JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Italy from Mussolini to the Crisis of the First Republic (1918 to present)"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Dario Biocca
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 4:30-5:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing; Corequisite: EN 110; Recommended: HS 365

An in-depth survey of Italian history from the emergence of Fascism to the crisis of the first Republic in the early 1990s. Focus will be on the breakdown of the Liberal system, the emergence and nature of Fascism, and Mussolini’s “New State,” as well as the achievement and weaknesses of the post-war democratic Republic.

The course begins with the study of the social and economic crisis of the post WWI years. Were Italians fascinated by the charismatic figure of Benito Mussolini? Or did they embrace the new political ideology of Fascism? In the 1930s Mussolini’s regime lost popular support; opposition to discriminatory laws against Jews and then Vatican hostility to Mussolini’s foreign policy paved the way to the eventual collapse of Fascism in 1943. Then, in the post WWII years,Italy experienced an unprecedented economic growth and an unrivalled cultural renaissance which historians have called “the miracle". However, social unrest, political violence and corruption scandals eventually endangered the stability of democratic institutions and led to the creation of a "Second Republic". The course analyzes patterns of change and continuity in Italian history, discusses the most distinctive features of the nation’s pastand describes the makeup of Italian political and intellectual elites. In doing so, the course uses essays, novels, films, works of art and architecture, personal memoires,a nd, most importantly, biographies.

There are three books to buy:

Richard J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini, Bloomsbury, any edition.
Paul Ginsborg, Contemporary Italy (1943-1980), Penguin Books, any edition.
Ignazio Silone, Bread and wine, Penguin Books, any edition.

All other readings and class material will be distributed in class or made available on Moodle.


Through this course students will learn about the major phases of Italian political history in the 20thcentury, from the rise of Mussolini’s dictatorship to the recent crisis of political parties. Students will thus become familiar with Italy's governing institutions, electoral laws, administrative and economic infrastructures, and academic-intellectual circles and learn about the transformation of language and popular cultures. Particular attention will be devoted to the role of the media from the years of Fascist censorship to the reestablishment of freedom of the press and broadcasting, and to the historical analysis of terms used in contemporary politics such as "nationalism", "sovranism" and "national identity". Students will thus acquire valuable tools for understanding the present state of Italian society and its lively political debates as well as developing their historiographical skills and interpretation and evaluation of primary and secondary sources and their advanced research, reading, critical thinking, and written and oral communication skills.


Class participationClass participation means developing arguments, articulating questions, and sharing opinions in and with the class. It also means reading assignments as scheduled and preparing for class discussions. 20%
Midterm examThe midterm exam (1 hour) is divided into two parts. The first is intended to verify the acquisition of factual information (names, places, dates, etc.) from readings and lectures. The second part aims at testing the ability to support a point of view with convincing arguments. Guidelines for preparing for the midterm will be provided one week in advance.20%
Final examThe final exam (2½ hours) is structured in the same manner. It covers the material assigned and discussed in the second half of the course. The exam also includes a broader, interpretive “open question”. Guidelines for preparing for the final exam will be provided one week in advance.30%
Paper The paper (10-12 pages) should reflect the ability to examine and discuss a particular topic and to consider relevant research carried out by historians, anthropologists, political scientists, scholars of art and architecture, literature, etc. The assignment should present and support a point of view, rather than simply provide a description, and preliminary abstracts should be sent to and discussed with the instructor before the assignment is written. The grade for the assignment will be divided between the abstract (20%), an oral presentation of the research (30%), and the written assignment itself (50%). Plagiarism will not be accepted, and papers must indicate, where appropriate, all sources used. Further information on sources, footnotes, and bibliography will be provided in class. 30%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Week 1: January 22-24

The Vittoriano.The imposing monument in the center of Rome was originally erected to commemorate King Victor Emmanuel II and celebrate Risorgimento. However, in the following years the Vittoriano became popular as a tribute to the many thousands who lost their life in the trenches of World War I. The course begins with the study of the postwar years and the social, economic, and political context that precipitated the rise of Fascism.

Week 2: January 29-31

Rebels and dreamers.Acting on the orders of Soviet Russia, in January 1921 a group of young Italian revolutionaries met in the city of Livorno and established the Italian Communist Party. Lectures and readings will focus on two leaders of PCI, Palmiro Togliatti and Antonio Gramsci. Although they would would later become adversaries, both left a lasting legacy in Italian political and intellectual life.  

Week 3: February 5-7

Maria Montessori. These classes study the most prominent of all Italian pedagogists. What were Montessori’s early theories and experiences in Italy? How did Montessori and her associates gain the support of influential intellectuals as well as of Fascist public institutions? Readings analyze the making of the Montessori educational model and its worldwide success, and then investigate Mussolini’s abrupt change of attitude towards the revolutionary pedagogical “metodo".

Week 4: February 12-14

The fall of democracy. Did Mussolini build a “Fascist state”? Readings for these classes focus on the reforms carried out in the administrative, judiciary and penal systems. In 1924 Giacomo Matteotti, a prominent leader of the Socialist opposition, was assassinated and, shortly thereafter, new laws were passed that banned political parties. The class discusses the rise of Mussolini’s dictatorship and the attempt to transform Italian political institutions into a totalitarian regime.

