Joseph A. Amato

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Joseph A. Amato (August 31, 1938, Detroit, Michigan) is a noted teacher, thinker, and author.

Background and Education[edit]

Amato received his B.A. in history from the University of Michigan in 1960; his M.A. in history from the Université Laval, Québec, in 1963; and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Rochester in 1970. His undergraduate education was shaped, as we read in his memoir Bypass(Purdue University Press, 2000) and in an article he wrote "Stephen Tonsor and his historicism." Modern Age (Spring, 2008), while his graduate study was inspired by 19th-century European and Italian historian, A. W. Salomone (1916-1989). His dissertation, published as "Mounier and Maritain: A French Catholic Understanding of the Modern World" (University of Alabama Press1975), was on the sources and plight of contemporary French Catholic thought in the first half of the 20th century. He also did post-doctoral study in the history of European cultures with Professor Eugen Weber] at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1975-1976, whom he describes in a review essay, "Eugen Weber's France," Journal of Social History, Vol 25, No. 4 (Summer, 1992).

Teaching career[edit]

After teaching high school at Royal Oak, Michigan, Amato taught as instructor at Binghamton University and the University of California, Riverside. In 1969 Amato began teaching at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) in Marshall, Minnesota. At this new and small college, characterized by every sort of cultural and institutional turbulence associated with the late sixties and even seventies—as described by "A New College on the Prairie"(1992)—he was a founder and chair of the History Department. He taught a range of courses in European intellectual and cultural history, in addition to social science and ethics. Amato was one of the architects of the university’s Rural Studies curriculum in the 1970s, a principal founder of the Society for Local and Regional History, and he eventually became the founder the Rural and Regional Studies and the Dean of Rural and Regional Studies. In his first decades at SMSU, Amato founded the local Minnesota Federation of Teachers union, supported and wrote on the Catholic Worker, non-violent Sicilian Social Reformer Danilo Dolci, and the Striking Bank Women of Willmar, Minnesota. He also established Crossings Press and, working in conjunction with the Southwest Minnesota Regional Research Center,[1] supported over seventy publications on diverse places, farms, towns, and peoples, and ethnic, demographic,and geographic facets of life in Southwest Minnesota, including environmental history, rivers, floods, clandestine lives, murders,and crop scams.[2] Amato retired from SMSU in 2003 as Professor emeritus of Rural and Regional Studies and of History.

Writing career[edit]

Amato's writing are divided into three fields as shown by collections of his writings, notebooks, interviews, and reviews of his writing held the college's regional research and history center and the Literary Manuscript Collections of the Elmer Anderson Library, at the University of Minnesota.[3] First, Amato made local, regional, and rural history an integral part of his ongoing inquiry into human experience and meaning. Rethinking Home: The Case for Local History (2003) was widely reviewed[4] and featured at several national conferences. On multiple fronts he has continued to study and represent local and regional history and the power of place in determining experience and identity. Most recently in 2013 he wrote three lead articles for the journal of Historically Speaking(January, April, & June issues); a chapter in "Local History: A Way to Place and Home," for "Why Place Matters,"eds. Wilfred McClay and Ted V. McAllister (New Atlantis Books, 2014) and a chapter "Suffering, and the Promise of a World Without Pain," Suffering and Bioethcs, eds. Ronald Green and Nathan Palpant (Oxford University Press, 2014).

The second and formative focus of Amato’s writing continues to be European cultural and intellectual history. Starting with early books "Mounier and Maritain"and "Ethics, Living or Dead?" Amato further entered into the history of ideas with "Guilt and Gratitude" and "Victims and Values," and "Dust: A History of the Small and Invisible," which won the Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction of 2000[5] and "On Foot: A Cultural History of Walking" (New York University Press, 2004). Most recently, he has published Surfaces, A History (University of California Press, 2013 and "The Book of Twos: Finding and Making Meanings" (forthcoming, Crossings Press, Fall, 2014). His books have been translated into Italian, German, Korean, and other languages.

