Italian Identities in the Renaissance: Theory and Practice

AHA Session 196
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 204 (Hynes Convention Center)
Caroline F. Castiglione, Brown University
Edward W. Muir Jr., Northwestern University

Session Abstract

In the story of the Italian nation, the late Renaissance is generally narrated in a tragic mode, as a tale of lost opportunities represented by Machiavelli's unanswered cry for a prince to unify the peninsula.  Whether the culprits were the papacy, the power of patronage networks, or weak-willed leaders too preoccupied by poetry to tend to their military duties, the general tone is one of failure.  This panel examines Renaissance "italianità" in theory and practice, asking not why Italy "failed" to become a nation but to what extent, and why, a concept and practice of "Italy" could exist at all in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Moving between Renaissance sources and Risorgimento or twentieth-century retro-fittings, the panel takes a broad approach to what may be considered "politics." Papers use very different contexts and methods.  They consider humanist discourses on language and knowledge, writings on hybrid identities that brushed against an incipient patriotic discourse, and cross-regional marriages alliances for what they can tell us about "Italy" in the Renaissance political imagination.  The panel links early modern and modern acts of memory, examining the modern deployment of a Renaissance back story to the Italian state.  In the Italian case, this parsing of a constructed national memory is complicated by the heavy influence of extra-Italian scholarship concerned with the Renaissance as the cradle of modernity for a wider Western world.  This conversation proceeds to some extent independent of national claims.  The panel attempts to bridge these distinct discourses across place and time to re-evaluate peninsular connections and their afterlives.

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