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Fatherland as Motherland. Unstable Gender and Nation in Italian Great War Literature

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FatherMotherland (Fatherland as Motherland. Unstable Gender and Nation in Italian Great War Literature)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

FatherMotherland is an interdisciplinary project. Its main aim is to explore the interplay between nationalism and gender in Italian Great War literature by bringing together literary studies, political history, and gender and cultural studies. An extraordinarily heterogeneous corpus in terms of genres, agents, and ideological backgrounds, Italian literature of the Great War is not only a compelling historical document but also a layered site of invention in which nationalism and, more generally, patriotic faith underwent a powerful process of re-writing and deconstruction.

Becoming male is a crucial chapter of the pedagogy of the nation and a main concern expressed in war writings by both male and female writers. From ultra-manly warrior fantasies to the solace of brotherly comradeship, from the masculinizing of the image of the motherland to the defeated virility haunting the narrative of war prisoners and veterans, war literature puts forth a broad range of conflicting masculine discourses, too often flattened on the gendered culture and biopolitics of the fascist Ventennio.

The project developed along three main lines:

- It provided a new interpretation of the representation of manliness and virility in Italian Great War literature as both supporting the official discourse of nationalism and undermining it.

- It studied a wide range of propagandistic materials and analysed their symbolic contents and rhetorical features.

- It proposed a new interpretation of the relationship between war and fascist masculinity.

While giving a fresh contribution to the diverse set of transnational research actions occurring on the occasion of WWI centenary, the project had also the ambition to produce far-reaching impact on the general public by fostering a better understanding of the gendered character of modern nationalism and its cultural roots against the backdrop of European integration.
The project was divided into five phases completed according to a previously set time schedule.

Phase 1:
- Study of theories and history of modern nationalism and its gendered nature.

- Dissemination: paper given at the Biennial Conference of the Society of Italian Studies (University of Oxford); case study presented at the international conference of the Society for Pirandello Studies (University of Edinburgh).

Phase 2:
- Study of war personal writings with a specific attention to the construction of masculinity.

- Dissemination: invited seminar at the Università per Stranieri di Siena (Italy); invited talk at the University College London; invited talk at the University of Leeds.

- Design and editing of a special issue on WW1 of the scholarly journal 'Allegoria'.

- Writing and submission of a journal article.

Phase 3:
- Study of fictional texts, comparison with non-fictional and personal writings.

- Writing and submission of a journal article.

Phase 4:
- Study of trench newspapers and other propagandistic materials.

- Study of writings by prisoners of war against the backdrop of scientific texts and rarely studied propagandistic materials.

- Production and promotion of a public-oriented video that presented an overview of the project (

- Dissemination: invited talk at the University of Edinburgh; invited talk at the Legacies of War Research Seminar Series, University of Leeds.

- Design of a Knowledge Exchange and Impact Programme, which included: training laboratories with graduate students of the Edinburgh College of Art in preparation of an exhibition of students' artworks on WW1 landscapes; preparation of a public-oriented exhibition with reproductions from Italian trench newspapers; organization of a public debate on contemporary nationalism at the Scottish Parliament; organization of a public discussion at the Italian Cultural Institute in Edinburgh.

- Design and organization of an International Conference on 'Mobilizing Identities/Identities in Motion through the First World War: History, Representations, and Memory'.

Phase 5:
- Exhibition ‘WW1 Landscapes: Reimagining the No Man’s Land and the Prison Camp’, Scottish Parliament.

- Exhibition ‘An Imagined Nation: A Journey through Italian Trench Newspapers’, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (University of Edinburgh).

- International Conference ‘Mobilizing Identities/Identities in Motion through the First World War: History, Representations, and Memory’, University of Edinburgh, 11-12 May 2017.

- Public debate ‘Nationhood and Nationalism Today’, held at the Scottish Parliament on 11 May 2017. It included two short keynote addresses by Angie Hobbs (University of Sheffield) and Thomas Devine (University of Edinburgh, Emeritus) and a one-hour QA session with the public.
Video overview:
The podcast of Angie Hobbs' keynote address can be found here:

- Public encounter with Italian journalist and writer Paolo Rumiz at the Italian Cultural Institute on 12 May 2017.

- Writing and submission of a book proposal (monograph) to the Italian publishing house Società Editrice il Mulino. The proposal has been accepted.

- Writing and submission of a book proposal (edited volume) to the international publishing house Palgrave and Macmillan. Acceptance is still pending.
"The research findings of this project produced a significant acquisition of new knowledge on masculinity, its representations and its ties with nationalism in the Italian culture of the war years. Results already published dispute the overlapping of war and fascist culture, proposing a nuanced and diverse outline within which traditional forms of masculinity prove undermined and questioned. Literary texts have been considered neither as part of the institutional literary canon nor as mere documents that complement historical inquiry on specific agents or circumstances. They were rather tackled as complex cultural objects through which social fantasies of the wartime and its aftermath can be disclosed and interpreted.
Findings of the project will certainly have a strong impact on the field of literary studies and cultural history of WW1. The monograph that will result from the project will be the first to tackle Italian literature of the Great War as a gendered cultural phenomenon. The edited collection will propose a fresh interdisciplinary approach to the issue of identity mobilization during the war and in its contemporary memories.
Public engagement activities carried out during the project reached out to a wide public. Feedback from the participants in the debate at the Scottish Parliament praised the format and contents of the event and its ability to discuss crucial societal challenges such as nationalism and cultural identity in a positive, constructive atmosphere. Member of Scottish Parliament Linda Fabiani, who hosted the event, commented as follows: ""I have been very impressed with the quality of the public engagement in this project. The event at the Parliament in particular involved people from all backgrounds and walks of life. It was a real learning experience, well put together, and most enjoyable""."
Cover of a propagandistic booklet on Italian prisoners of war in Austrian concentration camps