Honors History Thesis

The Sole of Italy: Assessing the Evolution of ‘La Questione Meridionale’ in the Post-Risorgimento Mezzogiorno

Description: What I seek to argue, or establish throughout the course of this thesis is that the representation of the Italian ‘South’ in the post-unification moment was responsible for creating a separate anti-national category as ‘other’ for the South, one that it has maintained throughout the course of history. To back this claim, I analyze the rhetoric of fundamental pioneers of scholarship on the ‘Southern Question’ all of whom have molded Italian and international opinions of the immense region castigated as ‘Southern’ through their discourse and influence. Beginning with the two figures of Pasquale Villari and Leopoldo Franchetti, I argue that their rhetoric, which claims to discuss Italy’s general ‘social question,’ in fact typifies the south as alienated and irregular.

From tracing the beginning of southern representation through the beginning of industrialization and mass modernization, I then discuss a later scholar on meridionalism: Antonio Gramsci. The polemic he sets forth is entirely different from his predecessors, but what ties him to their work, is his response to their failures. His ardent socialist political stance, worlds away from the motivations of the earlier Villari and Franchetti, allows the Southern Question to evolve. In addition, Gramsci’s position in Italian society as a political activist also dissociates him from earlier scholars of the South. Where first generation meridionalists engaged in radical discourse, Gramsci engages in highly intellectual theory to work toward the goal of securing a true national unification for Italy.

In my last chapter, I jump to the end of the Second World War, where thirty years of Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship left the nation of Italy in another vulnerable moment. Here, the work of recent scholars not only revisits the first mentions of southern ‘peculiarity,’ but creates new turns and understandings of the region, which, since the beginning of unified Italy, had never completely embodied an ‘equal’ position with the rest of the peninsula. The evolution of this question has been researched, but tracing it according to particularly influential intellectual contributions is more of a rarity among Italian historiographies.

Course: Honors Degree Thesis Submission – Department of History, University of Michigan
Date: 2009-2010
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