Italy is considered to have one of the greatest cultural and artistic heritages in the world. Among the wonders which bring millions of foreign tourists to visit our peninsula are the astounding wealth of architectural masterpieces, paintings and sculptures. Such works of genius left an indelible mark on the Italian landscape. However, many other treasures are less well known often merely the result of everyday experience. Letters, diaries and photographs are part of everyday life, but they acquire the status of invaluable document when they express a historical period. The archives collecting such material, which safeguard an important part of our culture, are often the result of pioneering activity by interested people who sensed its exclusive value, meticulously and tenaciously collecting documents which would otherwise have been scattered and lost. One of these pioneers was Paolo Cresci. A scientific photographer for the University of Florence, he came to know emigration in the Valle del Serchio and Lucca areas in detail through his personal experience. Through donations coming from emigrants’ families, but also through carefully visiting antiquarian marts and collectors, he collected more than 15,000 items in 25 years - letters, photographs, archives, emigrants’ private documents, books and magazines - and managed to put together the richest collection of documents on Italian emigration. Paolo Cresci was immediately aware of the immense value of the documents he had collected and, after a few local exhibitions, he was among the chief organisers of the exhibition “The World in my hand- Italian Emigration between 1860 and 1960”, which was held in New York in 1997, against the evocative backdrop of Ellis Island. It was his last commitment, since a few months later he prematurely passed away. His heirs did not want this heritage to be lost, they wanted it to be increased and enhanced. The Province of Lucca, whose territory has an ancient tradition of emigration, decided to acquire it, preserving the cultural heritage which Cresci had safeguarded and acknowledging the importance of his collection.
The need to entrust the commitment to enhance the Cresci heritage to an independent structure, as well as the will to involve local institutions, financial and cultural organisations in this ambitious project, were the basis for the creation of the Paolo Cresci Foundation for the History of Italian Emigration in 2002. Since its creation, this cultural institution has promoted national and international research projects, monographic and serial publications. The Paolo Cresci Museum for the History of the Italian Emigration is undoubtedly one of the most important objectives achieved, being a tangible contribution to knowledge and awareness of a crucial page in Italian history.