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Italy's Divided Memories and Their Representations in Modern Culture

Type of group

Funded project

Area focus



Ronald de Rooij
Maria Bonaria Urban


Luiza Bialasiewicz
Maria Bonaria Urban
Tamara van Kessel
Linda Pennings
Ronald de Rooij
Daniele Comberiati (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Monica Jansen (Universiteit Utrecht, member of the UU research group Transnational memories: Contesting the past, before and beyond the nation state)
Linde Luijnenburg (University of Warwick, PhD candidate)

Research programme

After a long and difficult process of unification, Italy has been struggling in vain to create a unifying collective memory and a strong feeling of national identity. Many historical events have given rise to a weak and fragmented collective memory: the very process of unification, which was too often perceived as top-down, the military and political debacle of WWI, the shameful Fascist period, the ambiguous ending of WWII – a defeat disguised as ‘armistice’ and a military occupation called ‘alliance’, to quote novelist Sebastiano Vassalli –, up to the violent post-war decades of lead and mysteries, the First Republic ending in countless bribery and corruption scandals and the conflict-ridden Second Republic. The divided character of Italy’s collective memory has been analysed by historians like John Foot (Italy’s Divided Memory, 2009) and Giovanni De Luna (La repubblica del dolore, 2011). This group’s main research theme will be the analysis and interpretation of twentieth and twenty-first century cultural representations of various aspects of Italy’s divided memory. With regards to the type of cultural representations our main focus is on literary texts – especially contemporary novels, migrant and postcolonial literature – and movies, but we also take into account more popular media like television series and documentaries, and other cultural phenomena like commemoration rituals. In most research carried out by the members of this group interdisciplinary methods and perspectives will prevail. Thematically we are concentrating on the following topics: postcolonialism, immigration, the traumatic “years of lead”, terrorism and organized crime. A recurrent research question in the analysis and interpretation of the cultural representations of Italy’s divided memory will be their function and position in the discourse on Italian national identity. When, how and why do they contribute to and strengthen the idea of Italian national identity, when, how and why do they call it into question? Other relevant questions related to the research group’s topic are: How are the memories of the past shaped in different mass media? What is the role of mass media in creating and mediating different interpretations of the past?

Links within ARTES groups

Italy’s Divided Memories and their Representation in Modern Culture is one of the research projects of the interdisciplinary and transnational research group Mediating Memories in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

Societal relevance

This research project aims to explore the topic of divided memories and to relate it to the debate about national identity in Italian culture from an interdisciplinary approach. Moreover it seeks to provide a better understanding of similar processes in other cultural traditions as well. The program has a clear cultural and societal relevance: it helps to understand how the recreation and manipulation of the past is strongly related to the development of the cultural debate and to the socio-political contexts nowadays. In addition, it is essential to develop a deeper understanding of the differences between "North" and "South" within the framework of the European Union. Finally, the aim of this research group will be relevant to the formation of experts in the field of Italian Studies.

Recent output

  • R. De Rooy and M. Jansen, "Immunity and Community in Italian War Novels Set in Afghanistan," Configurations 25, no. 3 (2017): 373-392.
  • R. De Rooy and M. Jansen, "La 'bolla di sicurezza' in Afghanistan: Meccanismi di immunità nei romanzi di Mazzucco e Giordano," in Dal nemico alla coralità: Immagini ed esperienze dell'altro nelle rappresentazioni della guerra degli ultimi cento anni, ed. A. Baldacci (Vicchio: LoGisma Editore, 2017), 309-318.
  • M. Jansen and M. B. Urban, "Raccontare la giustizia. Special Issue," Forum Italicum 51, no. 1 (2017).
  • M. Jansen and M. B. Urban, "Raccontare la giustizia," Forum Italicum 51, no. 1 (2017): 10-21.
  • M. B. Urban, "Immagini dell’altro fra esotismo, indottrinamento fascista e ripensamenti critici sulla conquista dell’Abissinia nel diario di una Camicia nera," in Dal nemico alla coralità. Saggi critici, ed. A. Baldacci (LoGisma editore, 2017), 131-138.