Planning, Protectionism, and Politics in Liberal Italy: Economics and Politics in the Giolittian Age

By Frank J. Coppa | Go to book overview

Chapter I
INTRODUCTION

Since the dawn of history Italy has exerted a strong fascination for foreigners, and this in large measure helps to explain the flood of tourists that annually pours into the peninsula. When coupled with the massive Italian emigration of the twentieth century, and more recently the exportation of a host of Italian goods and products, Italian influence in some form or other has been felt throughout the world. Paradoxically, this outpouring of things Italian has done but little to encourage the study of Italian history. Perhaps it has even discouraged it, for many have deceptively concluded that their superficial encounters with Italy or things Italian render them capable of understanding the Italians without delving into their complex and often perplexing history. This reluctance to study Italian history has been undoubtedly reinforced by the language barrier, for among foreigners the language of Dante never gained the popularity that English, French, and even German enjoyed. As a result, Italy was for a long time not only the smallest of the great European powers, but also the least studied and the least understood.

This is not to deny that foreign historiography has been traditionally concerned with the development and the decline of Rome, with the age of the city states of the Middle Ages, and most certainly with the humanism and the new learning of the Renaissance. However, the men who ventured into these studies looked backwards towards a heroic age they felt had ended; most of these scholars did not consider the modern Italians who occupied the peninsula as worthy of study. If anything, these writers resented the presence of the people who were often housed in the buildings they wished to examine, and were annoyed that the occupants had modified their environment to suit their own needs rather than having preserved the original style and setting. Only in the nineteenth century did foreign historians and writers--most notably the English--turn their attention to modern Italy to witness and describe the liberal struggle that culminated in the Risorgimento and the unification. Once the struggle ended, however, so did a good deal of the interest in modern Italy. This interest was really not renewed until the twentieth century when the western world

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