Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy
My book Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012) examines the intersection of ideology, history and archeology, and the idea of Rome (romanità) under Mussolini's regime.
In this work, I argue that Fascism's appropriation of the classical past should be understood not as an expression of its theatricality or retrograde tendencies, but rather as a literal and figurative excavation of modernity, an expression of the regime’s desire to regenerate and remake Italians through the Roman imperial virtues of discipline, hierarchy and harmony. Across several case studies – in historical scholarship, urban archaeology and museum display – I explore the ways in which Fascist intellectuals approached the Eternal City as a blueprint for contemporary life and a source of dynamic values. This vision of modernity also transcended Italy’s borders, as the legacy of Rome’s “universal empire” provided a foundation for Fascism’s conception of a new European order and overseas empire.
This project is based on research conducted at numerous archives, museums, institutes and libraries. In Rome, these include the Museo della Civiltà Romana, the Istituto Nazionale di Studi Romani, the Archivio Centrale dello Stato, the Archivio Storico Capitolino, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, the Biblioteca di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea and the Biblioteca di Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte. I also had the privilege of serving as a research fellow at the Wolfsonian in Miami, FL. In Chicago, I drew upon Special Collections at the libraries of the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, as well as the Center for Research Libraries. In Washington, DC, I used the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress.
My research was financially supported by several institutions, including the Division of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, the Government of Italy's Ministero degli Affari Esteri and the Fondazione Lemmermann.
Forty-Five Days: Experience, Emotion and Memory during the Fall of Mussolini
As this brief description suggests, this project is significantly informed by contemporary developments like the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the Arab Spring of 2011-12; I believe that the historian's chief responsibility is to elucidate the present by understanding the past in all its complexity and contingency. I also draw on a number of other comparative cases including de-Nazification in Germany, the purges of collaborators in postwar France and the post-Soviet transition in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Thus far I have conducted research in several locales including the Archivio Centrale dello Stato, the Istituto Romano per la Storia d'Italia dal Fascismo alla Resistenza (IRSIFAR) and the Fondazione Ugo Spirito in Rome; the Archivio di Stato di Milano and the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense in Milan; the National Archives at College Park, MD; Special Collections at Columbia University Library; and the Library of Congress.