Week 5: February 19-21 

The Italian Empire. Ignoring diplomatic warnings and threats of economic sanctions, in 1935 Mussolini ordered Italy’s army to invade Ethiopia.In a few months, the Duce claimed he had established an empire. This class examines official government documents and newspaper reports from the African battlefields. It also studies private letters and confidential reports showing the disappointment of many Fascists who took part in the conflictbut became outraged by its brutality and the use of illegal chemical weapons.

Week 6: February 26-28

Hitler’s official visit to Italy. In May 1938, Mussolini invited the German Führer to visit Italy. This class studies footage of the gatherings and ceremonies held in Rome, Naples and Florence and examines the text of the discriminatory laws against Jews which were approved following Hitler’s return to Berlin. Particular attention is paid to the Pope’s refusal to meet in Rome with the German dictator and the subsequent crisis between the Italian government and the Holy See. 

Week 7:March 5-7 

Italy at war. During WWII theItalian military was involved in various theaters of combat, particularly the Balkans, North Africa, Ethiopia,and Soviet Russia. When did public opinion realize that defeat was inevitable? Who was to blame for the catastrophe? Support toforMussolini turned quickly to hostility. Secret police files and personal diaries reveal the change of attitude of many Italians and their growing hope for a quick military defeat.

Spring Break

Week 8: March 19-21

The age of recovery. Italy’sTrent’anni di gloria (thirty years of glory) began in late 1940s as talented film directors, playwrights, musicians, designers, and architects gained worldwide recognition. However, the true miracle was the fast-paced growth of the nation’s economic system and the improved standards of living, in spite of a persistent gap between the north and the south. Readings and class discussions will explore the effects and the shortcomings of Italy’s miraculous rebirth through the eyes of the Italian press and foreign correspondents.

Week 9: March 26-28

The old and the new media. In the aftermath of WWII, the Psychological Warfare Branch of the U.S. Army criticized the Italian media for their inability or unwillingness to become “modern". Reportedly, old habits acquired in the Fascist era prevented the establishment of a truly free press. Indeed, Italy maintained a State monopoly over radio and television transmissions – a system which remained unchanged through the 1980s. The course studies how this “one-system-network” functioned and how newspapers and periodicals adapted to new technologies and expanding markets.

Week 10. April 2-4

Foreign policies.Italy joined NATO and actively promoted European treaties of mutual cooperation. Although the country’s international stand was clear,  Italy’s governments often pursued policies, particularly regarding oil and energy supplies, that became a serious concern to friends and allies. Readings, lecturesand footage from television archives focus on the initiatives of ENI’s president Enrico Mattei – and his apparently accidental death in 1962.

Week 11: April 9-11

The “K” factor. The PCI became the largest communist party in Western Europe and a major opposition force in the Italian Parliament. However, the PCI failed to embody a viable alternative to Italy’s center-based coalitions. Secretary Berlinguer introduced “Eurocommunism” as a solution to this problem; while characterizing the history and the future of Western society as different from the Soviet model, he also called for a European “cooperative democracy". Readings examine the response of intellectual elites, trade unionsand other political parties to Berlinguer’s “post-communist” proposals. 

Week 12: April 16-18

The Italian “red scare”.In the 1970s the Red Brigades, a terrorist organization initially based in Rome and large urban areas of northern Italy, assassinated dozens of individuals, among them politicians, journalists, police officers, local administrators,and alleged secret service informants. In 1978 the Red Brigades also kidnapped and executed Aldo Moro, a former Prime minister and president of the Christian Democratic party. A decade of violence ended in the mid-1980s with the apprehension of most Red Brigades members or their voluntary surrender to police. Interviews, RB documents, judicial transcriptsand television reports illustrate the depth of a crisis that threatened to destabilize Italy’s democratic system.

Week 13: April 23-25 (& make-up day Friday 26)

The Vatican from John XXIII to Francis. The Second Ecumenical Council  of 1962-5 confirmed the universal role of the Holy See and also redefined the Vatican’s relations with Italy. Readings and documents outline the transformations of the Catholic Church in the postwar years and assess their impact on Italian political society and culture. Readings and lectures also highlight moments of tension, such as the 1974 referendum on divorce and the case of Emanuela Orlandi, the young Vatican citizen who disappeared mysteriously in 1983.

Week 14:  April 30-May 2

Citizen Berlusconi. How did Silvio Berlusconi acquire a vast and enthusiastic following in such a short time? How did his new party, Forza Italia, gain a prominent position in Italian parliamentary politics so quickly? And how did Berlusconi’s media companies break the Italian State monopoly on television broadcasting? Readings and class discussions will analyze Berlusconi’s meteoric rise to power and analyze two decades of electoral competition, conflicts and scandals. Television broadcasts also illustrate the impact of Mani pulite (Clean hands), the large scale judicial investigation that brought down some of the largest Italian political parties and opened the way to the "Second Republic".   

May 6-10: Final exam