Following the publication of my first monograph, I intend to begin a second book-length project on the history of coffee production, mass marketing, and popular consumption in modern Italy and beyond. Much like pizza, pasta, and wine, coffee is one of the defining features of contemporary Italy’s world-renowned food and beverage cultures. But when, specifically, did this relationship between Italians and their caffè begin to take its current form? To answer this question, this monograph-length project will investigate the period between the turn-of-the-century through the post-World War II decades in order to identify the primary influences, and influencers, behind the shaping of modern Italy’s coffee culture. In addition to exploring the many roles played by Italy’s liberal- and fascist-era colonial conquests in East Africa (and, specifically, Benito Mussolini’s 1935-1936 invasion of Ethiopia, after which coffee consumption skyrocketed within the peninsula), this book will examine the varying strategies employed by industrial lobbying groups, merchants, caffè owners, and, equally as significant, operatives within Il Duce’s dictatorship in the popularization of this, now, quintessentially ‘Italian’ beverage.
“Sorella fascista”: The Collected Writings of an American Fascist in Interwar Italy’s African Empire
This digital annotated sourcebook project is centered on the collected writings of a fascist sympathizer from New York City by the name of Ruth Williams Ricci. Having served both as a volunteer nurse in the Italian Red Cross and, later, as a freelance journalist during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, Ricci set out to document what she believed to be Mussolini’s “civilizing expedition” in Ethiopia in order to convince her fellow Americans of Fascist Italy’s “right” to additional colonial territories in East Africa. The dictatorship, of course, was quick to recognize the potential value of a such an outgoing American woman, and wasted no time in establishing a working partnership with Ricci via the regime’s ministries of Foreign Affairs and Popular Culture. Following a brief propaganda tour along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Ricci set out once again for Fascist Italy’s African territories in 1938, driving herself from General Francisco Franco’s Spain, across North Africa, and to Eritrea and Ethiopia in a customized Dodge coupe. In addition to remaining completely unknown to other scholars of Fascism and colonial studies, the essays and letters she composed during these various expeditions have largely remained untouched confined to their boxes at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, the Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Central Archive of the State) and the Diplomatic Archive at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, and a handful of other minor archival repositories in both the United States and Italy, from which I gathered them. After receiving her long awaited FBI files, which I have requested via a Freedom of Information Act request, I intend to finish transcribing and editing her collected papers and publish them, along with an editor’s introduction, as an Open Access digital volume using The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture’s Scalar platform, which is intended for enabling authors to write “long-form, born-digital scholarship online.”
In September 2018, my family and I relocated to Italy’s capital city on a Fulbright Study/Research Grant. Immediately upon arriving, I began noticing neo-fascist propaganda posters, as well as the accompanying swastikas and sun crosses, all around my neighborhood. After observing for a few weeks, it suddenly occurred to me that these materials were, in fact, valuable historical sources on this period of the Eternal City’s, and indeed Italy’s, history, which were very likely to be forgotten, and therefore undiscovered, by scholars and the general public if they were not preserved either physically or digitally. In all, I gathered over 50 full-sized posters from Rome’s walls and alleyways between September 2018 and July 2019, principally from the city’s most notorious neo-fascist neighborhoods. In addition to the posters themselves, I also kept detailed notes on the dates, times, locations, and surrounding conditions from which I gathered them. I intend to use these resources in constructing an Omeka-based digital collections website featuring both hi-res photographs of the posters in question, as well as information on each of Rome’s neo-fascist groups, their organizational histories and, in some cases, connections to Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship, as well as to one another.
In the coming years, I intend to build an interactive virtual model of the regime’s Mostra della rivoluzione fascista (Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution) using the open source 3D modelling and game engine software, Blender and Unity, respectively. Held between 1932 and 1934 in Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni (on Via Nazionale near Termini Station), the Mostra, in the words of historian Marla Stone, “recreated, through a mélange of art, documentation, relics and historical simulations, the years 1914 to 1922, as interpreted by fascism after ten years in power.” Featuring twenty-three rooms, ranging from the triumphant Sala del Duce (Room of the Leader) to the solemn Sacrario dei Martiri (Chapel of Martyrs), the Exhibition was accompanied by a range of sonic and visual elements, all of which were intended to heighten the political and spiritual impacts of the ideologically-charged spaces through which the Mostra’s estimated 2,800,000 visitors passed. Using archival source materials at the Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Central Archive of the State) in Rome, including architectural blueprints, photographs, and other documentation, I will develop a working virtual reality model of the exhibition which will include the soundscapes and visual stimuli featured in the original Exhibition. To place a healthy distance between the interactive model and the ideologically-complicated subject matter of interwar Fascism, furthermore, I also intend to insert hyperlinks throughout the virtual space which will lead the visitor to short historical analyses of or contexts for the spaces and elements under consideration. Such a digital project, I believe, would be useful both as a research and teaching tool for other scholars and educators and, equally as important, as a public history platform for helping members of the general public better understand the methods by which Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship sought to manipulate Italians’ collective psychology towards its authoritarian objectives.