WESTFIELD — Local historians, public history professionals, genealogists, preservationists, academics and others will gather for a day of sharing 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, at Westfield State University.

HistoryFest Pioneer Valley will include 25 local history presentations, a keynote address by author and historian Joseph Carvalho III and musical entertainment by the Ne’er Do Wells.

Pioneer Valley History Network Vice President Cliff McCarthy said, “We’ve done events similar to this before the pandemic shut us down, but this is the first time we’re doing this event. The first time for HistoryFest.” He went on to say, “This is the first time we’re working in partnership with Westfield State University. The history department there and they have been really great. They have a great facility and we’re looking forward to exploring new ways to enlighten people about local history.”

Anyone who has an expertise or passionate interest in Western Massachusetts can give a presentation. There is no specific theme to the event, other than its focus on the Pioneer Valley and Western Massachusetts.

Pioneer Valley History Network is a consortium of historical societies, sites and museums in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. The group looks to break down the barriers between organizations and help local historians and history students share their passion.

“Anyone who comes to this event will have a different take on what inspires them,” McCarthy said. “There’s something for everybody. History is way more fun when you share it with other people.”

Mafia historian Justin Cascio will present “The Bootleg Queen of Springfield’s Little Italy,” the life and legacy of Pasqualina Albano. She was a wife, mother and Mafia gangster in Springfield during  the Prohibition.

“This will be my first year presenting,” Cascio said. “Pasqualina is a fascinating figure. Traditionally, there isn’t much room in the Mafia for women to participate, much less lead, but Pasqualina had personal magnetism and a supportive family. When her first husband was killed, she took over his position and succeeded in running her husband’s gang for years after his death.”

He continued, “When I tell her story, I’m mostly struck by how tragic the Albano family is. Pasqualina is a tragic figure, but she’s no victim. What the audience takes from the story varies. For some, it’s the locale, for others it’s the focus on Italian American history or notable women in history.”

History professor Mara Dodge’s presentation is called “A Peek into Westfield’s Past: Back Stories,” a whirlwind tour of some intriguing characters and little-known facts about the city’s history. It includes unexpected discoveries, and intriguing back stories. It shatters some cherished myths about Puritan pastors, enslavement, educator Horace Mann, new England’s first female mayor, and others.

“My presentation explores some of the myths and misconceptions that often emerge around local history,” Dodge said. “These stories come from a book that will be published in 2025, titled ‘A Peek into Westfield’s Past.’ Westfield has a fascinating history with many engaging characters and events.”

Museum professional Samantha DePergola’s presentation is titled “Making History Accessible.” She will discuss preserving the history of the Pioneer Valley; learning how to start building and organizing a collection from nothing; policies that might be important for an organization taking on this task; and why preservation is important in the first place. Students, rising historians and rising museum professionals will learn what opportunities they have available to them to get started.

“This topic is something that is special to me,” DePergola said. “As a young museum professional, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of organizations that have been integral to the history of West Springfield. For so long, I knew I loved history and wanted to work in the field.”

She wants to help others be able to find their place in the museum and history field so they might be able to start helping preserve history. DePergola wants attendees of her presentation to leave with an understanding of how they can help preserve the history of the Pioneer Valley and how they can do that, even if they don’t work in a traditional museum. She wants them to learn how they can get started and find their way through the history field.

“There are so many unique stories within the Pioneer Valley that will be lost if people don’t work to help preserve them,” said DePergola. “I’m passionate about this topic because I was one of the people who knew they wanted to be active in the history of the Pioneer Valley, but had no idea how to make that happen. Armed with the knowledge that I’ve learned so far through my own experiences, I hope I can help inspire others and guide them to find the way to their own paths.”

HistoryFest Pioneer Valley will take place in Parenzo Hall at Westfield State University, 477 Western Ave., Westfield. Tickets are $15 in advance at pioneervalleyhistorynetwork.org, or $20 at the door for general admission, and $10 in advance or $15 at the door for students.

People interested in giving a presentation can contact the Pioneer Valley History Network at pioneervalleyhistory@gmail.com.

Miasha Lee
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