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Italy and the World: Conflict and the Incomplete Nation, 1815-present


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Dr Joseph Viscomi
  • Assessment: a 500-word primary source analysis (17%), 500-word modern scholarship summary (17%) and 2000-word essay (66%)

Module description

From Napoleon to Mussolini and well into the late twentieth century, conflict has been at the heart of Italian society and politics. Current debates on global migration and rising populism in Europe continue to place Italy at centre stage. Its contemporary social and political tensions are presented as indicators of possible European futures. Yet, these debates evoke connected conflicts that have shaped Italy’s social and political landscapes even before its national unification.

In this module we explore the role of local, regional and global conflict in making modern Italy an incomplete nation.

First, we examine the end of Napoleonic wars into Italian unification (1815-61), considering how regional and class divisions, rebellion and emigration to Europe and the Americas challenged national unity. We will then look at how industrialisation, imperial ambitions and culture moulded Liberal Italy into the First World War (1870-1915).

Second, we will study the rise of Mussolini and political fascism, which instilled new forms of domestic and imperial violence in the Italian state and in its colonies in Libya, Ethiopia and the Dodecanesi. We will follow threads tracing from European-wide social upheaval and political violence in the wake of the First World War and into the Cold War.

Finally, we will consider how conflict has shaped, and continues to shape, contemporary Italy, between the economic ‘miracle’ of the 1950s and the anni di piombo (years of lead, 1968-88), to recent debates about organised crime, migration and Euroscepticism.

Indicative syllabus

  • Revolution, exile and Risorgimento
  • A nation united?
  • Empire and nation
  • Departures and emigration: Europe and the Americas
  • Departures and emigration: imperial enclaves
  • Labouring Italy
  • The nation in culture/Imagining a nation
  • A national war? World War I
  • Civil unrest in Europe
  • Fascism as possible future
  • Fascism as violence
  • Fascism as empire
  • Resistance and civil war
  • A Cold War
  • Economic boom in a New Europe
  • Old divides
  • Corruption, bribes and criminality
  • Migration, still/again
  • Populism, Euroscepticism and the incomplete nation

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • display a good knowledge of the major themes in the debates about modern Italian history
  • compare and contrast several interpretations of social and political conflict in Italy with reference to their distinct historical and historiographical contexts
  • handle primary sources with confidence and demonstrate the ability to use them as a means of critiquing current paradigms.