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This is a module about (modern) Rome and by implication modern Italy. It is about the history of the city over a tumultuous century (and a bit ... 1870-c.1980). That makes this module a ‘modern European (Italian) history’ one. But there is a further twist: it is also about urban space; and how important events and forces are rooted in space and particular places, define the memory of these places. Every week we will be focusing on a key event, an associated historical theme, and a set of spaces linked to this event/theme.
Rome has always been one of those city-symbols. The hub of a global empire in antiquity, a city that was revered as the centre of a global religion for millennia, a mobilising myth of modern Italian nationalism, the Eternal City was seen by so many as the ultimate prize of political power. To own it, to be seen and based in it, to rule over it meant much more than simply possessing yet another city. This had partly to do with the urban space - its stunning monuments and powerful relics of the past. But a lot had to do with layers of myths that the word 'Rome' sustained over the centuries.
Rome entered a new phase in its history on 20 October 1870, when the newly created Italian kingdom annexed it by force - and declared it capital of the Italian kingdom - against the wishes of the Papacy that had ruled it since the Middle Ages. This was the beginning of a series of contests that continued throughout the 19th and 20th century. There were contests about political power, about cultural influence, about symbolic ownership of the urban space, about claims to its heritage (artistic, political, spiritual), about competing social causes and grievances. Most of these contests played out across its physical space and left their legacies - as well as memories - in so many corners of the city.
In the following hundred years, Rome's territory and population expanded tenfold; but more importantly, the city went through three distinct political regimes - including a Fascist dictatorship that lasted more than two decades; political instability; war and foreign occupation; economic transformation and diverse social struggles; and tumultuous change in its urban and social environment.
This module will explore how the city was shaped by all these contests and the historical events associated with them. The module will use selected urban locations/landmarks as the starting point for exploring each weekly theme/period. Important events such as the death of King Victor Emmanuel II and Pope Pius IX (1878), the Fascist March on Rome (1922), the referendum on monarchy (1946), the arrest of Rome's Jews by the Nazi occupying authorities, the 1946 referendum in favour of the republic, the student uprising of 1968, and the assassination of prime minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in 1978, will be situated on the physical landscape of Rome, with the use of interactive maps and audiovisual material.
HOW IS THE MODULE ORGANISED
The weekly structure of the module is determined by three elements:
key events that took place in Rome, arranged chronologically [moving from 1870 onwards] key spaces where these events occurred or have become associated with key themes associated with these events and places [e.g. sovereignty, papacy, fascism, war, the Holocaust, economic reconstruction, political violence, student protests, urban planning etc]
Portfolio: 40% [c. 2000 words] The portfolio is a series of small tasks, to be completed every two weeks. These may include: commenting on a source (text or image); writing a short review of a secondary/online source; planning a virtual exhibition and producing an exhibition leaflet; recording a short slideshow. Project: 60% [c.2500 words] The project is essay-like in the sense that it deals with a question. Yet this is entirely your project: you define the topic/case study (in consultation with your tutor) based on your interests; you choose the focus ; you determine the presentation (e.g. a more traditional essay format; a digital, multimedia document; or something else).
Each weekly topic deals with an key event, a broader theme, and a main place within the city. The themes are chronologically arranged. In most weeks we will be dealing with more places.
@1870, Porta Pia | The battle of sovereignties begins
@1878, Pantheon | two funerals and an ancient ritual
@1885, Piazza Venezia | the controversial monument to the King
@1909, Capitoline Hill | The master plan for the modern city
@1922, San Lorenzo | Enter the Fascists
@1932, Exhibition Palace | Fascim’s birthday as blockbuster
@1938, Roman Forum | Hitler’s Roman holiday
@1943, Ghetto | Nazi occupation and Rome's Jewish community
@1946, Quirinal Palace and Ciampino airport | Kingdom or republic?
@1960, Foro Italico/Olympic Stadium | Rome welcomes the Olympic Games (and tries to forget the past)
@1968, Valle Giulia | The year of student protests
@1978, Via Michelangelo Caetani / The assassination of a prime minister
ℹ️ There is a Google Earth slideshow locating the places mentioned above on the map of Rome: - or you can copy the link below: 0
Key events and places in images
IF YOU WANT A HEAD START ...
No prior preparation for the module is needed or will be assumed. However here are some tips for those who want to know more about the city and the topic before we start!
You can try any of these introductory books in either the history of modern Italy or modern Rome:
Foot, John. 2003. Modern Italy. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Foot, John, 2018. The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945. London: Bloomsbury. Bosworth, Richard J B. 2011. Whispering City: Rome and Its Histories. New Haven CT and London: Yale University Press Painter, Borden. 2005. Mussolini’s Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Baxa, Paul. 2010. Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.
Some questions and issues to ponder:
Why was Rome pronounced capital of the new kingdom in 1870 even if it was a small(er) and less significant, not to mention ‘contested’ city? Try to familiarise yourselves with the idea of contested sovereignties (1870-1929) - what was contested and by whom? Why was it such a big issue? How did this affect the city? How did different ideologies shape the history of modern Rome? Did 1945 represent a ‘year zero’ for Italy, where the country and its people turned the page and moved on? The period post-1945 may be less familiar to you. If you read either of Foot’s books, you can juxtapose the so-called ‘economic miracle’ of the 1950s with the ‘years of the lead’ in the 1960s and 1970s (years of political battles, social divisions, ideological polarisation, violence, destabilisation).
Key events and places in images