The origins of ACIS are closely related to the Cassamarca Foundation in Treviso, Italy, a philanthropic institution created in 1992 by the savings bank, the Cassa di Risparmio della Marca Trivigiana. In 1998 Dr Dino De Poli, the then President of the Cassamarca Foundation, visited Australia in relation to the Foundation’s worldwide interest in promoting Italian culture, especially among the descendants of Italian migrants abroad. As a result of Dr De Poli’s visit, an Australia Project Committee (APC) was established to report to the Foundation on the state of Italian Studies in Australian universities and to make suggestions on how to enhance it. The members of the APC were Loretta Baldassar (UWA), Marinella Caruso (Flinders University), Piero Giorgi (University of Queensland), Ilma Martinuzzi O’Brien (VUT) and Ros Pesman (University of Sydney). Their report concluded that in nearly all Australian universities courses in Italian language and culture had been at least reduced and in some cases eliminated – a trend also visible among other European languages. In July 1998, invited to suggest ways to halt this alarming decline, the APC prepared a request to the Cassamarca Foundation to finance 11 new three-year lectureships in Australian tertiary institutions and to provide funds to support conferences and research scholarships for postgraduate students. With great generosity the Cassamarca Foundation responded to the APC’s proposal with an offer of three billion lire (€1.549 million) over three years to establish the proposed new lectureships.
In September 1999 all Australian universities were therefore invited to apply to establish one or more Cassamarca lectureships: 27 applications from 19 institutions were received. In December 1999 the Selection Committee to assess the applications – chaired by David Moss and composed of Margaret Baker, Giovanni Carsaniga, Bill Kent, Piero Giorgi, John Scott and the independent scholar Joe Lo Bianco – unanimously assigned the 11 lectureships to departments across the following 8 universities: Flinders University (South Australia); Griffith University (Queensland); Melbourne University (Victoria); Monash University (Victoria) (two lectureships); University of South Australia; University of the Sunshine Coast (Queensland); University of Sydney (New South Wales) (two lectureships); University of Western Australia (two lectureships). Further generous donations by the Cassamarca Foundation resulted in the establishment of two more positions: a Chair in Latin Humanism at UWA and a lectureship in Italian Studies at Swinburne University of Technology. In 2012 the lectureships supported by the Foundation accounted for roughly 20 per cent of full-time positions in Italian Studies in Australian universities.
In 2001 the Foundation extended its funding commitment for a further three years; and in 2004 it agreed with the participating universities to co-fund the lectureships in perpetuity.
The APC had also set itself a final task: establishing a national centre for the promotion of teaching and research in the field of Italian Studies. Thus in 2000 the Australian Centre for Italian Studies (later Australasian Centre for Italian Studies: ACIS) was created to launch initiatives to encourage collaboration among Italianists. In 2001 a Deed of Trust was signed by the Cassamarca Foundation and The University of Western Australia, which identified ACIS as the Foundation’s main instrument in Australia, with responsibility – in tandem with UWA – for managing the funding provided by the Foundation and for developing initiatives to promote Italian Studies. Further details on the Cassamarca lectureships and on the structure of ACIS and the activities it has undertaken since 2000 can be found on other pages of this website.
The fullest account of our history is contained in David Moss and Gino Moliterno (eds), Italy under the Southern Cross: An Australasian Celebration of Dino De Poli and the Cassamarca Foundation (Sydney, Padana Press, 2011). Five of the contributions to it can be read below. The full text in PDF can also be downloaded below.
Download the book here (PDF, approx. 11MB): Italy under the Southern Cross