The Risorgimento and Italian Unification in Global Perspective

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Last Friday and Saturday (September 23-24), John Cabot University hosted an international conference entitled “The Risorgimento and Italian Unification in Global Perspective.” Organized by members of JCU’s History and Humanities Department, the conference brought together over 20 international scholars, along with JCU faculty members, students, and participants from the larger community to explore the effects and reception of the risorgimento and unification in Europe and the Americas along with the international dimensions of the risorgimento itself.

Risorgimento Reception

Left to right: Gene Ogle, Lucy Riall, Luca De Caprariis, Spencer Di Scala, Vanda Wilcox

In the course of two days of on-going discussion and debate culminating in a round-table led by the two keynote speakers, Prof. Lucy Riall (Birkbeck, University of London) and Prof. Spencer Di Scala (University of Massachusetts, Boston), and moderated by JCU’s own Prof. Luca de Caprariis, the participants pointed to the significance of these events outside of Italy and began to sketch out some of the lines that a truly global history of the risorgimento should take. In discussions that took place across the keynote addresses and individual panels, participants pointed, among other things, to the need to consider the Italian risorgimento as an important national liberation movement in a larger cycle stretching back to the American Revolution and Latin American Wars for Independence and forward to twentieth-century anti-colonial movements in such places as Vietnam and Cuba. Presenters and discussants highlighted the on-going significance of religion to understanding both the risorgimento and foreign reactions to it, for example pointing to the ways in which the breadth of British support for Italian unification was strongly tied to evangelical Protestant sentiment while at the same time the Irish Church’s support for the temporal authority of the popes against the new Italian state translated into a stronger tie between Irish nationalism and Catholic identity. Presenters also emphasized the significance of Italian diasporic experiences for the evolution of both risorgimento era political movements and their later 19th- and 20th-century heirs such as Italian anarchism.

Finally, presenters pointed to the on-going legacies of the risorgimento for Italian political development, highlighting the need to pay close attention to the ways in which the powerful rhetoric and ideals of the movement shaped actual political outcomes in the newly united state while eventually losing their power as they were stretched to support more problematic endeavors such as the Italian conquest of Libya in the early twentieth century. For further indications of the wider range of matters discussed over the two-day event, please click here for the conference program.

In closing, the organizers (Profs. Vanda Wilcox, Luca de Caprariis, and Gene Ogle) would like to express their happiness with the outcome of the conference. They were especially pleased at the high level of scholarly discussion and debate and the collaborative workshop atmosphere that prevailed throughout. They also would like to express their sincere gratitude to all participants, the student volunteers and administrative staff who assisted with the running and preparation of the conference, JCU’s President’s Office for its generous financial support, and the Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI) for providing travel bursaries to assist some of the participants travelling from the United Kingdom.