Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento

Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento

Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento

Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento

Synopsis

This important new book considers many of the ways in which national identity was imagined, implemented and contested within Italian culture before, during and after the period of Italian unification in the mid-nineteenth century. Taking a fresh approach towards national icons cherished by both Left and Right, the collection's authors examine the complex interaction between a perceived need for national identity and the fragmented nature of the Italian peninsula. In so doing, they draw on examples from a wide range of artistic and cultural media.The book opens with an introduction which defines the case of the Italian 'Risorgimento' and places it within a large context of European and global nation-building and nationalism. Authors discuss how episodes from the distant past were used by nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists, musicians, and writers to recreate narratives of nationhood, as well as how the problem of Italian identity was before and during the Risorgimento. The question of who belonged in the new Italy, who remained outsiders, and how social and sexual differences entered into defining these groups is also addressed. The book concludes with an analysis of twentieth-century attempts to appropriate and reforge the 'spirit' of the Risorgimento, under Fascism and in our own time.

Excerpt

Why do nations need a history? Any form of identity requires memory. To make the answer more historically precise, I think one can say that the need to create a national identity out of the materials furnished by the records of the past arises out of the crisis of earlier forms of collective memory. Secularization and the decline of ‘sacred history’ as a way of interpreting the world are one part of the story. This does not mean that religion cannot be conceived to be an essential constituent of national identity. Another aspect (equally the product of the Enlightenment) is the demand for a new ‘civil history’ which would not be that of kings, rulers and battles but of peoples, or societies, and their culture. Specifically, in the Italian case, the Napoleonic cyclone shook the foundations of belief in the old territorial states. Particularly important was the final extinction of the republican tradition, with the end of Venetian and Genoese independence. Not, of course, that local, ‘municipal’ identity and the piccola patria ceased to be important. Indeed all the evidence suggests that, in one form or another, they remained the primary focus of loyalty for most inhabitants of the Italian peninsula. But their adequacy as a basis for political identity had been undermined. Nor should one imagine that the larger and more viable territorial states - Piedmont, Naples, even Tuscany - could no longer provide a framework for political action. Still, even in these states, dynastic continuities were decisively challenged by the new conceptions of citizenship and political community diffused by the French Revolution.

What history can nations use, or choose? Some theorists of nationalism have suggested that it does not much matter. In his brilliant treatise on Nations and Nationalism, Ernest Gellner admits that nationalism uses ‘the pre-existing, historically inherited proliferation of cultures or cultural wealth, though it uses them very selectively, and it most often transforms them radically’ (Gellner 1983: 55). However, he goes on to add that: ‘The . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.