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Nature and History in Modern Italy

Marco Armiero

Publication Year: 2010

Is Italy il bel paese—the beautiful country—where tourists spend their vacations looking for art, history, and scenery? Or is it a land whose beauty has been cursed by humanity’s greed and nature’s cruelty? The answer is largely a matter of narrative and the narrator’s vision of Italy. The fifteen essays in Nature and History in Modern Italy investigate that nation’s long experience in managing domesticated rather than wild natures and offer insight into these conflicting visions. Italians shaped their land in the most literal sense, producing the landscape, sculpting its heritage, embedding memory in nature, and rendering the two different visions inseparable. The interplay of Italy’s rich human history and its dramatic natural diversity is a subject with broad appeal to a wide range of readers.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title/Cover Page

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pp. v-vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

The carving of nation-states out of the infinite variety of the living planet may seem like a triumph of the human will. In setting their borders, nations often defy the lines that nature draws. When they do conform and a river or mountain range determines a political boundary, they may refuse to accept such limits on their expansion; they may find ways to claim what...

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pp. xv-xvi

Identifying and then selecting the best scholarship about Italy’s modern environmental past has not been an easy assignment. This project faced conceptual, disciplinary, and linguistic barriers, and we realize that the process and product have not been perfect—and much too time consuming. Some excellent scholarship did not make it into our book, and some of the...

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Il Bel Paese: An Introduction

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pp. 1-11

Relationships between environmental history and boundaries have always been complicated. One might say that environmental history is congenitally uncomfortable with boundaries, no matter what they are meant to delineate. Although definitions of environmental history have been various and even contradictory, there has been one recurring element that most...


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pp. 13

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Chapter 1: The Distinctive Character of Italian Environmental History

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pp. 15-32

The physical features and habitat of the Italian peninsula set it sharply apart from other European regions. Italy is almost entirely surrounded by the sea and joined to the rest of Europe by the Alps, a mountain chain of superb beauty and a major repository of zoological and botanical biodiversity (this, of course, is a natural feature that Italy shares with its border countries...

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Chapter 2: Upside-Down Landscapes: Seismicity and Seismic Disasters in Italy

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pp. 33-55

Problems linked to the environment are generally regarded as being visible or predictable: they concern the uses of the landscape, its transformations, the economic exploitation of the lands or waters, and even lifestyles and visions of economic development. But the environment is not only the result of what can be seen or planned. There are also hidden geological...

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Chapter 3: Moving Ground: Vesuvius and the Nola Mudslides of the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 56-69

In the wee hours between 5 and 6 May 1998, following two days of abundant rainfall, hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of mud and debris let loose on Mount Pizzo d’Alvano in the outskirts of Naples, sweeping down over the towns of Sarno, Quindici, Siano, and Bracigliano. The final toll listed 160 victims, hundreds of destroyed homes, whole areas completely...

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Chapter 4: Environmental Imperialism in Sardinia: Pesticides and Politics in the Struggle against Malaria

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pp. 70-86

Malaria is second only to tuberculosis as the world’s most deadly killer. Yet malaria is an environmental issue as well as a health concern. Because malaria parasites are transmitted by mosquito vectors, measures that kill mosquitoes, disrupt mosquito habitat, or prevent their contact with humans have been tested alongside a variety of drug treatments. Human efforts to...

Commons and Forests

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pp. 87

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Chapter 5: The Decline of the Commons and the Environmental Balance in Early Modern Italy

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pp. 89-107

Does it still make sense today to look at forms of the collective use of natural resources—especially land—from the perspective of the great Marxist-inspired historiographical tradition? Is it best to regard collective resource use as a barbaric leftover from bygone times that hinders the spread of full and absolute property rights and prevents market forces from working at...

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Chapter 6: Forest Visions in Early Modern Italy

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pp. 108-125

Links between forest conditions and various physical-environmental processes (such as soil erosion, landslides, floods, and loss of soil fertility) were given special scientific treatment in the Italian literature during the eighteenth century and the Napoleonic age. To be sure, earlier centuries also saw attention paid to forests and their role, especially in Venetia and...

