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World Association of International Studies

Post Italian and Japanese Historians of WWII
Created by John Eipper on 11/05/15 5:49 AM

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Italian and Japanese Historians of WWII (David Pike, France, 11/05/15 5:49 am)

Would Eugenio Battaglia please explain my "confusion between what happens in WAIS and what happens in the real world" (29 October)?

Are not the losers in World War II (the Italians and Japanese) outside of WAIS "equally free to write"? My precise question is: why are the Italian (and the Japanese) historians of the Second World War so downright awful historians?

JE comments: This one strikes at the heart of national pride. I'd be interested in David Pike's perspective on what constitutes an "awful" historian. There are national styles of historiography. Latin Americans, for example, tend to paint history in breezier, less positivist, brushstrokes--"Baroque" if you will.  Germans, on the other hand, are meticulous with detail and documentation.  That's what makes them German.

I look forward to Eugenio Battaglia's response.  I also hope our long-silent Japanese colleague, Tom Hashimoto, will weigh in.  Tom:  how's life at Oxford?

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  • Italian Historians of WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 11/07/15 4:07 AM)
    David Pike (5 November) asked me why Italian (and Japanese) historians of WWII are so downright awful.

    Unfortunately I do not have David's great knowledge and fairness to give an explanation. I hope he will forgive me and maybe send me one of his books in exchange for the one that I sent him.

    JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia just informed me that a book is coming my way: Renzo de Felice's study on Mussolini and Fascism.  Thank you, Eugenio!  I'll be pleased to reciprocate with a copy of Elías Castelnuovo:  La revolución hecha palabra.  You don't find many of those lying around anymore.

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    • Italian HIstorians of WWII (Roy Domenico, USA 11/08/15 4:14 PM)
      In response to the exchange between Dave Pike and Eugenio Battaglia on the worth of Italian World War Two historians, as a historian who has written about Italy in World War Two, I feel a need to respond.

      First, I know that David meant Italian historians, not Anglophone historians, because there has been a lot of very interesting and good stuff on Italy and the War (and Fascism and the Resistance, etc.) by many Brits, Yanks etc. Truth in advertising: I'm the Executive Secretary of the Society for Italian Historical Studies. By the way, this name may be familiar to a few WAISers, the great British historian of Italy Christopher Duggan died a couple of days ago at the way too early age of 58. From the Italian point of view, I think David Pike may have been a bit too provocative because a couple of names come immediately to mind--Giorgio Rochat and Lucio Ceva--as two examples of good scholarship. I've already mentioned the big controversy on "Italiani brava gente" based on the work of Davide Rodogno and a new book Levi Sullam on Italians and the Holocaust that's raising eyebrows. I disagree with them but I applaud and respect their work.  (I even recommended to Cambridge UP that they translate and publish Rodogno's book after they contacted me on it--I told them that I might disagree with the conclusions but this was a valuable scholarly work that needed circulation in our camp.)

      On the other hand, there must be at least two factors in play on the lack of good studies. First, the bulk of Italian World War Two historians are really journalists--often very good journalists--but with a spotty record as historians. Second, who would want to write about the War? Italy's war record was pretty lackluster, some would say embarrassing. I'm talking about a military history here. Beyond the strictly military there are stories of great heroism against great odds--the Resistance for example or complicated and nuanced stories of the Holocaust in Italy. And, as I tell my classes, there are great cases of military heroism too--the "Decima Mas" marine units were excellent, for example, and, I believe, the last successful cavalry charge in history, at Isbuscenskij near the Don in 1942, was undertaken by the "Savoy Cavalry" unit.

      In fact, for me the heroism of the Italian soldier or sailor is hardly in doubt. The problem was the junk that the Government issued them. I doubt if even the Germans could have penetrated Poland if all they had was Italy's ridiculous M-13 tank or--worse--those embarrassing L-3s which were glorified seated lawn mowers that were really designed for use against African rebels. Finally, the Italian soldier had to grapple with the question "what am I doing here?" Simply put, the War was never broadly popular. Did the average soldier put on the uniform and do his duty as a patriot? Yes, of course--no doubt despite some expected grumbling. Did most decent God-fearing Italian benpensanti or contadini want to ally themselves with Nazi Germany in a war of conquest and murder? No! Absolutely not, and good for them. I think it was the Fascist leader Roberto Farinacci who wondered why it was that when the Allies liberated towns in their advance up the peninsula, church bells rang and joy reigned. He should have looked to the Veneto bishops' meeting that publicly announced their hope that the Allies would arrive soon in their territory. Incidentally, my next project in the works is a book on the Italian home front during WW2--guilty as charged!

      JE comments:  My thanks to Roy Domenico for this irenic appraisal of Italian historians.  Eugenio Battaglia has posted several times of the heroics of the Decima Mas. 

      And finally:  my apologies for the WAIS silence of the last 36 hours.  I was away from my computer for most of the weekend.

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      • Italian HIstorians of WWII (Luciano Dondero, Italy 11/10/15 3:28 AM)
        First of all, I'm glad to hear that Roy Domenico (10 November) is the Executive Secretary of the Society for Italian Historical Studies. I have a few questions for him, and some also for anybody else interested in this topic:

        Is this Society a local or national body? And what does it do?

        Then, what do you think about Renzo De Felice? His monumental history of Mussolini and Italian fascism should certainly merit some consideration on a global level, don't you reckon?

        And, finally, what about Enzo Traverso? He is a youngish (55ish) professor of history at French and American universities, mainly dealing with Jewish-related themes. I met him once in Genoa, a long time ago, when as a very young university student he was dabbling in Trotskyism. One of my then comrades told me prophetically that he would go a long way...

        JE comments: The Renzo De Felice work is presently making its way across the Pond, thanks to Eugenio Battaglia. It will be my first attempt to read an entire book in Italian!

        A hearty WAIS "ciao" to Luciano Dondero, by the way.

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        • Society for Italian Historical Studies (Roy Domenico, USA 11/10/15 6:25 PM)
          I'm happy to answer Luciano Dondero's questions (10 November). The SIHS (Society for Italian Historical Studies) is open to members from anywhere, although the bulk of them are from the US and Canada. We have about 270 members and we deal with any aspect of Italian history since the fall of Rome. For $12 (employed scholars) or $5 (everybody else) members receive our annual newsletter (which I compile), we present a program at the annual American Historical Association meeting (this year in Atlanta in January--we're putting on 9 panels), and also at the AHA we have a very nice social hour after a business meeting when we present (financial) rewards for the best book, best unpublished manuscript and usually a senior scholar award--an homage in the last case, no money, alas).

          One of our current projects is to forge some ties with the British Association for the Study of Modern Italy. and a few of their members will participate on our panels in Atlanta. Here's our membership page from the website: http://www.italianhistoricalstudies.org/membership.html .

          As far as De Felice goes, I didn't mention him regarding WWII although I easily could have. I was just thinking of his biography of Mussolini sui generis. It is gigantic and magnificent and its final volumes are all about the War. As far as I'm concerned, it's unmatched and will probably be for as long as I can see.

          Regarding Enzo Traverso, I must plead ignorance.

          JE comments: I just learned from Eugenio Battaglia that the De Felice biography of Mussolini is eight volumes long--and remains unfinished, as De Felice unfortunately died before completion.  Yikes; that's a magnum opus.

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