Paoli Rossi, RIP

Here is CNN:

Widely regarded as one of the greatest Italian soccer players of all time, he scored 20 goals in 48 appearances for the Azzurri.

He netted both goals in Italy’s World Cup semifinal win against Poland in 1982 and the opening goal as the Italians beat West Germany 3-1 in the final, finishing the tournament in Spain with the Golden Boot as top scorer.

The former Vicenza, Juventus and AC Milan player was also awarded the Golden Ball at the 1982 World Cup for the player of the tournament.

In the same year, he won the Ballon d’Or, which at the time was awarded to the European footballer of the year. Only four Italians have won the prestigious award.

The Author’s Corner with Ann Tucker

Newest Born of NationsAnn Tucker is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Georgia. This interview is based on her new book, Newest Born of Nations: European Nationalist Movements and the Making of the Confederacy (University of Virginia Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Newest Born of Nations?

AT: The question of southern identity has intrigued me since my childhood; how and why did the South develop such a strong sense of regional identity? In college, I also developed a passion for Italian history when I studied abroad in Venice, where I became increasingly interested in the making of the Italian nation. This book grew out of my attempt to combine these interests in Italy and the South. Through my Italian studies, I had already identified some key parallels between the US and Italy, as both nations had undergone wars about nationhood in the mid-nineteenth century, and both nations had faced conflict between a more industrial North and an agricultural South. With these similarities in mind, as I started researching, I wanted to know what white southerners thought about Italy, and how those thoughts on Italy might have shaped the complicated concept of southern identity. It only made sense to me to start in the Civil War Era, when both Italy and the US fought to defend their nationhood, and when white southerners sought to create a separate southern nation.

I found a much more complex, varied, and, ultimately, significant story than I had initially imagined. White southerners’ thoughts on Italy, and on European nationalist movements more broadly, were not incidental, nor were they straightforward or homogenous. My research uncovered several strands of white southern thought on European nationalist movements, sometimes overlapping, sometimes competing, but always playing a critical role in shaping southern thought on their own nationhood. White southerners used comparisons with new and aspiring European nations like Italy to clarify their beliefs about their own nationality, and they used these international perspectives to develop and defend the idea of a southern nation.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Newest Born of Nations?

AT: White southerners in the antebellum and Civil War periods used their analysis of nineteenth century European nationalist movements to shape their idea of what a nation could and should be, to begin to conceive of the South as different than the North on issues of nationhood and to develop the idea of the South as a potential nation, and to defend and legitimize secession and the Confederacy. The international perspectives that white southerners developed by drawing comparisons and contrasts with new and aspiring nations in Europe thus played a critical role in the shaping of southern nationalism.

JF: Why do we need to read Newest Born of Nations?

AT: Newest Born of Nations reframes the American Civil War as part of the larger nineteenth century age of revolutions and nationalism. White southerners saw their actions as part of the ongoing struggle for national independence and reform that played out throughout the Atlantic World. Far from an exclusively domestic conflict, the American Civil War had profound implications for the evolving nineteenth-century Atlantic World ideas of freedom, rights, and nationalism, and white southerners used this international context to develop southern nationalism and the Confederacy.

The internationalization of the Confederacy was not straightforward, even at the time; by identifying three competing international perspectives that white southerners used to defend their preferred visions for the South’s nationhood, Newest Born of Nations reveals how complicated and complex the process of creating a southern nationalism was. While secessionists developed both liberal and conservative international perspectives to justify secession, southern Unionists also used international comparisons to argue for a continued American nationalism for the South. Although white southerners were divided on the lessons that an international context taught for the South, they agreed that the South’s nationhood could best be understood and defined through international perspectives. By placing secession, the Confederacy, and the American Civil War within this transnational context, Newest Born of Nations expands and complicates our understanding of the Confederacy and Civil War.

This work also challenges our understanding of the Age of Nationalism by showing that the ideas of liberal nationalism that inspired revolutions throughout the Atlantic World could also be manipulated and re-defined in attempts to justify movements very different than the original revolutions.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AT: I have always been interested in history as a way to understand how and why our world developed as it did. As a southerner, I have been particularly interested in issues of southern identity. I wondered why the South had such a strong regional identity, and I wanted to understand the inconsistencies within that southern identity. I chose to study American history in order to answer my questions about the development of a distinct regional identity in the South.

