Thursday, September 6, 2012

Joshua Arthurs' "Excavating Modernity"

Joshua Arthurs is Assistant Professor of History at West Virginia University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Excavating Modernity does not necessarily contain any of the book’s major revelations; indeed, it mainly contextualizes a more important case study that appears later. Nonetheless, Ford Madox Ford’s advice rings true: even in this randomly selected passage, something is revealed about the quality of the whole.

First, a brief summary of the project: Excavating Modernity examines Italian Fascism’s preoccupation with the legacies of ancient Rome. Many readers will be familiar with Mussolini’s embrace of the classical past, from the adoption of the so-called “Roman salute” to his dreams of a new Mediterranean empire. In this book, I argue that the Fascist obsession with Rome – its celebration of “romanità” (Roman-ness) – should be understood as an attempt to regenerate the modern world through the ancient Roman virtues of discipline, hierarchy and harmony. For the Fascists, Rome was not a site of distant glories but a blueprint for contemporary life. These ideas were developed not only by Fascist leaders and intellectuals, but by a cadre of archaeologists, historians, and other scholars who eagerly placed themselves at the regime’s disposal. Throughout the book, I look at different initiatives through which they articulated and promoted romanità, including excavations, publications and museum exhibits.

Within this context, the discussion on page 99 points to some important facets of my argument. This passage traces the development of the Mostra Augustea della Romanità, a massive archaeological exhibition in 1937 that commemorated the two thousandth anniversary of Augustus’ birth. As with many of the regime’s other projects, the Mostra Augustea was a re-casting of an earlier initiative – in this case, a 1911 archaeological exhibition to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Italian unification. While most of the artifacts stayed the same, they were presented in new ways that imbued them with a distinctively Fascist resonance.

Another important aspect of the book is its focus on the institutions and individuals involved in the production and promotion of romanità; in which way, I challenge the notion that Fascist ideology was disseminated from the top down (i.e. from a monolithic totalitarian state to a passive society). An example of this occurs on p.99, when I discuss personality clashes between two leading specialists, the archaeologist Giulio Quirino Giglioli and Carlo Galassi Paluzzi, director of the regime’s Institute for Roman Studies. As this episode suggests, propagandistic initiatives could be motivated as much by professional rivalry and jealousy as by pure Fascist conviction.
Learn more about the book and author at Joshua Arthurs' website.

--Marshal Zeringue