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Massimo Salvadori, professor of History 1947-1973

While most Smith College professors no doubt have extensive resumes, Massimo Salvadori’s includes over six pages of publications and exemplifies a life filled with intrigue, hard work, and a desire to fight for liberty in the face of any oppressive force. (See Figures 1-7 of Salvadori’s CV for list of publications) This life would later be mirrored in the classes he would teach at Smith College. Over the course of 26 years, Salvadori (See Figure 8) taught a variety of topics within the sociology and history departments at Smith. Between 1962 and 1973, he held the Dwight W. Morrow Professorship of History. For two years during his teaching years, Salvadori directed the JYA Geneva program for Smith students. Today, within the Smith College Archives, the personal papers, publications, and course materials of Massimo Salvadori provide a detailed glimpse into the classes he taught and how his personal life was interconnected to those classes. Letters and documents in the Archives show how his upbringing and early life provided him with the examples that enlivened his classes with observations from personal experiences. In three of the classes that he taught, “Africa South of the Sahara”, “Elements of the Impact Made Beyond Its Borders After WWII by the U.S.”, and “Modern European History”, Salvadori’s personal experiences enriched the student’s learning because their professor had lived through what was being taught from a textbook.

Salvadori was born in 1908 of Italian and British descent, giving him dual citizenship. His parents were both anti-fascist activists who opposed the widely popular political beliefs promoted under the reign of Mussolini. Unafraid of the oppressive atmosphere and inspired by his parents, Salvadori spoke his mind in school and praised anti-fascism. This blatant sign of dissent to the political norm ultimately resulted in Salvadori receiving a beating from a group of fascists in 1924. A year later, after publishing two anti-fascist articles, his father was beaten bloody by fascist officers.[1] With his intervention and help, Massimo and his father were able to survive and later fled to Switzerland. In Switzerland, Salvadori studied sociology and economics while maintaining contact with other exiles. Those contacts would help him over time mature his liberal political thoughts.

A few years later, Salvadori returned to Italy, enrolled in the University of Rome, and received a doctorate in political science. His life during the pre-war years highlights the political tensions at that time. While in Rome, he joined a resistance group called Justice and Liberty and “served as [a] liaison between its clandestine operations in central Italy and anti-fascist exiles in France.”[2] In 1930, he was arrested with 40 other Resistance members for “anti-fascist work at the university and at officers’ training school”[3] and was sentenced to five years in a deportation camp on the penal island of Ponza. But “after 1 year of prison the British government intervened and Salvadori was released. He was placed under house arrest but he escaped and returned to Switzerland.”[4]

After his deportation camp sentence was cut short, Salvadori spent three years in Kenya, managing a plantation.  This personal experience of colonial rule would later prove useful for his teaching. While maintaining the farmland, he performed sociological research across British East Africa.[5] Salvadori’s real-life experiences enriched the class he would later teach at Smith, “Africa and the Sahara,” allowing his students to understand African colonization directly rather than through an antiquated textbook.     (See Figure 9 for the first page of a revised lecture for the class.)

In much the same way, Salvadori’s subsequent participation in WWII would inform his course , “Modern European History.” In 1939, Salvadori volunteered for British service but was not accepted due to complications over his dual citizenship. Not deterred by this denial from active duty, Salvadori found other ways to participate. For the next three years, he cooperated with antifascist Italian exiles and Italian-Americans and “worked [within] Mexico with European exiles intent on counteracting fascist and Nazi activities in Central America.”[6] In 1943, Salvadori was finally accepted into the British army and was involved in the military landings in Salerno and Anzio, Italy in 1943 and 1944. In 1945, Salvadori was “appointed Allied Liaison officer of the committee of National Liberation in Northern Italy.” As an officer, he parachuted into Italy with the main objective of reaching “Milan in order to coordinate the efforts of civilian and military resistance group struggling to liberate Northern Italy.”[7] At the end of the war, Salvadori received the Military Cross for the organization of an important person’s evacuation from occupied Salerno and the repeated crossing of enemy lines to infiltrate agents. In addition, his work in Milan toward the war’s end earned him the Distinguished Service Order.[8] After victory was declared, Salvadori resigned from his position and was granted an honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. Massimo Salvadori’s extensive and varied experience during WWII provided him with invaluable insight into modern European history and in the inner workings of governmental systems within Europe and their social implications. He later applied his unique perspective within the classroom setting to provide his students with a better understanding of modern Europe. (See Figures 10-13 for an introduction and breakdown of the course) Although Salvadori recognized that “a certain bias is inevitable in teaching as well as in writing,” and that his own experience could exemplify such a bias, he trusted that students would “be able to discount it.”[9]