As I began my studies as an academic historian, however, I found myself equally intrigued by Italian history and the parallels I saw between Italy and the US. These parallels and interests encouraged me to approach American history through a transnational perspective. Although I am an American historian, I am also a transnational historian, because, to me, American history, and history in general, is best understand in a larger transnational framework.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: My next project is the “sequel” to Newest Born of Nations! I am interested in understanding how former Confederates’ international perspectives helped them shed their Confederate national identity, and adopt and remake their American national identity, during Reconstruction and in the decades following the Civil War. I have already found some very interesting results; in particular, I have found that in the immediate aftermath of Confederate defeat, former Confederates used comparisons with defeated nations in Europe to draw limits around what they would accept as legitimate actions by the government during Reconstruction. (This first portion of my next project was published as “To ‘Heal the Wounded Spirit’: Former Confederates’ International Perspective on Reconstruction and Reconciliation,” in Reconciliation after Civil Wars: Global Perspectives, ed. Paul Quigley and James Hawdon, Routledge, 2018). I am excited about continuing my research and considering the use of international perspectives to shape and influence issues such as Confederate monuments, the Lost Cause, and Confederate memory.

JF: Thanks, Ann!

Commonplace Book #124

There is no word for ‘home’ in Italian.  There is casa (house), fucolaro (hearth), but no word for home (as if they had no need for it) as in English.  In American English the yearning for home looms large: in American literature the theme of home and search for home is persistent, from Mark Twain’s Huck Finn through Melville’s Moby Dick to Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, and You Can’t Go Home Again. American songs like Home, Home on the RangeOld Folks at Home, and Me and Bobby Magee along with Protestant hymns are peppered with the word.  Baseball, that most American of games, has as its object to reach home safely as often as possible.

Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale , La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience, 462.

Searching for Roots in San Felice-Circeo

San Felice 1

My cousin Jerry schools us in family history outside the old convent where my grandfather was born in San Felice-Circeo, Latina, Lazio, Italy

Last week I visited, for the first time, the place where my paternal grandfather was born.  San Felice-Circeo is an Italian village (comune) on the Mediterranean (Tyrrhenian) Sea about 100 km south of Rome.  In the 1930s Mussolini claimed large portions of the San Felice-Circeo shoreline and created a massive national park, the largest in Italy.  The centro storica (historic center) dates back to the Roman era and during the Middle Ages the Templars were in possession of the town.  San Felice-Circeo sits upon a hill overlooking the sea and many of its medieval features, including some of the old city walls, are still in place.

My grandfather–Giovanni Fia (sic)–was born in 1910.  A few months earlier his father, Andrea (Andrew) Fia, left San Felice-Circeo to join his half-brother in the United States, leaving his young wife Ermelinda (DiProspero) Fia and his daughter Angelina back in the village.  Like many Italian immigrants, Andrea was going to find a job and establish himself in America before he sent for his family.  Ermelinda was in good hands.  The DiProspero family was large and established in San Felice-Circeo.

(Andrea, I might add, was not from San Felice-Circeo.  He was a sheep-herder from the mountain town of Collepardo who often brought his sheep to San Felice-Circeo’s warmer climates in the winter.  He spent these winters living in a cave by the sea.  This was not uncommon.  Apparently people lived in caves in this region well into the 20th century).

What Andrea did not know when he left Italy was that Ermelinda was pregnant with twins.  Giovanni and Sisto Fia were born in the San Felice-Circeo convent.  Though the DiProspero lived literally next door to the convent, the nuns had the best medical facilities in town.  The convent served as a local hospital.  Three years later, Ermelinda and the children were reunited at Ellis Island and eventually settled in West Orange, New Jersey.  Three more children would come.

On June 19, 2019, my family met up with my father’s first cousin Jerry and his wife Jean for a tour of the old town.  Jerry lives in Connecticut, but he has been coming to San Felice-Circeo for three decades.  We all consider him to be the family historian.  His mother Anna (soon to turn 100) was my grandfather’s youngest sibling.  (My grandfather passed away in 2014 at the age of 103).  As it turns out, Jerry and Jean were in the final days of a one-month vacation in the San Felice-Circeo.  The timing could not have been any better.

Jerry schooled us in family history as we walked through the town.  He showed us (from the outside) the apartment where my grandfather was born, took us to the site of the church where he was baptized (and where Andrea and Ermelinda were married) and bought us an incredible lunch at a local restaurant located outside what was once the convent.

