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Review Essay: New Perspectives on Italian Women's History Mirna Cicioni and Nicole Prunster, eds. Visions and Revisions: Women in Italian Culture. Providence and Oxford: Berg, 1993. 224 pp. ISBN 0-85496-710-9(cl). Angela Groppi. I conservatori della virtu: Donne recluse nella Roma dei Papi. Bari: Laterza, 1994. 313 pp. ISBN 8-8420-4430-x(cl). Margherita Pelaja. Matrimonio e sessualità a Roma nell'Ottocento. Bari: Laterza, 1994. vi + 197 pp. ISBN 8-8420-4365-6(cl). Società italiana delle Storiche. Discutendo di storia: Soggettività , ricerca, biografÃ-a. Turin: Rosenberg and Sellier, 1990.126 pp. ISBN 88-7011-3981 (d). Società italiana delle Storiche. Generazioni: Trasmissione della storia e tradizione delle donne. Turin: Rosenberg and Sellier, 1993.223 pp. ISBN 88-7011-530-5. Mary S. Gibson All the books under review in this essay, with the exception of the work in EngHsh, have been authored by active members of the ItaHan Sodety of Women Historians (Società italiana delle storiche or SIS) founded in 1989. Readers of this journal are probably not familiar with the SIS, so I will say a few words about this organization before getting to the specific books under review. While the SIS itself is rather young, women's historians in Italy have cooperated since the late 1970s in editing two excellent journals, Donnawomanfemme and Memoria. The latter has unfortunately ceased publication, but the SIS is seeking to replace the loss through its lengthy newsletter, entitled Agenda, and a projected new journal. It has also been tireless in organizing a series of conferences, most of which have resulted in pubHshed collections of essays like two under review, Discutendo di storia and Generazioni. Perhaps the most innovative project of the SIS is its annual summer school in women's history open to female applicants outside as well as inside academia. Each summer has a specific theme, and for two intensive weeks women of all ages from a variety of professions discuss historical questions based on primary documents. Such a historical outreach program , of a type absent in the United States, makes the SIS a reference point for the feminist community and famUiarizes a growing number of profes- © 1996 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 8 No. 2 (Summer) 170 Journal of Women's History Summer sional and activist women with a historical perspective on contemporary sodal and poHtical issues. As Italy has as yet no departments, programs, or even faculty appointments specifically in women's studies, the work of the SIS—its conferences, pubHcations, and summer school—is carried on without institutional support and requires intense commitments of time, energy, and passion from its members. Because few Americans read Italian, the scholarship on women by ItaUans is practically unknown in the United States. This is unfortunate, as Italian women have for years been at the forefront of many historical developments such as the use of court records to explore women's everyday life, especially their sexuality, and the application of anthropological concepts such as honor and shame to explicate female status. Historians of early modern women tended, until recently, to be the most innovative. A few of their most important essays have been collected and translated by Edward MuH and Guido Ruggiero under the title Sex and Gender in Historical Perspective.1 The appearance of the books by Angela Groppi and Margherita Pelaja indicate that historians of the nineteenth century are now beginning to profit from these new approaches. What unites women's historians of both early modern and modern Italy is their deep and systematic thinking about theory. In ongoing discussions at conferences and in Agenda, Italian women energetically and articulately debate the usefulness of different categories and concepts as frames for thefr empirical research. Because Italy is geographically small compared to the United States and women from the entire country can meet at least yearly, these debates have a continuity and intensity rarely possible here. Yet geography is not the only explanation for Italian women's commitment to theoretical exploration, for it is grounded in their thorough training in philosophy and literature as part of a standard university education. I find the sophistication of their debates to be a welcome corrective to the...


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