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.
Press Reviews of Excavating Modernity
"With Excavating Modernity, Joshua Arthurs has contributed a welcome analysis of the place of romanità - the vogue or cult of ancient Rome - in Fascist Italy. The import of this Fascist theme is well known, but as Arthurs emphasizes, it has long been taken as vacuous, atavistic, and dangerous.... Arthurs makes a distinctive contribution by relating romanità to current notions that Italian Fascism must be understood as revolutionary and modernizing." - David D. Roberts, Journal of Modern History (June 2014)
"Is there anything left to say about Fascist Italy's connections to the country's Roman past? Surprisingly enough, there is, and Joshua Arthurs's new book illustrates how non-party institutions configured the image of that past institutionally, outside of the party and regime propaganda machines.... Arthurs's narrative is crisp, lucid and rich with little-known and often unknown information. The particular accomplishment here is the detailed and thoughtful examination of seldom-studied institututions and the individuals who comprised them that were not explicitly fascist, but whose studies, exhibits, journals, and conferences cohered with the Regime." - Diane Yvonne Ghirardo, Canadian Journal of History (Autumn 2013)
"That Italian fascism would adopt Rome as a fundamental part of its ideology, though it seems obvious now, was not a given at the start of the movement. As Joshua Arthurs notes, Rome was associated with the decadent liberal state and with the Catholic Church. Fascism, in contrast, meant modernity and dynamism.... Arthurs has given us an excellent, concise summary of what Rome meant to fascism. It is a valuable guide to scholars and to general readers." - Alexander De Grand, The Historian (Spring 2014)
Forty-Five Days: Experience, Emotion and Memory during the Fall of Mussolini
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 Istituto di Storia Contemporanea della Provincia di Pesaro e Urbino (ISCOP) in Pesaro; the National Archives at College Park, MD; Special Collections at Columbia University Library; and the Library of Congress.