I am not much a traveler, and it often takes time for me to adjust to new surroundings, but San Felice-Circeo felt like home.  The proprietors of the restaurant were eager to hear our story.  They opened the dining area early for us and even gifted us with a tiramisu and pear torta. Another woman we met, who splits her residency between San Felice-Circeo and San Diego, California, bought us coffee.  We received a warm welcome.

A visit to San Felice-Circeo has been on my bucket list for a long time.  And while I am still processing the visit, I know that I have been somehow changed by it.  The experience of visiting this ancient village by the sea with my family, and with my cousin as a guide, was deeply emotional for me.

I can say one thing for sure. The visit to San Felice-Circeo brought me face to face with the power of the past.  It is one thing to lecture and write about historical continuity and contingency in relationship to the events described in a history textbook or interpreted at a historical site, but it is quite another thing to reflect on the connections with the past, and the human choices made by people in the past, when it has a direct impact on your own identity.

As I looked-up at the window where my grandfather was born and walked the grounds that my ancestors walked, I was acutely aware that I was part of a human story–a family story–that transcended my present moment.  My life, while certainly defined by the choices I have made and the paths I have chosen to follow, has also been shaped by the choices of others who lived in a particular place in a particular set of social, economic, and cultural circumstances that I have had no way of controlling.

And I am humbled by it all.

When Mussolini Was Popular in the United States


Several years ago I interviewed my then 100-year-old grandfather (he died a few years at the age 103) who migrated to the United States from Italy back in 1913.  We talked a lot of about the way he perceived, understood, and reacted to 20th-century American history.  Part of our discussion focused on his experience as an Italian-American in the decades leading-up to World War II.

My grandfather was a staunch American patriot, but he told me that he knew many Italian-Americans living in New Jersey in the 1930s who supported Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

I thought about this interview again after I read Giorgio Bertellini‘s Washington Post piece on Mussolini’s positive reception in the United States.  Here is a taste:

The Italian dictator came to be seen in the United States as a charming, masculine and romanticized anti-Bolshevik leader, just as Valentino had risen to fame a year earlier as an exemplar of forceful and romantic leadership. Valentino’s image, shaped by his ghostwriter and publicist Herbert Howe, combined ideas of traditional marriage and limits on women’s rights with antidemocratic theories that embraced forceful leadership. “There must be a leader for a nation, for a state, for a home. There is no such thing as equality,” Valentino claimed in an interview. “The woman is not the equal of the man, intellectually or any other way.”

Valentino and Mussolini gained seductive authority thanks to such antidemocratic and misogynistic pronouncements.

Once again, these images were diligently crafted. Valentino and Mussolini’s American reputations were built up by scores of individuals operating on both sides of the Atlantic. Often trained as operatives for the U.S. government’s World War I propaganda office, known as the Committee on Public Information, these promoters knew their publicity craft, or “ballyhoo,” was most effective when masquerading as news. This way they could sell or defend anything and serve a wide range of interests: Hollywood and Wall Street profits, newspaper circulations and the government’s geopolitical aims.

Celebrity culture in 20th-century America grew out of the tension between, on one hand, increased access to consumption, information and political rights, and on the other, the well-promoted personal appeal of (male) leadership figures. Seismic changes, including the successful campaign for women’s suffrage and the steady growth of popular culture, produced an array of anxieties, including democratic disenchantment. The masculine authority embodied by figures such as Mussolini and Valentino offered a salve. Even as they embraced civic and consumer opportunities, Americans, paradoxically, found celebrities’ antidemocratic and anti-egalitarian authority comforting — a way to provide order in chaotic times.

Read the entire piece here.

After writing this post I realized that I still need to reread the late Peter D’Agostino’s excellent Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism.

The Author’s Corner with Enrico Dal Lago

9781107038424_1Enrico Dal Lago is Professor of American History at National University of Ireland Galway. This interview is based on his new book, Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy?

