- The Shaping of Tuscany: Landscape and Society between Tradition and Modernity by Dario Gaggio
What makes a beautiful landscape? The Shaping of Tuscany explains how the Tuscan countryside became an icon of timeless beauty and a popular tourist destination known for its rolling hills, traditional farmhouses, and graceful vineyards that seem to have graced the region since the Renaissance. Yet the argument of the book is that both the natural features of Tuscan agriculture and the cultural representation of Tuscany as an immutable landscape are actually the product of recent social conflict, hard labor, and a huge amount of cultural work. In short, Tuscany is beautiful not because its traditional landscape was preserved intact over time but because Tuscans struggled to produce a legible space in the face of dramatic historical transformations. Rather than just critiquing stereotypical views of Tuscany as an “invented tradition,” the book adopts a tone sympathetic to Tuscans’ own quest for coherence and authenticity. [End Page 147] Tuscany’s beauty resonates across cultural boundaries as its landscape embodies the struggle of accommodating historical change while remaining true to itself.
The highly interdisciplinary methodology of the book is key to proving its argument successfully. Gaggio opted for a “spatial history” that sees the landscape from a “dwelling perspective,” namely, as a phenomenology of multiple sensorial experiences, material engagements with nature, and conflicting narratives (8). Rather than presenting a linear master narrative of Tuscany’s transformation from traditional agriculture to the postmodern economy of the tourism industry, Gaggio brings to the fore a plurality of actors, narratives, and viewpoints. By deploying a wide range of sources (archival documents, interviews, fieldwork, memoires, photographs, documentaries, material culture, and museum collections), the book combines the approaches of environmental, political, economic, and social history with those of geography, anthropology, tourism, and cultural studies.
Chapter 1 examines how Fascism inaugurated the tension between the modernization of the Tuscan countryside and the preservation of an idealized tradition that remained the most long-lasting legacy of the regime. Fascism built on a longer history of Tuscan agricultural thought that saw in the mezzadria (sharecropping) a romanticized structure of harmonic social relations. The mezzadria linked patronizing landlords with docile peasants, enforced patriarchal family relations, and shaped the physical layout of the Tuscan landscape in farming units. On the one hand, Fascism modernized the Tuscan landscape through extensive land-reclamation projects, and, on the other, it politicized the countryside by glorifying the notion of “ruralism” as a set of values inculcating obedience and tradition. By interpreting the Tuscan landscape as the product of Italian civilization, Fascism turned Tuscany into the model- region of the regime.
In the postwar period, Tuscan peasants assumed the role of modernizing and improving their lives. They enlisted in the Communist Party, demanded more agency in the management of agricultural estates, and called for the improvement of their homes with electricity and running water. Tuscan sharecroppers unmasked mezzadria’s system of paternalistic deference as an invented tradition. They produced a “landscape of defiance” that transgressed traditional cultural boundaries by erecting peace flags, organizing marches into the city, and creating new social spaces, such as the Case del Popolo (People’s Houses, 60). However, the communists failed to fulfill the peasants’ hopes for an egalitarian transformation of Tuscany by promoting forms of economic development that would not make their workforce redundant.
Between 1957 and 1970 (Chapter 3), sharecroppers abandoned their farms in a massive rural exodus, thus leaving behind a countryside perceived as empty and degenerated. In the Chianti region, the monoculture of new specialized vineyards—so prominent in Tuscany’s image of immutable beauty today—replaced the mixed agriculture of the [End Page 148] sharecropping economy. Local administrators vainly attempted to mend the economic and cultural trauma of the mezzadria’s ending with plans to regenerate the region through irrigation projects and the promotion of cattle rearing in the 1970s (Chapter 4). Meanwhile, foreign tourists and urban elites began to show an aesthetic appreciation of the sharecroppers’ abandoned farmhouses. During...