In Memoriam: John A. Tedeschi (1931-2023)

November 1, 2023

We were deeply saddened by the news of the death on October 5, 2023, of John Tedeschi, Curator Emeritus of Special Collections and eminent scholar in Renaissance and Reformation studies and Italian history. The Department of Special Collections and those who use its holdings have long been grateful beneficiaries of his vision and generosity.

On the occasion of his retirement from UW-Madison, a profile in the magazine of the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries (winter 1996-1997) called attention to Tedeschi’s many accomplishments, including his role in a revitalized Friends organization and his dedication to building the Libraries’ resources for scholarship and teaching; the previous issue highlighted important gifts received by the Department of Special Collections during his time as Curator of Special Collections. He was also associated with the Institute for Research in the Humanities at UW-Madison as an honorary fellow (and earlier as a postdoctoral fellow).

Martha Tedeschi has shared with us an obituary for her father:

John A. Tedeschi, eminent scholar in the field of Renaissance and Reformation Studies and Italian History, died at age 92 at home on his farm near Ferryville, Wisconsin on October 5, 2023. Born Guido Alfredo Tedeschi in Modena, Italy in 1931, he emigrated as an eight-year-old to the United States with his Jewish parents and younger brother in 1939. Landing in New York, they eventually settled in the greater Boston area, where he attended Roxbury Latin School (1944-50) and then Harvard College (AB ’54, History).  He also completed his graduate studies at Harvard University (Ph.D. 1966, History and Philosophy of Religion). A hiatus in his studies came when he served in the United States Army in the years 1954-56, as an interpreter stationed in Italy.

For most of his career, his scholarship focused on Italian religious history of the sixteenth century, offering revisionist perspectives on the Italian Inquisition and heretical movements of the period. Following his retirement, his longstanding interest in histories of religious persecution (of Jews, heretics, intellectuals, and exiles) became a compelling focus of his research. In 2015, he published his sweeping personal and political account of the Jewish experience under Mussolini’s regime (written with Anne Tedeschi), entitled Italian Jews Under Fascism, 1938-1945: A Personal and Historical Narrative. Throughout his life it meant a great deal to him to maintain contact with members of his extended Italian family.

He took up the position of Bibliographer and Research Fellow in European History and Literature at the Newberry Library, Chicago in 1965. New opportunities at the Newberry followed; he became Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts and Head of the Department of Special Collections in 1970 and inaugural director of the Newberry’s Center for Renaissance Studies in 1979.

In 1984, he was appointed Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections, University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he was named Distinguished Academic Librarian in 1995. He retired and became Emeritus in 1996.

In 2017, colleagues from three continents came together to present him with a Festschrift, L’Inquisizione romana, i giudici e gli eretici: Studi in onore di John Tedeschi (edited by Andrea del Col and Anne Jacobson Schutte). A useful bibliography of his books, articles, and translations (with Anne Tedeschi) may be found in this volume. Here is also reflected his rich contributions to the field as a commentator and presider at scholarly meetings, as well as his work on editorial boards for important scholarly series, including the four-volume Dizionario Storico dell’Inquisizione (2010, with Adriano Prosperi and Vincenzo Lavenia).

In 1969, John and Anne Tedeschi bought a small farm in the picturesque Driftless region of Southwestern Wisconsin. Over the ensuing decades, the care and improvement of this land became a shared passion for them and for their children—and now engages four generations. Upon retirement in 1996, the couple established the farm as their permanent residence, where they divided their time between gardening and farming, watercolor painting (Anne), scholarly projects (John) and continuing their work together on translations of scholarly books from the Italian, which began with Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and The Worms (1980) and The Night Battles (1983). Their final translation together, published in 2021, was Emilio Gentile’s Fascination with the Persecutor.

Above all, he was a warm and loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He is survived by his beloved wife of 67 years, Anne Christian Tedeschi and their three children Martha (Michael Lukasiewicz); Philip (Rebecca Albright) and Sara. His seven grandchildren, Sam, Dylan, Jake, Gemma, Julia Rose, Ruby and Micah, as well as their spouses and partners, were a source of immeasurable joy, as were his great-grandchildren, Brody, Samara and Leon. He was also a loyal friend to his peers across continents and generations, taking great pleasure in sustaining these relationships.

He was preceded in death by his loving parents Dr. Cesare and Piera (Forti) Tedeschi and his younger brother, Dr. Luke Tedeschi; he dedicated his last book to the three of them.

Memorial Contributions in his name may be made to: Roxbury Latin School ( or Doctors Without Borders (