Tag Archives: Italy

Bruno Touschek, a pioneering physicist

Bruno Touschek, born in Vienna in 1921, was a Glasgow graduate and lecturer in Natural Philosophy from 1949 to 1952 who invented the storage ring for high-energy elementary particles.

Forced to leave the University of Vienna in 1940, he continued his studies at Hamburg, where he worked with Rolf Wideroe on the development of the Betatron, the first circular accelerator for electrons. They were already discussing the possibility of colliding stored electrons and positrons head-on. His work was disrupted by his arrest by the Gestapo in 1945 and subsequent forced march to Kiel. He survived and graduated from Gottingen in 1946.

Touschek became a DSIR fellow at the University in 1947 and began research for a PhD which was published in 1949. He then became a lecturer in Natural Philosophy and he continued to develop his work on accelerators. He left the University in 1952 and became a researcher at the National laboratories of the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare in Frascati and a lecturer at the University of Rome-La Sapienza. He died in 1978.


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The other Italian job

Following on from Olivia’s ‘Italian Job’ blog series, we really should mention the ‘Italian Job’ that laid the foundations of the University back in the fifteenth-century.

At  the request of James II, William Turnbull, Bishop of the Diocese of Glasgow, obtained a Bull from Pope Nicholas V in 1451 to establish a university in Glasgow. The bull erected a new studium generale for the teaching of “theology, canon and civil law, as well as the arts and any other lawful faculty”. The Constitution of the University was made the same as that of the University of Bologna, considered to be the oldest university in the Western world dating back to around 1088.  The new University’s doctors, masters, readers and students were also granted all the privileges, honours and immunities enjoyed by their counterparts at Bologna.

Pope Nicholas V was also a product of the University of Bologna. Originally known as Thomas of Sarzana,  he had been Bishop of Bologna before taking on the name of Nicholas out of gratitude to his benefactor Cardinal Nicholas Albergati who maintained him at the University of Bologna, when he was raised to the pontificate on 6 March 1447.

So Italy’s connections with the University went much further back than engineering and ice-cream!

Source: Inaugural addresses by Lords Rectors of the University of Glasgow; to which are prefixed, an historical sketch and account of the present state of the University. By John Barras Hay, Glasgow, 1839 (Special Collections Bh11-b.21).  

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The Italian Job (part 4); Where’s Waldes?

At a glance along the list of birthplaces of people with Italian connections with the University around the turn of the 20th century, one small town kept cropping up – Torre Pellice, just outside of Turin. Being quite remote and high-up in the Alps, it seemed intriguing that anyone was traveling from there at this time. Perhaps Carlo Buffa and Alberto Billour, who enrolled in 1890 and 1893 respectively, already had Scottish links? But they only stayed for a year. During their time in Glasgow they also both lived at 2 Sutherland Terrace. It all just seemed too neat to be a coincidence.

Archivio Fotografico Valdese

Torre Pellice I soon learned was and still is the epicenter of the Waldensian Church. The Waldensians are a relatively small Protestant sect that developed in the 12th century in Southern France. The movement is said to have been founded by Peter Valdes (Waldo, Valdo, or Waldes), who sought to follow the example of Jesus and the Apostles by adopting a life of preaching and poverty. Valdes’ followers were actively persecuted by the Catholic Church which drove them out of France. They eventually settled in the mountains of the region of Piedmont. Persecuted for their Protestant principles for centuries, it was not until 1848 that the Waldensians were granted religious freedom by King Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The Waldensian community founded a School of Theology at their headquarters of Torre Pellice in 1855. Part of the training to become a Waldensian minister was a compulsory year abroad – ‘l’anno di perfezionamento’ – at a University of their choice. The Waldensian community had had a connection with Britain as early as 1825. The Anglican Church and Scottish Presbyterians founded a support committee in order to help visiting pastors and students when undertaking their foreign exchange. It seems that it was quite common for these theology students to come to Scotland in particular; in fact, Carlo Buffa’s brother Giovanni spent his year at the University of Edinburgh from 1881-2.

Alberto Billour spent his year at the University of Glasgow studying English, presumably in order to better his grasp of the language before embarking on his missionary journey to North America; while Buffa studied Moral Philosophy under Professor Edward Caird and is thought to have founded a school for the children of Italian immigrants in Glasgow.

Both Billour and Buffa went on to join Waldensian communities in Canada and the US. Perhaps travelling there on the SS Waldensian (built in 1861 by Barclay, Curle & Co. Ltd. of Glasgow), which sailed from Glasgow to Canada during the 1880s.

