Along with my co-editors Michael Ebner and Kate Ferris, I am happy to announce the publication of The Politics of Everyday Life in Fascist Italy: Outside the State? Drawing on the frameworks of German Alltagsgeschichte (the history of everyday life), this volume explores the complex ways in which people lived and worked within the confines of Mussolini's regime, variously embracing, appropriating, accommodating and avoiding Fascism's incursions into quotidian life. It features contributions from leading Anglophone and Italian scholars in the field, and also includes a concluding essay by Geoff Eley on the historiography of everyday life in Germany and Italy.
My collaborator Kate Ferris and I recently gave a talk to the Graduate Studies Seminar at NYU-Florence's Villa La Pietra, about our edited volume (with Michael Ebner) Outside the State? The Politics of Everyday Life in Fascist Italy. This project is very much in progress, but this talk provides an overview of the major themes and problems being addressed.
I recently presented "Eccola qui, la mi' merda: Emotion and Memory during the Fall of Mussolini," as part of the Shoptalk series at the American Academy in Rome. Video of the talk can be found on the AAR's Livestream page.
My work was recently highlighted by Joshua Rothman in the Cultural Comment pages of the New Yorker, in relation to current debates over the naming of buildings at Princeton and Yale. It's a very thoughtful piece, and I'm pleased that work like mine is seen as relevant to these contemporary discussions. Check out the article at http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/names-in-the-ivy-league.
Marshal Zeringue, editor of the Campaign for the American Reader blog, recently asked me to participate in the "Page 99 Test." This involves opening my book to p.99, reading the contents and reflecting on how this passage reveals something about the work as a whole. Check it out at The Page 99 Test!
My book Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy is now available! Purchase via Cornell University Press, Amazon, or at retailers everywhere.
One of the highlights of my summer in Rome has been the thrilling run of the Italian team in European Championships, culminating in tonight's final against Spain. The Azzurri have been a joy to watch, playing positive, attacking football, and the spectacle has been made all the more enjoyable by the passion that has consumed my neighborhood.
While several Italian players have been standouts - Pirlo, Buffon and De Rossi to name a few - the emblematic figure of this team is Mario Balotelli, the young Manchester City forward who scored both goals in the semi-final win over Germany. He is a media phenomenon for many reasons: his goalscoring prowess, eccentric hairstyles, and unpredictable behavior (fighting with teammates on the field, setting his home ablaze with fireworks, car accidents etc.). However, to many Italians the attribute that makes Balotelli stand out is the color of his skin. Born of Ghanaian immigrants and adopted by an Italian Jewish family, he is the country's highest-profile black footballer.
The astute visitor to Rome - and many other Italian cities - will be struck by the many examples of Fascist iconography that can still be found in the urban landscape today. It is not unusual to come across the fascio littorio, the date written in Anno Fascista (i.e. the "year of the Fascist Revolution") or statues of grotesquely muscled supermen.
I am currently exploring the political and cultural debates over these "remains" in greater depth, but for now wanted to share some brief impressions and photos. I recently spent a day in Latina, a town about 70 km south of Rome that was born in 1932 as Littoria. This was one of the "new towns" built in the Pontine Marshes, a malarial zone drained as part of Fascism's agricultural reclamation program (bonifica agraria). As a result, it is one of the youngest cities in Italy, and to this day is filled with stunning examples of interwar Rationalist architecture - most notably, the clock tower of the town hall. There are many explicit examples of Fascist iconography throughout Latina - as seen below (click to enlarge):
Not in the best frame of mind for my maiden post - jetlag and general exhaustion - but I have to start somewhere. Upon my arrival in Rome, the first challenge was resolving the inevitable first hassle - namely that the rental agency had double-booked our apartment for the first ten days of our stay (che sorpresa!). This has basically been resolved, but in the meantime I am staying in another apartment in Rome's old Jewish Ghetto.
This is actually a welcome change of plans. I have visited the Ghetto on many occasions, but never had the opportunity to explore it fully. After a walk-around today, I am struck yet again at the unique flavor of Jewish life in the Eternal City - far from being eternal outsiders, these Jews are quintessentially Roman in their manner, their outlook and their rhythms of life. Few would argue with the fact that the cuisine of the Ghetto is some of the city's most traditional and typical - most famously, the carciofi alla giudia but also pasta e ceci, filetti di baccalà and other fried specialties. The same goes for the local dialect, which is particularly strong here (though occasionally inflected with some Hebrew).
Significantly, then, Roman Jews are not only a longstanding historical presence but a crucial repository of the city's identity and traditions. As such, they confound conventional wisdom about both Jews and Romans. Although they were targeted by the Fascists in the late 1930s (and, of course, with greater vehemence by the Nazis in 1943-44), and before that suffered centuries of discrimination under Papal rule, they have been a key strand in the tapestry of Roman life for millennia. Even when they were marginalized and demonized, they could never be attacked as foreign or alien presences in the body politic. At the same time, the importance of Jews to Roman culture demonstrates that the Eternal City has always been a melting-pot of influences, and never simply a homogenous Catholic society. Let us also not forget that the Jews of Rome were the initial conduit for Christianity into the capital of the ancient Empire, the building blocks for what would become the Catholic Church.
Ironically, if Rome's Jewish community is in peril today, it is less because of the legacies of the Holocaust, contemporary anti-Semitism or assimilation into gentile Italian culture. Rather, the assimilatory pressures seems to be coming from the pro-Israel right, from American and European ultra-Zionists who want these people to conform to their homogenizing conception of what it means to be Jewish. This is clear from newer businesses and organizations headquartered along the Via del Portico d'Ottavia, the main drag in the Ghetto - selling Israeli flags and books, kosher kebabs, etc. Roman Jews have always told me that they feel neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi, but rather that their traditions go back to the days of the Caesars. I hope that this fascinating and lively culture is given to grow and breathe on its own terms.