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Inventing Italy. Geography, Risorgimento and National Imagination: the International Circulation of Geographical Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century


DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12068

Ferretti, Federico. “Inventing Italy. Geography, Risorgimento and National Imagination: the International Circulation of Geographical Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century.” The Geographical Journal (2014): 1-10. Print.

p.1: This paper addresses the construction of national unity by Italian geographers in the age of the Risorgimento, analysing this process within the context of the international emergence of national representations, identities and imaginaries which was similarly accompanied by geographers elsewhere during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Based on primary sources, focusing on European circulation of knowledge, and drawing on the study of the cultural and epistemological construction of the geographical objects, this paper contributes to current research on nationalism, identities and national imagination from the standpoint of social, cultural and historical geography. Interrogating how geography constructed objects of cultural identity in Italy, initially through landscape and morphologic analysis, and finally in the geographical invention of the Italian nation, reveals the importance of this discipline for constructing social reality. The study of the role of geography historically in nation-building can shed light both on territorial challenges of the past, and those potentially to come. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.1: The question of national unity and federalism, in fact, was already impassioned during the long and complex process of national unification called the Risorgimento, during which Italian geographers for the first time took positions on issues of national identity and territorial affiliations, mobilising various historical, political and cultural conceptions. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.1: Though the focus of this article is the nineteenth-century circulation of European geographic knowledge in the context of the Risorgimento, the issues at hand then are still very much at play in present-day Europe, where territory and national identity are still contested. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.2: Geography, thus, may be a strategic discipline for approaching the present political problems of regions, nations and territories. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.2: In this article, I analyse the little known case of the invention of the Italian nation by nineteenth century geographers. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.2: In the literature on the history of Italian geography, the crucial period between the Restoration (1815) and national unification (1861–70) has been relatively neglected. The interest of scholars who have addressed this period has been limited largely to the history of the Italian Geographical Society, founded in 1867 (Cerreti 2000), and the geographic associations which arose soon afterward, following unification. By exploring unpublished and little-known materials showing the early engagement of geographers in Italian national construction and federalist debates, this paper aims to contribute new arguments for critical reflection and to begin to fill this lacuna. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.2: What links can be discerned between geography and the Risorgimento, particularly in the European circulation of geographical models and the construction of geographical objects between the nineteenth and the twentieth century? Can we talk about an ‘Italian geography’ prior to the constitution of the first national geographic associations and university chairs, and if so, what form did it take? Finally, there is the question with particular relevance today regarding the relationship in Italy between centralist and federalist (or regionalist) visions of the nation, which both sought justication through geographical arguments. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.2: This article arises from the hypothesis that the role of geography in building national imaginaries and identities during the nineteenth and early twentieth century was far more instrumental than is generally recognised. The Italian example, developed here, can especially contribute to the more general debate on the historical nature, objects and objectives of geography. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.2: My inquiry is inserted within the framework of studies addressing national imaginaries (Anderson 1991) and the invention of tradition in the age of nationalism (Hobsbawm 1983 1990). This allows me to draw upon a well established chronological perspective and the idea that nations and traditions are always culturally constructed concepts. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.3: In the field of history of geography, some fundamental works on geography and national identity, such as David Hooson’s edited volume (1994), have shown that geographers, through their publications and teaching, influenced the consolidation of national identities all over the world. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.3: From a methodological standpoint, I rely to a great extent on correspondence and unpublished notes, which cultural historians consider fundamental sources ‘external to the text’ (Prochasson 1992, 428) or instruments ‘of action and administration’ (Müller 1994, VI) in the construction of knowledge. They are particularly useful in revealing the workings, concrete forms, and material historicity of scientific work. They are equally pivotal, beyond textual analysis, for performing an ‘archeology of knowledge’, in the sense of Michel Foucault. According to Foucault, ‘the margins of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network’ (Foucault 1969, 34). -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.3: To pursue these questions, I have sought to reconstruct the national and international networks by which geographical knowledge circulated, especially the voluntary association of geographers from different regions during the national construction of Italy. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.3: Toward this end, I approach the history of geography as a contextual reading (Berdoulay 1981; Livingstone 1993) and interrogate the actor-network theory (Latour 1987; Callon 1989) using the concept of centre of calculation. According to Latour, the idea of a centre of calculation has important geographical features, as it allows for the far-reaching accumulation of knowledge, a process explained by the author through several examples taken from cartography and exploration. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.4: This impasse between power and knowledge was surmounted only in 1837 with the idea of publishing a volume with the title Memorie scelte di geografia, viaggi e costumi [Selected memoirs of geography, voyages and customs] -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.4: Selected memoirs joined the international tendency of spreading knowledge of what Carlo Frulli described as ‘the treasures which can be considered the archives of humanity, and which the brilliant von Humboldt clearly risked his life to reveal to us’ (Frulli 1837, 7). -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.4: This mélange of geographical and related themes gave an appearance of ‘scientific neutrality’ while not actually being neutral. Such an implicit political strategy, according to Franco Farinelli, had been similarly deployed by German geographers of the eighteenth century for the ‘indirect conquest of the power’ (Farinelli 1992) during the controversy between natural-region geographers and state geographers (Staatsgeographen). -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.4: According to Farinelli, geographers such as Ritter and Humboldt sought to build knowledge for an emerging bourgeois civil society, rather than in service to feudal and aristocratic society (1992, 120–9). -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.5: Carlo Frulli, in his ‘Geological Notes on Italy’, brought a political intent. As part of his treatment of physical geography he called for the establishment of the ‘natural frontiers’ of the nation – a political entity which, though non-existent, geographers could evidently outline on natural basis: geography was thus a powerful instrument to represent, prefigure and imagine the world according to different parameters, capable of thinking and inventing geographical objects which did not exist, or did not yet exist, within the delimitations of power at the time. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.6: Ranuzzi, however, complained of ‘the lack of a common center of geographic activity in Italy, the absence of a political tie between the various Italian States, the limited maritime and commercial relations between us and the other parts of the Globe’. He emphasised the obstacles that the various Italian states posed to the circulation of geographic data, seemingly for either military or political reasons -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.7: According to Latour and Callon, the basis for a ‘center of calculation’ is the establishment of a scientic laboratory, drawing on both knowledge and structures to pursue the ‘original accumulation of knowledge’ (Callon 1989, 24). In spite of the lack of structures, we can argue that the Ranuzzi’s Office, in its aims, was more than an attempt to found a Geographical Society; it sought to establish a science and a laboratory of ideas and data through networking – an ambition that was not fully realised, yet was remarkable nonetheless. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.7: According to Claudio Minca, ‘the “pure” geography of the eighteenth century, formulated under a pretention of scientificity and neutrality, would come increasingly into conflict with the so-called “geography of the state,” based within an explicitly political spatial theory, and explicitly addressing the needs of aristocratic power’ (Minca 2007, 184). -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.8: ‘Critical geography, comparative geography, is just being born, and much time will be needed before it penetrates and prevails over the entire field of geographical studies’ (1840, 26). This modernity is not in reference to what today is called ‘critical geography’, but to the idea that geography had to develop an autonomous standpoint on the world in order to influence political power. Farinelli attributes this kind of criticism to geographers far from a progressive political position, like Friedrich Ratzel or the Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, who aimed, according to Farinelli, for the utopia of ‘illuminating through knowledge the practices of power: that is to say, deciding instead of the prince in the name of this knowledge’ (Farinelli 1989, 245–6). This was the critical discourse of the Italian geographers who aimed for national independence and Italian unication. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.10: The study I present here demonstrates that the dialectics between centralism and federalism have a long history in Italy, and both tendencies have long had recourse to the conceptual tools of geography. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014

p.10: Future research on the geographical invention of nations should not ignore the dimension of radical activism which underlay much of the geographical work brought to bear on national questions at that time. -- Highlighted apr 27, 2014