Buffa was invited first to Monnett, Missouri by Pastor Giovanni Pietro Salomon, then later he traveled to Montreal in Canada. Billour instead journeyed to towns in Pennsylvania and Illinois helping build grassroot Waldensian movements. Neither Buffa nor Billour remained in America but they were integral to the creation and growth of communities of Waldensians that exist to this day and who take pride in their Italian heritage.

By Olivia Tolaini, MA History





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The Italian Job part 3: The Legend of Baglietto

From my earlier blog story, ‘The Call of the Clyde’, I found that, unsurprisingly, the University at the turn of the 20th century boasted a wealth of talent in the Naval Engineering world. From my detective work at the archive looking into the University’s Italian connections, I found one student who deserves more particular attention, Vincenzo Vittorio Baglietto.

Resisting the temptation to Google his name straight away, I began at the beginning – the archive materials:

Baglietto, Students of Engineering & Naval Architecture photo 1919-1920

Baglietto, Students of Engineering & Naval Architecture photo 1913-1914 (ACCN173/11/7/1a)

After matriculating in 1911 to study Naval Architecture, Baglietto went on to take a whole range of classes in Engineering and the Sciences.

In 1915 he vanished from the class list. As was common at the time, First World War service interrupted many students’ course of study, including that of Baglietto who appears to have joined the Italian Air Force.

JA de Zencovich, Engineering & Naval Architecture Students 1919-20

He returned again to the University after the War in 1918, and appears in the ‘senior students of Engineering and Naval Architecture session 1919-1920’ photo along with fellow Italian, Joseph Andrew de Zencovich. Eventually Baglietto graduated BSc in Naval Engineering in 1921, and then returned to his birthplace of Varazze in Italy to work for a local shipyard.

After exhausting the paper trail in the archive, I thought I’d give Google a shot. I had a sudden jolt of excitement as hundreds of results returned with ‘Baglietto Yachts for Sale’, ‘Super-yachts’ to be more exact. Being completely foreign to the boating world I was unaware that the Baglietto name was to yachts what Rolls-Royce is to cars. Synonymous with speed, design and luxury, Baglietto is practically a household name in the story of pleasure boats. http://www.baglietto.com/cms_dime/public/doc/BD-Shipyard%20Saga%20Baglietto-INV02.pdf

The Baglietto Cantiere was originally built by Vincenzo’s father Pietro Baglietto in 1854. He transformed what was a vegetable garden on the shore of Varazze into a thriving yacht business. By 1890 Pietro was being commissioned to build boats for the famous Italian poet Gabrielle D’Annunzio and even Pope Leo XIII. By the time of his death in 1911 Pietro Baglietto had placed his firm at the forefront of the pleasure boat industry in Italy.

Vincenzo and his brothers took over the business after his father’s death. Perhaps it was the loss of his father that persuaded Vincenzo to study at the University, which was at the forefront of naval architecture. He remained an active partner in the firm whilst he was still in Glasgow, designing vessels before even graduating.  After completing his studies he returned to Varazze leading his family’s company to even greater success. In 1929 he built ‘La Spina’, the first Italian 12 metre yacht.

Source: Baglietto Archive

Source: Baglietto Archive

During the First and Second World Wars the Cantiere was also heavily involved in supplying the Italian Navy with military vessels. Vincenzo designed anti-submarine motor boats (MAS), which were built with a step hull. The MAS were used throughout the world even by the Japanese, Finnish, French and Swedish Navies.

His attentions quickly returned however to building leisure boats, pioneering new technology and competing in International yacht races throughout the 1950s and 60s. Vincenzo Baglietto sadly died in 1978 but his family name and yachting prowess lives on.

It was so rewarding tracing Vincenzo Baglietto’s story and knowing that his time at the University of Glasgow was doubtless an integral part of his continued success in his career.

By Olivia Tolaini, MA History






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The Italian Job, part 2; The Call of the Clyde

Having been assigned the task of looking into the University’s Italian connection during the period of 1890-1920, it didn’t take long before a pattern emerged amongst the students. They were largely young men who’d chosen to study Engineering, more specifically Naval Architecture. At the forefront of the shipping industry, the Clyde was producing a third of the world’s total shipping output by 1900, rightly deserving its title as ‘The Workshop of the Empire’.

Throughout the 1800s Glasgow was a lodestar of technological innovation: The first steam engine was built by a Scottish engineer, Henry Bell, in 1812, and it was on the Clyde in the late 1870s that the first steel ships were being built, replacing wrought iron in creating lighter more efficient vessels. Shipbuilding was becoming more of a science than an art. Naval Architects needed mathematical training in order to calculate a ship’s stability and boiler pressures and have basic understanding of Chemistry and Physics so that they could test iron and steel for the hulls.

