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Acknowledging the colonial roots of Italy’s heritage

Press release issued: 16 July 2010

The complex nature of Italy’s colonial past and the reluctance with which it has been viewed in contemporary culture have ordinarily led academics to shy away from the subject. A new book that draws on insights from across the arts and social sciences redresses that imbalance by exploring for the first time the interaction between the colonised and the colonisers.

Recent migration to Italy has revived memories of Italy’s colonial past, which is primarily associated with Mussolini. Although Fascism’s Empire has been largely forgotten its influence can still be felt in Italy in many ways.

National Belongings, Hybridity in Italian Colonial and Postcolonial Cultures, is part of an emerging academic discourse which examines how colonialism shaped Italy’s identity, challenging the pervasive view of Italy as a mono-religious and mono-cultural society.

The book is an offshoot from a round of conferences initiated by the two co-editors, Jacqueline Andall and Derek Duncan, in 2001, which brought together scholars from the UK, the USA and Italy. National Belongings picks up where Duncan and Andall’s first collection of 2005, Italian Colonialism: Legacy & Memory, left off.

Essays exploring the present as well as the past from the perspective of history, anthropology, architecture, literature and film reveal how contact with Africa continues to affect Italian society, culture and politics, something which the editors note has been relatively underplayed by Italy’s “defenders of national purity”.

This “cultural amnesia”, according to Professor Duncan from the University of Bristol’s Department of Italian, can be traced across Italy’s historic development, as evidenced by changing attitudes towards migration, gender, sexuality and race: “The colonial empire was very much associated with Mussolini and the excesses of Fascism; after Fascism fell the Empire had to be forgotten.  Italy never had a period of decolonisation because all of its colonies were taken away in the Second World War.  Nor had Italy ever had an interest in educating the people it colonised, so in a sense, its colonial memory never existed.”

The book’s contributors examine how different notions of hybridity – the social transformation facilitated by the nature and interaction between segregated social groups – help illuminate the process of historical change in a country ambivalent about its colonial past and its dual Mediterranean-European identity.

As the editors note, this collection represents a departure from earlier discussions in the field in that the contributors “engage actively with the unpredictable consequences of colonialism through the analysis of different cultural sites of human interaction”. 

Other contributions include essays by Bristol academics Charles Burdett, reader in Modern Italian Studies and a specialist in Italian literature and culture under Fascism; and Maurizio Marinelli, senior lecturer in East Asian Studies and a specialist in the influence of contemporary China’s social, political and intellectual history on the rest of the world.

Further information

Please contact Aliya Mughal for further information.
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