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Environment and History

Guilty, Sexual and Local: Nature for the Nation in the Italian Narrative of the Bel Paese (19th century)

Antonio Gai

Environment and History 21 (2015): 351-380. doi: 10.3197/096734015X14345369355782

Significant historiographical works have been dedicated to the role of nature in many national cultures, but such studies for the process of development of Italian national identity are still rather rare. This article aims to partially fill this gap, attempting to provide insight into the corpus of the so-called 'Risorgimental canon': in other terms, the most influential literary texts of the cultural and political movement aiming to unify the States beneath the borders of the Alps in a single nation, Italy. The 'Risorgimento'- the act of 'rising again' - of Italian national identity. This paper examines patriotic poetry and novels in the context of their contemporary culture as both expressions and performances of the relationship between the environmental approach and national narrative. In particular this essay explores the rhetorical use of the environment in national discourse, through the representation of the imagined geographical identity, the poetry of national landscape and the value attributed to Nature. At this time, while the new national sentiment was being built, local identities continued to persist, and emerged in the canon, striking intellectuals with the great difficulties of mixing together old and new identities. As it inherited a long environmental tradition, relating to Romanticism, and imagined a new political identity, the Risorgimento shaped and institutionalised the general idea of nature in the national discourse about the Bel Paese.

KEYWORDS: Risorgimento, Italy, landscape, nature, national identity, imagined communities


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