HIST 385 From Mussolini to Berlusconi: Italian Politics and Culture in the Twentieth Century


Welcome to our Spring 2014 class about the complex relationship between politics and culture!

Check out this great response by Shalina Nigam to Alexander Stille’s Sack of Rome, pp. 313-342:

I found the idea of Berlusconi creating a ‘direct democracy’ particularly interesting. Stille defines this term as a government where a leader is elected by the people but then has the power and freedom to do as he pleases. This idea perfectly describes Berlusconi and his attitude towards politics. He always seemed to take everything to the extreme, further than what many would deem as acceptable. For example, he slowed down anti-mafia efforts and derailed Operation Clean Hands, ironic since the investigation looked at corrupt Italians and he was arguably very high on that list. Anti-mafia investigators had arrested thousands of mafiosi and helped reduce the murder rate by 50%, two amazing accomplishments. However, when Berlusconi joined politics, he was able to halt their progress, and that of Operation Clean Hands, because the investigation became political. If Berlusconi or any of his aides who were involved in politics were arrested, it would be seen as a political attack, which would have extremely negative consequences. Berlusconi used his power to thwart a potentially harmful inspection on his life. Berlusconi exerted his power by combining money, media, celebrity, and political power into a formula that could be translated into other political campaigns in various countries. While the people elected Berlusconi into power, he certainly used that position to his advantage and took many steps that made him comparable to a dictator.

Here is an insightful reading response by Taylor Madgett in response to excerpts from John Dickie’s Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia:

The history of the Sicilian mafia has had an interesting run. It has long been considered just a conspiracy or myth among Italians. One myth that emerged in 1890 was that the Sicilian mafia was simply a sense of pride and honor among each Sicilian. Thanks to an informant by the name of Tommassa Buscetta and a member of the antimafia, Giovanni Falcone, the inner workings of organized crime were able to come to light in the 1980s. Before this information was revealed the mafia was thought of among Italians as nonexistent and instead Sicilian culture was confused with “mafianess”.  Italians believed that Sicilians, after being tired of constantly being invaded, just adopted a way of handling things by themselves without law enforcement. Since the mafia was long considered to be a myth, it was able to successfully complete its operations without having to worry about officials coming after them. For a century and a half the mafia was able to successfully hide from the rest of Italians. The myth of the mafia being based rustic chivalry was disproved by the work of Buscetta and Falcone and was able to demonstrate the organized crime, mob bosses, significant murders, inner rankings, and cautious strategies within the Sicilian mafia.

Falcone and Buscetta were able to tap in to the world of the mafia and its active members. Buscetta shared with Falcone names, faces, structures, and mindsets of the Sicilian mafia which led to a maxi-trial of over 300 mafiosi being found guilty and sentenced to a total of 2,665 years in prison. Of course soon  after the mafia was thwarted, people involved in the investigation were killed, including Falcone.  Through the emergence of all the information of the mafia, an important history was created. Now Italians are no longer in the dark about the existence of a mafia or its rustic chivalry. A true history of the mafia is important for researchers to further explore and construct a whole history in order to inform Italians about the Cosa Nostra as well as more mafia born underneath it like the American Cosa Nostra. The history of the mafia is significant because it unravels the threat and painstaking efforts and strategy for organized crime that were long an intrinsic part of the way Italy was run.


Check out this great reading response by Skylr Martucci regarding Marla Stone’s “Staging Fascism: The Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution,” Journal of Contemporary History 28:2 (1993): 215-243:

Stone’s Staging Fascism describes an exhibit that was half art and half history, featuring artifacts and relics alongside stylized depictions of people and events in ways that sometimes seemed to blur the line between art and history. It’s not surprising to me that many of the Mostra’s visitors seemed changed by the experience. Stone notes that there was an attempt to create consensus from diversity by including many different types of artistic movements, which allowed many types of people to feel included. The chronological layout of the museum was probably another factor that made it easy for people to feel included—museum visitors could reflect on their own experiences during the years in question and remember how their lives were touched by Fascism. It probably gave the impression that everyone was a contributor…at least in their own mind.

It was interesting that the Fascists used the museum to encourage domestic and international tourism—and that it was successful (for a while, anyway). People took advantage of discount programs to travel from their homes and come to the museum (at one point, 82% of the museum’s visitors used this). I wonder how many of these visitors came with the sole intention of seeing the museum, however. Towards the end of the program it was discovered that employees were allowing people to take advantage of the discount program for merely stopping by the museum. Even international visitors admitted to using it for cheaper international travel. Ultimately, I’m not sure that the discount program was successful in meetings its goals (it was certainly successful in being attractive to visitors), but the museum itself seemed to be a success. It motivated people from diverse backgrounds and called their attention to a shared Italian experience.


Listen to our performance of Giacomo Balla’s Futurist Poem “Noise-Making Onomatopoeia Typewriter”:


In addition, here is a great reading response that provides insight into the poem:

I would classify Noise-Making Onomatopaeia Typewriter by Giacomo Balla to be futurist for several reasons. First, as futurism calls for a break from the past, the poem is a complete break from traditional rhyming or free verse poetry. Indeed, Balla’s style appears wholly unique, starting with instructions, so to speak, for reciting the poem. I didn’t follow the directions exactly, but I did recite the onomatopoeias on each line. I did so with much velocity. To me, the poem is trying to capture the futurist love of speed, that is, mechanical speed. The sounds compare to those one might hear being made in an industrial factory by the continual pounding together of metal parts.

As fun to read as these futurist poems are, what disturbs me about them is that they are relentlessly arbitrary. For example, in Noise-Making Onomatopoeia Typewriter, the line that reads “lalalala…” at one point contains the letter “s,” just once, just like it was slipped in there. This is such a subtle addition that of the twelve people reciting the poem is bound to lose focus and miss it, especially in light of having mindlessly repeated sounds for the last six minutes.  Upon hearing the recording of our class recitation of the poem, I discovered that Balla was also trying to capture the sounds of glass shattering, sirens buzzing, propellers buzzing and people mindlessly shouting.



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