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Chapter 7: Environmental Heritage of a Past Cultural Landscape: Alder Woods in the Upper Aveto Valley of the Northwestern Apennines

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pp. 126-140

Recently, a good deal of attention has been paid to “cultural landscapes” in European geographic and environmental studies. Much of this attention is due to the adoption of an administrative act called the European Landscape Convention, signed at Florence on 20 October 2000. This act reflects a number of European Union (EU) research projects devoted to cultural landscapes, as shown by such initiatives as the European...

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Chapter 8: Act Locally, Think Nationally: A Brief History of Access Rights and Environmental Conflicts in Fascist Italy

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pp. 141-158

This essay provides an overview of the evolution of nature conservation and resource management legislation and ideology in Italy during the Fascist Ventennio period (1923–43). Further, it explains the local environmental impact of Fascist policies through the analysis of two exemplary case studies: the Gran Paradiso National Park and the province of Novara...

Pollution, Industry, and Urban Environment

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pp. 159

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Chapter 9: Dealing with Industrial Pollution in Italy, 1880–1940

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pp. 161-179

Industrial production has been a crucial theme of contemporary environmental history for some time. There has been a profound transformation in the way resources are used, both in the enormous quantity of raw materials mobilized and waste produced and in their manipulation by developing technologies.1 The role of industries in changing the territorial and environmental foundations of increasingly vast areas has been...

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Chapter 10: Petrochemical Modernity in Sicily

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pp. 180-194

Beginning in 1949, Sicily’s southeastern coast between Augusta and Siracusa was the protagonist in a story of sudden and tumultuous industrial development, creating one of the biggest European petrochemical centers in a twenty-year period. Between 1956 and 1959 alone, some 130 billion lire (about $200 million at 1959 exchange rates) were invested in industrial...

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Chapter 11: The Seveso Disaster Legacy

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pp. 195-211

In the history of the environment as a public problem, industrial disasters have been insufficiently explored.1 Such disasters are nonetheless crucial because their collective interpretation weaves together technical and scientific issues, problems of social justice, and controversies concerning conflicting “common goods” by destabilizing the equilibria that have...

Landscape, Culture, and Environmentalism

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pp. 213

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Chapter 12: A “Natural” Capitalism: Water and the Making of the Italian Industrial Landscape

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pp. 215-230

Italy’s many waterfalls cascade down more than six thousand kilometers of rivers and streams that drain the country’s mostly mountainous and hilly terrain.1 This hydrologic characteristic, along with a substantial lack of mineral resources, has played a crucial role in the development of energy systems used by Italian industry, namely, a historical reliance on...

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Chapter 13: Nationalizing the Mountains: Natural and Political Landscapes in World War I

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pp. 231-250

One of the most emblematic images of the Alps is Hannibal leading his elephants across the mountains to descend upon Rome.1 Since then, the Alpine mountain range has been crossed and contested many times. It has been celebrated as the sacred frontier of Italy and fortified as a rampart against invaders. The Italian nationalization of the mountains was not accomplished...

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Chapter 14: Nature Preservation and Protection in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Italy, 1880–1950

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pp. 251-267

Italian environmental cultures of preservation and protection have a dramatic and erratic history. The beginning of this history coincides with the first wave of European environmentalism, in the years bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The accomplishments of this phase led to several successes that by the early 1920s were putting Italy in the vanguard of...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 269-277


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pp. 279-282


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pp. 283-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443477
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821419168

Page Count: 295
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Italy -- History -- 19th century.
  • Italy -- History -- 20th century.
  • Landscapes -- Social aspects -- Italy -- History.
  • Human ecology -- History -- Italy -- Human ecology -- History.
  • Italy -- Social conditions.
  • Italy -- Environmental conditions.
  • Environmentalism -- Italy -- History.
  • Urbanization -- Environmental aspects -- Italy -- History.
  • Nature -- Effect of human beings on -- Italy -- History.
  • Pollution -- Italy -- History.
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