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Garibaldinism and radicalism: Traditions of transnational war volunteering in Southern Europe, 1861-1936

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Garibaldinism (Garibaldinism and radicalism: Traditions of transnational war volunteering in Southern Europe, 1861-1936)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

For two centuries, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the model for military mobilization in Europe was associated with the nation-state and conscription. Citizens played a key role in the defense of their state: the nation-state was considered the primary political unit of the international system and citizens were usually expected to fight for their own country. But non-state mobilization did not disappear. Transnational war volunteering continued throughout the 19th and the 20th century and such volunteers have played a central role in many European wars. Between WWI and WWII, within the anti-fascist movement, thousands of Europeans were spurred into action by the political struggles in their home societies. The Spanish Civil War represented one of the largest causes for which many people fought voluntarily. Around 40,000 international volunteers fought against Franco’s troops. The image of these volunteers is preserved in many books, movies and, in general, in public memory. The men of the International Brigades were “ordinary”, neither mythological heroes nor Kremlin mercenaries. Historians offered several explanations for this phenomenon: many a volunteer decided to go to Spain for one or more of the following reasons: ideological conviction, feeling of solidarity towards the Spanish people, adventurism, boredom, personal problems at home and, considering the lingering effects of the depression, escape from unemployment. Central to ideological war volunteering is the question of motivation.
This project’s aim was to examine contingent reasons for war volunteering and to study its long-term dimension in southern Europe. Even if material incentives seem to have been a recurring motivation from the early modern period onwards, we contend that individual motivations such as patriotism or political idealism, played a central role in conjunction with the persistence and the “reactivation” of the legacies and memories of former volunteers. Volunteering during the Spanish Civil War, for instance, formed part of a long tradition in southern Europe, dating back to the 19th century. This project’s overall objective was to carry out a transnational study of the legacies and the survival of the myth of Garibaldinism between the conflicts surrounding Italian unification (1861) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Following both a social and cultural history perspective, it analyzed how the legacy of Giuseppe Garibaldi in Southern Europe was very strong and was linked with social and political claims. There were three main questions addressed by this research project:

1. Is it possible to identify a long-term tradition of international armed volunteering linked with political radicalism between the 19th and the 20th Century?
2. Is it right to speak about a transnational Garibaldinism?
3. Is it possible to identify Garibaldinism as a bridge between different radical political creeds (e.g. Anarchism, Socialism and, later on, Communism)?
The research took place at the University of Leeds (UK) between September 2016 and August 2018. Dr. Acciai, as Marie Curie Fellow of the project, collected the primary sources to support his research in several European and international archives. This multi-lingual and multi-archival research helped the realization of the project’s objectives. Documents collected from the following archives helped Dr. Acciai to reconstruct the trajectories of the volunteers he studied and their informal networks: Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Italy); Archivio Storico Diplomatico – Ministero degli Esteri (Italy); Archivio di Stato di Forlì (Italy); Archivio di Stato di Firenze (Italy); Archives Nationales (France); Archives de la Prefecture de Paris (France); National Archives (UK); International Institute of Social History (Netherlands) and Tamiment Library – NYU (USA). Dr. Acciai also used biographical and autobiographical materials which help clarify what volunteers and veterans thought and (or) remembered about Garibaldinism and experiences of war volunteering. The links between the tradition of international armed volunteering and internationalist ideologies has been explored by employing a biographical approach and by an in-depth examination of a number of key figures. These investigations led Dr. Acciai to answer affirmatively to all the three research questions mentioned above. Historiography has rarely concerned itself with investigating the capacity that war volunteering has had to endure and persist across time. That is, the continuation not only of memories passed down from one generation of fighters to another, but also its ability to reactivate itself as soon as a new movement of volunteers emerge. This endurance has been successfully highlighted by the research project. We reconstructed the networks of volunteers and the persistence, from one generation to the next, of an “attitude” towards war volunteering. As emerged from Dr Acciai’s archival investigations, between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there were successive generations of volunteers who, as well as wearing the traditional Garibaldian red shirt and aligning themselves with that tradition, were also political activists belonging to left-wing organizations. In these cases, it was not only that Garibaldinism was considered by them to be an important part of the political horizon but also that there was a tradition of war volunteering that was passed down through generations and that was clearly linked to the Garibaldian legacy.
Between 2016 and 2018 Dr. Acciai presented the research project in several international conferences and academic conferences and research seminars: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Exeter (UK), Comillas (Spain), Belfast (UK), Lincoln (UK), Paris (France), Forlì (Italy), Bogotà (Colombia). Within the research project two international conferences were held at the Leeds of University: From the Spanish Civil War to World War II. Trajectories of transnational antifascist volunteers, (29 June 2017) and Transnational War Volunteering: From Garibaldi to the Cold War (10-11 July 2018). Dr. Acciai will soon publish the main results of his investigation in a book to be published by the Routledge. In addition, two single authored articles on the topic of the research project will be published in two world leading academic journals (European History Quarterly and War in History). The web-page of the research project was opened in January 2017 and is still operating after the project ended: The resulting open access publications will be announced and uploaded once they become available. To help with public dissemination, Dr. Acciai opened a Twitter account ( we have so far 239 followers and our tweets had 52.300 views (February 2017 – August 2018). In March 2018 the research project was selected to participate in the Be Curious – Research Open Day event (an annual public event at the University of Leeds presenting the university’s research in interactive and family-oriented ways), in that occasion Dr. Acciai had the opportunity to disseminate his work beyond academia (see the image below).
Image taken during Be Curious - Research Open Day 2018 (Leeds University)