Neo-Fascism in Postwar Italy
In September 2018, my family and I moved from Santa Barbara, California to Rome, Italy on a year-long Fulbright Research Fellowship. Although we had relocated to the Eternal City so that I could complete my dissertation research on winemaking in Fascist Italy, my interests quickly expanded to contemporary Roman street politics shortly after our arrival. Unbeknownst to my family prior to moving, we had signed a year-long contract for a condominium in one of Rome’s most notorious neo-fascist neighborhoods: Balduina. Located approximately four kilometers north-west of Vatican City, Balduina—along with a handful of other Roman neighborhoods, such as Roma Nord and Tuscolano—has long-since been closely associated with some of Italy’s most outspoken neo-fascist movements, organizations, and political parties. Indeed, immediately upon our arrival in Balduina, we were assaulted with a mélange of neo-fascist graffiti, including swastikas and Roman fasces, along with a wide array of posters, handbills, and stickers affixed to the walls and doorways of buildings everywhere.
In his monograph On Tyranny, historian Timothy Snyder encourages his readers to “[t]ake responsibility for the face of the world. … Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate.” “Do not look away,” he continues, “and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.” In reflecting on this wisdom, I decided to begin confronting the “signs of hate” that I found in my temporarily adopted city. After observing for a few weeks, it suddenly occurred to me that these materials were, in fact, valuable historical sources on this period of Rome’s and indeed Italy’s history, which were very likely to be forgotten, and therefore left completely undiscovered, by scholars and the general public if they were not preserved either physically or digitally. This realization eventually led to an idea: Why not collect these materials, photograph them, and create an Open Access digital archive?
Between October 20, 2018 and July 13 of the following year, I personally “harvested” a collection of some thirty small, medium, and oversized neo-fascist posters, handbills, and stickers from Rome’s streets and alleyways in the interest of creating this digital archive as a public-facing Digital History research and pedagogical resource. In addition to collecting the physical materials, I kept detailed notes on the dates, times, locations, and conditions of the surroundings from which I gathered them. Hoping to capture a representative sample of materials, I sought to acquire at least one poster from each of the city’s most widespread and influential fascistic groups and political parties, including Casa Pound Italia, Forza Nuova, and Fratelli d’Italia, as well as each of these groups’ accompanying youth organizations, such as Blocco Studentesco, Lotta Studentesca, and Gioventù Nazionale.
Taken together, the digitized materials featured in “Where Monsters Are Born” (WMAB) provide a visual snapshot of the ideological struggles and collective memory strategies of contemporary Rome’s, and indeed Italy’s, preeminent far-right groups and movements. Although a small handful of the materials I gathered in Rome make appeals to present-day social issues and political debates, the vast majority commemorate the history of (neo-)Fascism in Italy, including Benito Mussolini’s twenty-year dictatorship between 1925 and 1945 and the so-called “Years of Lead” between the 1960s and 1980s, during which the country’s neo-fascist and far-Left groups violently clashed in the country’s piazze, streets, and alleyways over the former’s efforts to (re-)establish an illiberal, ultra-nationalist political culture in Italy. By digitally preserving and publishing these materials, WMAB intends to teach non-Italian audiences how to spot and resist fascistic messaging strategies by shining a light on the ways in which Italy’s neo-fascist organizations have persistently inserted themselves and their movements’ talking points into their country’s public sphere by way of street-level memory politics propaganda.
- Co-curated with Amy King, Where Monsters Are Born: Documenting a Fascist Revival in the Streets of Rome, 2018-2019 (in progress)
A co-curated, Omeka-based digital archive featuring 30 neo-fascist posters that I personally collected from the streets and alleyways of Rome, Italy between 2018 and 2019.