Massimo Salvadori’s postwar activism played just as crucial a role in his teaching as his pre-war and war experience did.  After the war, Salvadori continued to fight against totalitarian regimes in the hope of educating students on the dangers of joining such regimes and stressing the interconnectivity of nations. His class, “Elements of the Impact Made Beyond Its Borders after WWII by the U.S,” emphasized these points.  (See Figure 14 for the first page of the syllabus) In 1947, he began to teach sociology and history as a professor at Smith College. His first class at Smith focused on discussing democracy and what would constitute effective American foreign policy.  In addition to his commitment to teaching, Salvadori continued to be actively engaged in policy making.  In 1948, he took a leave of absence “to work as Director of the Division of Political Science, UNESCO in Paris and as a political analyst in the NATO Secretariat, Paris.” From 1955-1967, he directed eight summer seminars of the School for Freedom, which promoted political literacy and national awareness of interconnectivity.[10] Again, Salvadori brought a unique and practical perspective to the classroom from his work with NATO, UNESCO, and American foreign policy.


In 1973, Salvadori retired from Smith but never gave up the liberal fight. From 1979-1981, “he served as [the] president of the Institute for the History of the Democratic and Republican Movement of the Marché”.[11] His foreign policy ideas relating to the image that the United States should convey to the world led President Eisenhower to praise such ideas. The President even went as far as to say that Salvadori had ‘some of the best ideas I have seen on it’ and that he would ‘circulate it as widely as I can’.[12]

Over the course of Massimo Salvadori’s life, he wrote 20 books, thousands of articles and reviews and “chose both political and scholarly means to continue his fight” against oppressive regimes.[13] But it was through the classroom at Smith College that he fought one of his most difficult intellectual battles with the hope of trying “to get students to develop an interest in the things [he was] interested in. [Stating,] if I was any success, I have no idea. One never knows the effect of what one says or writes.”[14] Through his “passion for ideas, his example of active resistance to oppression, and his inexhaustible curiosity about human history in all times and in all places,”[15] Salvadori was an influential professor who provided valuable insight into political interactions that textbooks often depict too abstractly and a humble man who was not quick to talk about himself. Posthumously honored as “Citizen of the World”[16] in the town of Porto San Georgio, Italy, the man did not belong to one country’s ideals. Rather, he believed in liberty, anti-colonialism, and free institutions that would provide all people with the proper education to learn from past experiences in order to more efficiently address the problems of tomorrow. This lesson he attempted to impart on Smith College students whom he hoped would take the lessons to heart when addressing the problems of the future.


presented by Sara Ottomano, Class of 2015 Global STRIDE Fellow

[1] Helen Cummings, “Hampshire Life: Daily Hampshire Gazette.” Jan. 10-16 1986. p 7.

[2] Wolfgang Saxon. “Max W. Salvadori, 84, Professor Who Fought the Fascists in Italy.” NY Times. Aug. 1992.

[3] Joan Afferica. “Memorial Minute for Max Salvadori.” Presentation at Dept of History Faculty Meeting. Oct 27, 1993.

[4] Helen Cummings, “Hampshire Life: Daily Hampshire Gazette.” Jan. 10-16 1986. p 43.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Joan Afferica. “Memorial Minute for Max Salvadori.” Presentation at Dept of History Faculty Meeting. Oct 27, 1993.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Joan Afferica. “Memorial Minute for Max Salvadori.” Presentation at Dept of History Faculty Meeting. Oct 27, 1993.

[9] Modern European History Syllabus. Smith College

[10] Ibid.

[11] Joan Afferica. “Memorial Minute for Max Salvadori.” Presentation at Dept of History Faculty Meeting. Oct 27, 1993

[12] “Lecturer Impresses President as Interpreter of US Abroad.” The New York Times March 22, 1956.

[13] Joan Afferica. “Memorial Minute for Max Salvadori.” Presentation at Dept of History Faculty Meeting. Oct 27, 1993

[14] Helen Cummings, “Hampshire Life: Daily Hampshire Gazette.” Jan. 10-16 1986. p 43.

[15] Joan Afferica. “Memorial Minute for Max Salvadori.” Presentation at Dept of History Faculty Meeting. Oct 27, 1993.

[16] Ibid.

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