chapman University for their co-sponsorship of this successful event.