EDL: I was always fascinated by the historical parallelisms between the United States and Italy in terms of having a comparable past of difference and conflict between the north and the south of the country. My first book – Agrarian Elites: American Slaveholders and Southern Italian Landowners, 1815-1861 (LSU Press, 2005) – was a comparison between the propertied classes of the two southern regions of the United States and Italy, and other scholars, notably Don Doyle, have also written about parallelisms between the U.S. South and southern Italy. However, no scholar had ever written a comparative study of the civil wars that the conflict between north and south caused in the United States and Italy in the same years in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1861-65, contemporaneous to the American Civil War, fought between a northern-based Union and a southern-based Confederacy, a civil war was also fought in southern Italy, largely between northern and southern Italians. My book is the first comparative study of these two civil wars. I felt that it was an important gap in the comparative scholarship on the United States and Italy that needed to be filled in order to acquire an in-depth understanding of the significance of the parallelisms represented by the north vs. south conflict in the two countries. The importance of these parallelisms is further confirmed by the fact that, in both the United States and Italy, the long-term legacy of the outcome of the civil war – which, in both cases, led to a fracture and then a reconciliation between the northern and southern parts of the country – is still very much present and has witnessed a surge in national interest since the parallel commemorations of the 150 years from the start of the American Civil War and from Italian national unification, in 2011.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy?

EDL: My book argues that the two parallel civil wars in the United States and Italy in 1861-65 had comparable origins in attempts by two regional propertied elites to be instrumental in the creation of two new nations – the Confederate States of America and the Kingdom of Italy – which protected their interests at the expense of the majority of the two southern populations. The resistance to Confederate authority, carried out in the Confederate South by large numbers of Unionists, and especially by African American slaves, and the parallel and contemporaneous resistance carried out by large number of peasants and soldiers attached to the former Bourbon dynasty in southern Italy produced two parallel “inner civil wars” in the two southern regions, and eventually resulted in the collapse on the Confederacy and in the near collapse of the Italian Kingdom, and also in a temporary loss of power for the two regional elites.

JF: Why do we need to read Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy?

EDL: Not only my book is the first comparative study of the American and Italian civil wars of 1861-65; it is also the first comparative study that builds upon the most recent scholarly tendencies of focusing on the Confederate South’s “inner civil war” to argue that comparable “inner civil wars” occurred, as happened in Italy, wherever a process of forcible nation-building from above took place during the course of the nineteenth century. Inevitably, the outcome of this process could only be either the complete collapse or the near collapse of the new nation, as the examples of the Confederacy and of the Italian Kingdom clearly show. Crucially, for the majorities of the two groups of southern agrarian workers – African American slaves and landless southern Italian peasants – who were in conditions of dependency from masters and landlords, the “inner civil wars” in the Confederate South and southern Italy represented major opportunities to strike at their oppressors, by allying with anti-Confederate Unionists in one case and with the anti-Italian pro-Bourbon forces in the other case, and with the two primary and distinct, but parallel and comparable, objectives of acquiring legal emancipation and economic independence. My book shows, though, that, ultimately, complete freedom was indissolubly tied, for both African American slaves and southern Italian peasants, to ownership of land. My book shows also that this aspiration, common to all nineteenth-century agrarian workers, was frustrated in both cases, leading to continuous conditions of dependency for the African American freedpeople and the southern Italian peasants, and, also in both cases, these conditions lasted until long after the end of the two civil wars.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

EDL: The long-term origins of my fascination with American History have a lot to do with the many American movies – starting from Gone with the Wind – and American TV Series – among which Roots and North and South – I watched in Italy, where I was born and I spent the first twenty-five years of my life. The actual decision to become an American historian, though, came somewhat later, during the course of my postgraduate studies, when I became progressively aware of the historical parallelisms between the United States and Italy to which I referred earlier with regard to the conflictual relationship between the north and the south of the two countries. As a result of this growing awareness, I thought that I could understand better the significance of these parallelisms if I studied in depth the history of the United States in the Civil War era, and this eventually became my main field of research.

JF: What is your next project?

EDL: I am planning to write a follow-up comparative study which will focus on the aftermath of the two parallel civil wars in the U.S. South and southern Italy. In my comparison, I will look specifically at the extent of continuity vs. change with regards to labor relations in the agrarian countryside. I am especially interested in the rise of illegal, and in one case paramilitary, forms of agrarian violence as tools for the protection of the interests of the agrarian elites – i.e., the former southern slaveholders and the southern Italian landowners – and as a means to keep the agrarian workers – i.e., the African American freedpeople and the southern Italian peasants – in continuous states of subjection in the Reconstruction U.S. South and southern Italy after 1865.

JF: Thanks, Enrico!