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  • Italian Psychology and Jewish Emigration Under Fascism: From Florence to Jerusalem and New York by Patrizia Guarnieri
  • Leila Zenderland
Patrizia Guarnieri. Italian Psychology and Jewish Emigration Under Fascism: From Florence to Jerusalem and New York. Italian and Italian American Studies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. xv + 275 pp. Ill. $100.00 ( 978-1-137-30655-5).

How did psychology function under Italian fascism? What happened to antifascist psychologists once Mussolini assumed power in 1922, or to Jewish psychologists when racial laws were passed in 1938? By focusing on such questions, Patrizia Guarnieri has produced an account that challenges many euphemisms, omissions, errors, and lies frequently found in histories of Italian psychology written long after the fascist era had ended.

She begins by explaining what it meant to be a psychologist in Italy's pre-fascist era. Italian psychology, Guarnieri argues, was a loosely connected, insecure, and internally contentious field intertwined with philosophy, pedagogy, physiology, and psychiatry. Hindering its growth was fierce opposition from philosophical neo-idealists such as Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile, both before and after fascists came to power. While Croce came to oppose fascism, Gentile became Mussolini's education minister in 1923, using his power to eliminate the teaching of psychology from high schools and to suppress it within universities. Between 1926 and 1935, Italian scientific articles of "psychological interest" fell by more than 81 percent, a decline that continued (p. 104). In 1944, American indexers reported, Italians published only two such titles. For Italian psychology, Guarnieri concludes, the "mix of national neo-idealism and Fascism was fairly fatal" (p. 97).

Guarnieri focuses mainly on three psychologists associated with the University of Florence: Francesco de Sarlo, an influential leader in this field who held a medical degree and a chair in theoretical philosophy, and who established a laboratory to teach experimental psychology in 1903; and his students Enzo Bonaventura and Renata Calabresi (both Jewish). The "story that is generally told," Guarnieri reports, is that in 1923, de Sarlo, an outspoken antifascist, "passed the baton" by turning over his psychology classes to Bonaventura (p. 71). Instead she documents Gentile forcing de Sarlo out. Although qualified for a chair, Bonaventura remained a lecturer reappointed annually until 1938, when new laws suddenly expelled all Jews. Fortunately he was able to secure a lectureship at Hebrew University and moved his family to Jerusalem. Longing to come home, however, in 1947 Bonaventura returned to Florence when a psychology chair became open, encountering what Guarnieri calls "an environment inclined to remember little, and that badly" (p. 158). With former colleagues making no efforts to secure him a position, he returned to Jerusalem, where he was killed in 1948 when a convoy of professors and medical workers trying to reach Hebrew University Hospital was ambushed. The laudatory Italian testimonials following his death illustrate Guarnieri's broader theme of subtle historical revisionism. One, for instance, asserted reassuringly that "things had turned out better for him abroad" (p. 142) while another entirely ignored Italy's 1938 anti-semitic laws and described Bonaventura as voluntarily leaving his job in 1940 to live in Palestine.

Renata Calabresi's experiences illuminate another trajectory. After earning her doctorate under de Sarlo and with little hope for work in Florence, she moved to [End Page 456] Rome where she continued her research and began teaching university courses in experimental psychology. With her work terminated in 1938 due to her "Jewish race," she and her brother Massimo, a physician, both emigrated to the United States. There they joined a growing community of talented Italian academic émigrés. Massimo was soon hired by Yale's School of Medicine; Renata had a harder time finding full-time work and held several positions before eventually becoming a psychologist for the Veteran's Administration. Although an APA member with publications who kept in contact with former Italian colleagues, after the war the University of Rome declared her impossible to find and closed her case.

Guarnieri's study contributes to a growing literature reconsidering the impact of fascism on disciplinary structures and practices, including Ulfried Geuter's work on psychology and Carsten Klingemann's on sociology in Nazi Germany.1 She situates her three cases...


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