Lectures in London… Race and Risorgimento: An Unexplored Chapter?

In spite of the crucial role race played in European nationalisms, it still remains largely absent in the historiography of the Italian Risorgimento. Late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources disclose the keen interest paid by Risorgimento nationalists in the history, the culture, the language and even the bodies of the Italians. Against this backdrop, the question of how the search for the “material essence” of Italian-ness shaped and affected the early nineteenth-century debate about the Italian identity becomes imperative.

This and other questions have been discussed and examined by Fordham Ph.D. candidate in modern European history Edoardo M. Barsotti, who was invited to deliver a lecture about his dissertation for the Italian Department Research Seminars at the University College of London, on February 21st 2018.

At the seminar, hosted by Dr. Ferrara Degli Uberti, Edoardo has discussed the extent to which the quest for the “first” Italians, and the question of the permanence and heredity of cultural, psychosocial and physical traits characterized the works of Italian national-patriotic intelligentsia since the Revolutionary age, and how they evolved, and interacted with the surrounding political debate about the future Italian nationhood well into the 1850s and 1860s. In such an outlook, the Risorgimento’s idea of race appears as a multilayered and multifaceted construction in which the contributions of different traditions, ideologies, and disciplines are evident. The resulting ideas of an Italian “race,” or even physical understanding of an Italian “national type,” result, in effect, from the coalescence of several concepts borrowed from the antiquarian tradition, Biblical genealogies, linguistics, philology, and, of course, the natural science of man.

In the concluding remarks of the seminar, the guest lecturer, the discussant, and the public discussed the theoretical and methodological questions concerning the different understandings of race in modern history, as well as their permanence in the public discourse about national identity in contemporary Italy and Europe as well.

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