Fregoso patent 1912On student I researched, Severo Campo Fregoso, studied a Naval Architecture course at the University in 1910 and went on to file several patents in the advancement of mechanical engineering for use in transport vehicles. During WWI, there was a report in Flight magazine of January 1917, citing a Severo Campo Fregoso and two others, who were charged for “collecting and recording information about certain aircraft likely to be useful to the enemy”. Although further research would have to be done to establish whether this was in fact the same Severo Campo Fregoso, it is nevertheless interesting to note that students in and around this period inevitably took part in active service during the First World War.

In fact, my next blog post will be about a prominent Italian student whose studies were interrupted by his War service in Italy.

By Olivia Tolaini, MA History

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The Italian Job (part 1)

Our Club21 volunteer, Olivia Tolaini, chose to research Italian student students at the turn of the 20th century. In a four-part blog series, Olivia considers her own family’s immigration to the UK, how Italian immigration has been experienced in Scotland, and features a few of her findings on Italian students from the University of Glasgow’s archives.

To me, walking down Byres road often feels like I’m in Glasgow’s very own ‘Little Italy’. In fact, the Italian café and ice-cream parlor have become such features of Scottish culture that I imagine it’s easy to overlook the longstanding connections between the two. My journey delving into the University’s archive into the lives of Italian students at the turn of the 20th century has uncovered very different experiences to the usual stories of ice creams and fish suppers. Having Italian parentage myself, perhaps I was looking for immigrant experiences that resembled those of my Grandparents’. What emerged instead was a parallel narrative of Italian immigrants and visiting students.

My grandfatherArriving in London in the 1950s, my Grandparents, like many other Italian immigrants to Scotland, found work in the service industry. There was often a lot of hostility and solidarity amongst the local trade unions and craft societies towards Italian immigrants, forcing them to find employment in something distinctive and non-competitive. My Grandfather had trained as a carpenter in Italy eventually he had to follow the well-established tradition of working as a chef in an Italian restaurant. My gradmotherMy Grandmother worked as a seamstress for lots of different fashion houses, ultimately working for the designer Norman Hartnell. Yet, in order to remain in Britain, she had to officially declare that she was working as a domestic servant. Before I familiarized myself with each individual’s story it was quite difficult for me to imagine different lives for them.

Since the 1880s, Glasgow has witnessed large waves of Italian immigrants, mostly from Northern and Central regions of Italy. I noted that the majority of the visiting students fit this same pattern. Many of the earliest migrants actually walked the long and arduous trip to Scotland. For some, Glasgow was merely a stop-over on their journey to America, whereas others chose to stay and exploit the fabled Scottish ‘sweet tooth’. Initially these migrants were selling ice cream out of wheelbarrows along the streets of Glasgow, but many quickly acquired premises of their own. By 1905, there were over 300 cafés and chippies owned by Italian families.

Giannetti’s Fish Restaurant c.1900, http://www.scotsitalian.com/cafeandchippie.htm

Giannetti’s Fish Restaurant c.1900, http://www.scotsitalian.com/cafeandchippie.htm

Businesses and communities grew and grew as they sent word back to their families in Italy of the great opportunities in Glasgow of employment and education, which sparked off a phenomenon of chain migration. Whole villages and districts in Northern Italy have particular connections to Glasgow. The small town of Barga for example bizarrely boasts the annual ‘Sagra Delle Pesce e Patate’ (The Fish and Chip Festival), as die-hard Celtic fans as any you’d find in Parkhead, and the musical talents of Paolo Nutini. One of the students I researched, Giuseppe Brucciani, also came over from Barga in 1909.

Trawling through the archive records and the depths of the internet I came across a very varied group of individuals from all over Italy whose lives all took very different paths. Many of them chose to study specialised subjects such as Naval Architecture and Engineering. The majority of them actually returned to Italy after their time at the University. Perhaps they had always intended to go back but maybe they, like my Grandparents, encountered quite a closed system of employment. One engineering student, Pasquale Infante, was refused membership to the UK Mechanical Engineers Association, although on what ground is uncertain.

I became very fond of all of them and of my ritual of going to the archive. I like to imagine that the students I traced found their own ‘Little Italy’. Studying abroad at the turn of the century would have been a very different prospect to what it is now – a lot more daunting I imagine – but with a local Italian café where they could get themselves a proper Italian Cappuccino I’m sure it made them feel more at home. More research into the Italian immigration in Scotland is also being carried out by the University of Edinburgh at The Italo-Scottish Research Cluster , however my series of blog posts will concentrate on students of Glasgow.

I’m very grateful to Kerry McDonald and all the staff at the Archive for all of their help and support and I hope that reading each of these students stories gives as much enjoyment as I had researching them.

By Olivia Tolaini, MA History



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