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Domesticating Foreign Struggles

The Italian Risorgimento and Antebellum American Identity

Paola Gemme

Publication Year: 2005

When antebellum Americans talked about the contemporary struggle for Italian unification (the Risorgimento), they were often saying more about themselves than about Italy. In Domesticating Foreign Struggles Paola Gemme unpacks the American cultural record on the Risorgimento not only to make sense of the U.S. engagement with the broader world but also to understand the nation's domestic preoccupations.

Swayed by the myth of the United States as a catalyst of and model for global liberal movements, says Gemme, Americans saw parallels to their own history in the Risorgimento--and they said as much in newspapers, magazines, travel accounts, diplomatic dispatches, poems, maps, and paintings. And yet, in American eyes, Italians were too civically deficient to ever achieve republican goals. Such a view, says Gemme, reaffirmed cherished beliefs both in the United States as the center of world events and in the notion of American exceptionalism. Gemme argues that Americans also pondered the place of 'subordinate' ethnic groups in domestic culture--especially Irish Catholic immigrants and enslaved African Americans--through the discourse on Risorgimento Italy.

Thus, says Gemme, national identity rested not only on differentiation from outside groups but also on a desire for internal racial and cultural homogeneity. Writing in a tradition pioneered by Amy Kaplan, Richard Slotkin, and others, Gemme advances the movement to 'internationalize' American studies by situating the United States in its global cultural context.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: Domesticating Foreign Struggles

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pp. 1-14

American studies scholars have recently called for a transnational and comparative approach to American culture. Such a perspective would reject traditional models of American separatism and exceptionalism and highlight instead American culture’s evolution through a dynamic and reciprocal interaction with cultural traditions situated beyond its national borders. An internationalized American studies, moreover, would usefully...

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1. Of American Mentors and Foreign Pupils: The Cultural Work of Republican Pedagogy

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pp. 15-56

In his autobiography, Reminiscences, written at the end of a long career as a lawyer and politician, James A. Hamilton recorded extensively his trip to Italy in 1848. The memoir reproduces a letter he wrote from Rome to an unidentified New York friend describing the most recent political events, namely that the king of Sardinia, the grand duke of...

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2. Of Revolutions and Commerce: The Imperial Vistas of Political Philanthropy

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pp. 57-88

On 12 December 1848, Nicholas Browne, American consul in Rome, wrote a long dispatch to Secretary of State James Buchanan in which he reported on recent political events in Italy: progressive reforms that had been implemented throughout the peninsula since the election of the liberal pope Pius IX, Austria’s increasing opposition to the liberalization of Italian politics...

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3. An American Jeremiah in Rome: Margaret Fuller’s Tribune Dispatches

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pp. 89-106

“I go to behold the wonders of art, and the temples of old religion,” declared Margaret Fuller to the readers of her literary column in the New-York Daily Tribune on the eve of her departure for Europe in August 1846. “But I shall not see,” she added with reassuring nationalistic pride, “no [sic ] form of beauty and majesty beyond what my Country is...

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4. Republican Debates I: The Color of the Republic

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pp. 107-130

When diplomat Charles Edward Lester concluded his pessimistic assessment of the European revolutions of 1848 with the declaration that he “had little faith . . . in the capacity of any great people in the world, either to establish or to maintain republican institutions, except the people of theUnited States,” he was defining America in terms of the civic virtue of...

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5. Republican Debates II: The Religion of the Republic

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pp. 131-155

When Gaetano Bedini, archbishop of Thebes and former governor of the provinces of the Papal States, landed in New York on 30 June 1853, he could not have foreseen that his visit to the United States would be, as he later described it, “così piena di spine” a “thorny” and dangerous mission that would end in precipitous flight. He had been instructed...

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Epilogue: Revolution and Immigration

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pp. 156-162

“The main question which underlies the problem of immigration,” declared the Atlantic Monthly in 1893, at the opening of a decade that would see the Italian population in the United States soar to almost one million, “concerns the extent to which the foreign people we receive are already fit, or may readily be prepared, for incorporation into the body...


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pp. 163-178


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pp. 179-198


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343990
E-ISBN-10: 0820327077
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820327075
Print-ISBN-10: 0820327077

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 13 b&w photos, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2005

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Subject Headings

  • Italy -- Foreign public opinion, American -- History -- 19th century.
  • Italy -- History -- 1849-1870.
  • Public opinion -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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