Molding and Modeling Italianità: Teaching National Identity in Italy’s South Tyrol, 1923–34

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM
Roosevelt Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Eden Knudsen McLean, Auburn University
At the turn of the twentieth century, Italian nationalists based their campaign to annex the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s southern Tyrol region on the idea that it was historically, geographically, and ethnically Italian. The addition of this trilingual region to the Kingdom of Italy would “return” thousands of Italian-speakers to their “homeland” and finally establish the Italian border at its natural position. To many irredentists, the region’s Italian-speakers were the embodiment of Italian-ness (italianità) and consequently fundamental to their claims. In the years immediately after the Kingdom’s successful annexation of South Tyrol in 1919, these Italian-speakers also became the core of the state’s army of elementary teachers responsible for instilling italianità within the youngest residents of the territory. However, alongside the increased radicalization of the Fascist regime in the late 1920s and early 1930s, officials relied on increasingly narrow concepts of Italian-ness and increasingly rigid education policies to enforce the Italianization of the region. As a result, the state declared these Italian-speakers “not Italian enough” to safeguard the Italian identity of the region.

Using the previously unread memoir of Luigi Molina—the region’s superintendent of schools between 1923 to 1934—this paper explores the fluctuating concept of italianità and the evolution of Fascist efforts to confirm the identification of South Tyroleans as Italian through elementary education. While Molina spent his first years in Trent training local Italian-speakers to be the standard bearers of italianità in the classroom, he spent his last years as regional superintendent fighting to keep these same teachers from being supplanted by “more Italian” replacements from other regions of Italy. Ultimately, those who were once seen as defining and defending the natural contours of the Italian nation were determined to threaten the sanctity of Italy’s claims to cultural and political sovereignty.

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