Thursday, May 23, 2013

Historical Memory: The Case of the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista

by Allyce Husband

The method used to invoke  the past can influence individual perceptions in a variety of ways. Whether through a statue seen daily in a town square, a visit to a local history museum, or art produced during the period in question, there are many different lenses through which history can be viewed and messages with which these objects or places are associated.

On February 21, 2013, University of Illinois faculty and students had the privilege of attending a lecture given by Dr. Theodore P. Gerber, titled Divided Historical Memory Among Youth In Estonia: Sources of Ideational Cleavage. Dr. Gerber discussed historical memory, or “collectively shared and reproduced perceptions and narratives about the recent past” in Estonia.1 Interested in the collective construction of images of the past, Dr. Gerber was concerned with how young people understand and describe the historical Russian presence in Estonia; in particular, the divided perceptions of the soviet past.

Historical memory is fluid and can change based on the context in which an individual is situated. A country will remember its past; however, memory is not a rigid, universal category. Remembrance can vary due to space and time.2

After listening to Dr. Gerber’s lecture, I was curious about the role of propaganda in cultivating historical memory. With Dr. Gerber’s lecture and an article I recently read about a Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista on my mind, I was intrigued by another European country’s understanding of its conflicted past.   

Guards change outside of the Exhibit. The words “Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista” announcing the location of the exhibition are displayed largely to mark the site.
Inaugurated by Benito Mussolini in 1932, the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista, or the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, was the first major art exhibit that focused on the theme of the rise of fascism in Italy.3 Four million individuals visited the exhibition that examined themes of war, heroism, and sacrifice. Documents and memorabilia were displayed to help describe the events leading to fascism. The exhibition’s organizers solicited items from Italian citizens such as symbols, photos, medals, and postcards, totaling 18,040 items collected by the end of the collection period. Rather than being viewed as an exhibit that simply demonstrates the rise of fascism, scholars tend to view the mostra as depicting the relationship between the fascist movement and art. 4

The relationship between the exhibit and historical memory stems from the objectives of its organizers and the outcomes of the mostra. A struggle of fascist discourse was to keep it alive and make its history into a shared national story. By eliciting themes related to the “sacred”, the exhibit assisted in reinforcing the interconnectedness among individuals. According to scholars, the exhibit can be credited with reinforcing the connection between fascism and the Italian people.5  However, the exhibit did not ensure that this “bond” would be around for long. The memory still needed to be supervised and mandated by the regime. In other words, sources must continue to evoke symbols or discourse to keep the memory alive.

The role of the mostra in influencing modern day discourse about fascism is not as defined, rather, raises the question of how modern day propaganda in general will be viewed in the near future in comparison to fifty years from now. The Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista was an interesting example of the way in which a period in history can become inscribed in historical memory but how the lens for viewing history can quickly change depending on time, space, and context.

Allyce Husband is a second year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) degree program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. This summer, Allyce worked for the U.S. Department of State as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Florence, Italy and will be spending the fall semester abroad at the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy. Allyce was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Italian language study for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years. She was also awarded a summer FLAS Fellowship to study French in Paris prior to her internship. Her research interests have included immigration and the media. In her free time, Allyce loves to cook and travel. 


1Gerber, T. (2013, February). Divided Historical Memory Among Youth In Estonia: Sources of Ideational Cleavage. Lecture conducted at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois.

2Zamponi, S. (1998). Of Storytellers and Master Narratives: Modernity, Memory, and History in Fascist Italy. Social Science History. 22 (4), 415-444.

3Zamponi, S. (1998). Of Storytellers and Master Narratives: Modernity, Memory, and History in Fascist Italy. Social Science History. 22 (4), 415-444.

4Zamponi, S. (1998). Of Storytellers and Master Narratives: Modernity, Memory, and History in Fascist Italy. Social Science History. 22 (4), 415-444.

5Zamponi, S. (1998). Of Storytellers and Master Narratives: Modernity, Memory, and History in Fascist Italy. Social Science History. 22 (4), 415-444.

Image source: Wikipedia, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/2/26/Mostra_della_rivoluzione_fascista_1.jpg

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