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Political prisoners: a transnational question in 19th century Italy

Project description

Italian political prisoners in 19th century

Political refugees and political prisoners are part of a debate in Europe today. The European sensitivity towards persecuted persons is not new, since it dates back to 19th century. The EU-funded PoliticalPrisoners project aims to study the role Italian political prisoners played in Italy as well as abroad. The project will study their impact on the national-patriotic discourse and their contribution to the understanding of and commitment to the Italian Risorgimento at the international level. Moreover the project will follow the international and humanitarian dimension of political imprisonment, attempting to show that political prisoners were an issue of international interest since the 19th century.


This research project is a transnational historical investigation which examines the international role and representations of Italian political prisoners during the 19th century. Its goal is to investigate how and to what extent political prisoners were key figures not only in the construction of an Italian nationalist discourse, but equally in the foreign understanding of and commitment for the Italian Risorgimento. Moreover it will delineate how humanitarian debates operated in the commitment towards a national political cause.
The project will place political detainees beyond legal and political history, and insert them in the context of the new questions raised by transnational and cultural history, and by the history of humanitarianism. I argue that political prisoners acted as political and patriotic agents at home as well as abroad. Not only did the experience of imprisonment influence the detainees’ political activities and identities, and help to create a sense of national community; but it influenced the representation of the Italian national movement abroad. The project will offer a new approach in studying political imprisonment emphasising its international and humanitarian dimension and will challenge the current state-of-the-art, highlighting how political prisoners were an international concern already in the 19th century. Finally the research will help to understand the historical evolution of a European sensitivity and a commitment towards political detainees, refugees and people persecuted for political opinions and the evolution of international protection and humanitarian discourses. There is a running thread between these historical issues and questions concerning political prisoners in the world today and the international awareness and concern about them. The research project is a multi-lingual and multi-archival study that will employ an interdisciplinary and a transnational approach.


Net EU contribution
€ 251 002,56
30123 Venezia

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Nord-Est Veneto Venezia
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 251 002,56

Partners (1)