Third, Amato’s writing focus on family, self, and community. His 2008 '"Jacob’s Well: A Case for Rethinking Family History" traces seven generations of his family migrations from Europe, in Acadia, pre-revolutionary Massachusetts and the West. They are joined to the settlement of the United States and the rural and industrial Midwest. Amato also describes his youth two memoirs, "Bypass: A Memoir" and "Golf Beats Us All (And So We Love It)." He offers a short history of his wife’s families, ethnicity, and region in his "Coal Cousins: Rusyn and Sicilian Stories & Pennsylvania Anthracite Histories"(Crossings Press, 2008).

Amato's first and very recent volume of poetry, "Buoyancies, A Ballast Master's Log" (Spoon River Poetry Press and Crossings Press, March, 2013) joins the local, the familial, and the intellectual and religious.[6] His second book of published in the Spring of 2016 is "My Three Sicilies"Bordighera Press (New York).

His books won have won him nominations, selections, and honors, of particular note the Minnesota Humanities Prize for Literature[7] and Prairie Star Award for Southwest Minnesota Arts Council.[8]


  • Mounier and Maritain: A French Catholic Understanding of the Modern World (University of Alabama Press, 1975; republished by Ave Maria Press,2002
  • Ethics, Living or Dead?(Portals Press/ Crossings Press, 1982).
  • Guilt and Gratitude: A History of the Origins of Modern Conscience (Greenwood Press, 1982).
  • Death Book, Terrors, Consolations, Contradictions and Paradoxes (Ellis Press, Crossings Press, 1985).
  • When Father and Son Conspire: A Minnesota Farm Murder (Iowa State University Press, 1988).
  • Victims and Values: A History and Theory of Suffering, 1990.
  • Servants of the Land: God, Family, and Farm, The Trinity of Belgian Economic Folkways (Crossing Press, 1990).
  • A New College on the Prairie: Southwest State University's First Twenty-Five Years, 1967–1992 (Crossings Pres, 1991.
  • The Great Jerusalem Artichoke Circus (University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
  • The Decline of Rural Minnesota, with John Meyer, (Crossings Press, 1993).
  • To Call It Home: The New Immigrants of Southwestern Minnesota, with John Meyer, John Radzilowski, Donata DeBruyckere, and Anthony Amato (Crossings Press, 1996).
  • Golf Beats Us All (And So We Love It) (Johnson Books, 1997).
  • Community of Strangers: Change, Turnover, Turbulence & the Transformation of a Midwestern Country Town, with John Radzilowski and assistance of John Meyer (Crossings Press, 1999).
  • Bypass: A Memoir (Purdue University Press, 2000).
  • Dust: A History of the Small and Invisible (University of California Press, 2000).
  • The Draining of the Great Oasis: An Environmental History of Murray County, Minnesota, ed. with Anthony Amato and Janet Timmerman (Crossings Press, 2001).
  • Rethinking Home: The Case for Local History (University of California Press, 2002).
  • A Place Called Home: Writings on the Midwestern Small Town, 2003 anthology edited by Richard Davies, Joseph Amato and David Pichaske (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2003).
  • On Foot: A Cultural History of Walking (New York University Press, 2004).
  • Southwest Minnesota: A Place of Many Places, written with David Pichaske,(Ellis Press/Crossings Press, 2007).
  • Jacob’s Well: A Case for Rethinking Family History (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008).
  • Coal Cousins: Rusyn and Sicilian Stories & Pennsylvania Anthracite Histories, Crossings Press, 2008).
  • Surfaces, A History (University of California Press, May, 2013).
  • Buoyancies, A Ballast Master's Log (Spoon River Poetry Press/Crossings Press, 2014).
  • The Book of Twos: The Power of Contrasts, Polarities, and Contradictions (Ellis Press, 2015).
  • My Three Sicilies: Stories, Poems, and Histories (Bordighera Press, 2016).
  • Everyday Life: How the Ordinary Became Extraordinary (Reaktion Press, Fall, 2016).


External links[edit]