Research Seminar, “Death and the birth of a nation: Cemeteries in Nineteenth-Century Italy” (Hannah Malone, University of Groningen)
Italians have a special relationship with their dead and that relationship constitutes a basis for Italy’s national identity. Whereas across Europe until the late eighteenth century the dead had been buried in urban churches and graveyards, from the early 1800s, the prohibition of burial within cities led to the creation of new cemeteries that were suburban, public, secular, and socially inclusive, and whose importance reflected the celebration of death in an era of Romanticism and individualism. Although Romantic culture was widespread throughout Europe, Italy’s cemeteries of the nineteenth century were distinctive in that they were monumental rather than landscaped, and unparalleled in their scale, grandeur, and cost. They emerged in direct response to the evolution of Italian society and politics at the time of unification. As Italy underwent a period of turbulent change marked the rise of the bourgeoisie, the struggle for independence, and the creation of the nation-state, the new cemeteries expressed the tensions and conflicts that shaped the emergent nation.
Drawing on my monograph, Architecture, Death and Nationhood (Routledge, 2017), the seminar will explore Italy’s monumental cemeteries of the nineteenth century as a distinctly Italian phenomenon, and as a window onto Italian attitudes towards death and commemoration. In particular, in the context of the Risorgimento, public cemeteries were imbued with political meanings that were coloured by nationalism and a rising civic consciousness. Following Italy’s unification, they conveyed the power of the bourgeoning nation, and accommodated efforts to construct an Italian identity through a shared memory of national heroes. In that sense, the seminar will show how, in the monumental cemeteries, death reflected the narratives, mentalities, and memories that defined Italy as a nation.
Respondent, Prof. Fabio Camilletti, University of Warwick
Moderator, Simona De Martino, University of Warwick
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