- An Enchanted Journey:Discovering the Children’s Literature Collection of the MUSLI
For the historians of the Risorgimento (Italian unification), the city of Turin possesses an indispensable place. Apart from being the keeper of the Holy Shroud and the owner of the world’s second greatest museum of Egyptian history, Turin became the first capital city of Italy in 1861 when the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia proclaimed the unification of the country. Only five years later the capital was moved to Florence, yet throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Turin remained to be one of the most important political and cultural landmarks of the country. This venerable Northern Italian city, at the foot of the majestic Alps still shelters a considerable number of concealed and conspicuous premises, and its dazzling baroque edifices host fascinating and precious surprises.
Undoubtedly, one of these surprises is the School and Children’s Book Museum (Museo della Scuola e del Libro per l’Infanzia, the MUSLI), which is situated in Palazzo Barolo. The building is originally a seventeenth-century palace and was the house of Marquis Carlo Tancredi Falletti di Barolo (1782-1838) and his wife Giulia Falletti di Barolo (1785-1864), who are regarded as two of the significant names of the Risorgimento which commenced to flourish by the end of the Napoleonic rule. Since the couple never had children, they directed their attention to the moral and religious education of the infants in Turin and Piedmont. For that purpose, inside the walls of Palazzo Barolo, they opened a nursery (asilo infantile) in 1830. After the death of her husband, the marchioness constituted the Opera Barolo (http://www.operabarolo.it/), which continued to concentrate on numerous cultural, social, and educational activities. In 2002, the Foundation Tancredi di Barolo was born as an outcome of the initiative taken by the same charity/public work organization. The [End Page 53] entire children’s literature collection of the family of Professor Pompeo Vagliani—who is the Director of the MUSLI—was donated to the Foundation (www.fondazionetancredidibarolo.com). It is currently supported by numerous public institutions and private bodies, and it possesses an archive which comprises around twelve thousand primary sources (alphabet books, picture books, textbooks, costume books, music books, etc.) in numerous European languages and covers a time span from the eighteenth to the second half of the twentieth century. Every weekday from 9:00 to 14:00, the library, which is situated on the second floor of Palazzo Barolo, is open to all researchers who contact the foundation beforehand to make appointment.
For a historian whose main area of interest is built on tracing the reflections of various political and cultural interactions, clashes, changes, and developments on late nineteenth- and early-twentieth century children’s literature, the MUSLI library is a genuine trove to explore. For instance, during my concise research on Italian textbooks in September 2015, I had the opportunity to consult numerous primary sources from the early nineteenth century to the end of Fascism and the 1950s. In addition, on the table which I was working, there was a variety of Pinocchio books in different languages that were going to be displayed in an exhibition outside the museum. The MUSLI’s collection of different translations and editions of Alice in Wonderland is also worth denoting. Numerous translations of Edmondo de Amicis’ Cuore [The Heart of a Boy]—which was published in 1886 in the form of a child’s diary to depict a primary school in late nineteenth-century Turin—demonstrate the popularity of the book in Europe during the indicated period of time. However, finding the exact location of the intended works to consult could be an initial problem for a researcher since the library unfortunately does not have a complete catalog due to insufficient funding; however, Prof. Vagliani personally guides everyone to the right shelf in one of the rooms of the library.
Aside from the archival collection, certain sections of the museum are also remarkable within the scope of discovering significant works and aspects in the history of children’s literature. One part of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to moveable/mechanical picture books of...