The path of most Resistance: the intimate geographies of landscape for World War II Partisans in Northern Italy

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull
Department Name: Geography, Environment and Earth Science

Abstract

The anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist partisan struggles of 1943-45 became iconic in the post-war construction of the Italian Republic. As the world came to terms with Nazi atrocities, the resistance positioned Italians as fighting this oppression. As Italians negotiated their fascist pasts, resistance stories offered a distraction and a new start. Consequently, the resistance was celebrated through all kinds of 'official' media and became central to Italy's post-war identity. 'Partigiani' were lauded by commentators and politicians (especially on the left). They were celebrated in historical writing, and by physical memorials, civic ceremonies and street-naming. In turn, these histories became embedded in school histories, especially in the North where the bulk of partisan activity occurred.

These histories were re-cast in the aftermath of 1989 and the fall of Italy's second republic in 1992. The right began critiquing the patriotism of Partisans' leftist politics, while more mainstream historical rethinking uncovered the fractured, politicized and often brutal and compromised nature of partisan life.

Yet the geographies of the resistance remain little-studied. While scholars frequently talk of the partisans' recourse to mountains or forests, they seldom consider the nature of these places. While historians documented the sites of resistance actions and refuges, they rarely considered how the fighters experienced these landscapes. Geographical understandings of the production and nature of these fleeting worlds are lacking.

We propose to use interviews with surviving partisans to explore the personal, emotional business of 'being there': of the partisans' understandings of, and engagements with, their landscapes of invisibility and refuge where they hid, sheltered, watched and waited. While starting with orthodox archives about their histories, this project will move beyond these to recover the intimate, sensual, embodied business of being and dwelling in these environments. What places inspired fear, attachment, remorse or hope? What characterised the micro-geographies of a resistance landscape?

Further, we will explore how the practice of resistance itself -and its modes of using, engaging and re-shaping landscapes- constituted both the resistance fighter and the Partisans across a series of case-study sites. These phenomenological approaches to the co-production of landscape and subject have developed apace in geography and archaeology of late (transcending more traditional attempts to apprehend landscapes). The engagement between the team's geographical and archaeological sensibilities allows us to explore the synergies of these approaches through a project of interest to many disciplines, and via a topic that is pivotal to modern Italian identity.

The case studies will be drawn from the Veneto, North-East Italy: a key partisan region that is central to traditional Resistance histories. These 'Official' accounts are enshrined in print and local museums, and in folk traditions of tales, poems and songs. We will examine these sources for and their evidence of furtive partisan lives amidst forests and mountains. However, we will then consider the partisans' production of these landscapes through in-depth interviews and, age permitting, site visits.

Finally, we will consider the afterlives of these sites and their histories. Remembering the resistance and visiting its iconic sites remains important for many in the Veneto, not least children who visit partisan sites on school fieldtrips. How are these places used to remember the resistance? How might embodied histories enliven these sites? We will also interview teachers and local historical advisors about how these sites are used in memory work, and how they translate the experiences of these sites to wider histories of resistance landscapes.

In sum, we promise a fuller picture of Resistance lives and landscapes before the last veterans slip away.

Planned Impact

The significance and legacies of the Resistance are so far-reaching in Italy that this research will almost automatically find popular purchase in public arenas. Such interest has also accelerated again of late due to the current resurgence of the right and the concerns of some of its constituents to revise Resistance histories. Therefore, the Italian public will benefit from this research: hence our commitment to publishing in popular, public media to facilitate the dissemination of these ideas. We will submit an article to 'Eliseo' - a popular Italian geography / history magazine. We will also offer abbreviated versions to local and regional press in the Veneto; we will target the period around April 25th (Liberazione commemoration day and a public holiday) to maximize the impact of these articles.

The British reading public will also be included. We will also offer articles to 'History Today' and 'The Geographical Magazine' in the UK to reach popular audiences.

Our project website will likewise facilitate wide dissemination for this work amongst interested parties.

Towards the close of the project, we hope to publish short papers (inflected by local case-study materials) to the periodicals of the local Partisans' and Resistance organisations of the Veneto. They are the key gatekeepers of Resistance memory, and their sanction for our work will help to convince locals of its worth and would reach remaining the partisans and their families.

In practical and policy terms, we may impact upon the management and use of resistance sites, and particularly upon their presentation and use via the phenomena of Resistance walks and field-lectures. The local resistance associations should welcome this work - particularly its novel approach: certainly, initial responses have been positive. Similarly, local museums will be offered our written outputs.

We are in touch with P. Brescacin, president of the 'Istituto Vittoriese per lo Studio della Resistenza' (Vittorio Veneto) and organiser and leader of school fieldtrips in the provinces of Treviso and Belluno that visit the Pian Cansiglio Monument and the Palantina site. These trips are also open to members and friends of the Partisans associations in the area. A further contact we are approaching is A. Della Libera who also organizes field-talks and walks around Resistance sites. We will offer these gatekeepers the outputs of our work and access to our Italian workshop for teachers and trip-leaders. This will also be offered to schools in the Veneto regions acquired via De Nardi's contacts. If adopted, this may impact upon the practice of school field-trips to these sites.

Finally, secondary schools in Vittorio Veneto, Lorenzo da Ponte and Umberto Cosmo, hold a yearly essay-writing contest on the Resistance, where the themes are either 'People and heroes of the Resistance' or 'Places of the Resistance'. Normally pupils write stories or essays that mix both elements, and the prizes are awarded on April 25th as part of the Liberazione commemoration in the main square of each town. Again, we will offer our outputs and access to our workshop to these teachers.

There is a timetable for feeding this data into the public realms of Italy and the UK as outlined in the Impact Plan.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description - How resistance fighters (and their opponents) in WWII Northern Italy engaged with landscape in multiple ways
- How these engagements were shaped by emotional, visceral, and cultural factors
- How these engagements were also mediated through the chaos of wartime and the highly complex affiliations, loyalties, ties and connections of civil war (and how these complex affiliations are more varied and problematic than standard, received post-war histories of the period admitted)
- How we need to rethink histories of the Italian resistance by including spatial and geographical perspectives
- How the material cultures and artefacts of the Resistance and its memories are significant to participants
- How the material and imagined afterlives of resistance landscapes remain contentious and still function as politicised sites
- How oral histories complement extant understandings of the Italian resistance and its contexts
Exploitation Route - These findings nuance and complicate our knowledge of the Italian Resistance in Northern Italy. They bring the perspectives of human geography to bear on this episode for the first time, and they also applied other, interdisciplinary perspectives (such as oral history methods). This is particularly important because of the fixity of narratives of the Resistance (and those of its opponents) in post-war Italian cultures, and how these largely static categories then shaped education, and national, regional, civic and individual remembrance and commemoration. We hope that this research will enable more innovative, transnational and interdisciplinary research to progress in future.

- We think the findings will be of use to educators in Italy, the UK ad across Europe, and to the heritage sector (in its various forms). This has been facilitated in part by our public engagement efforts.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Popular education and public lectures
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Ilkley Literature festival, 2012 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation as part of the 2012 Ilkley Literature Festival on themes of Landscape. 120 people were in the audience, plus other speakers from fields including museology, arts, public arts, poetry and public archaeology

Interest from participants and public arts practitioners
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description La Resistenza sulle Nostre Montagne: Paesaggio, Emozioni, Storia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A keynote presentation at a panel on regional histories of the Resistance in a key region for Resistance activities and histories.

Paper about the project's research deleivered to the regional historical association - prompting further invitations and requests for publication submissions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Monumentalising a camp while life goes on: remembering the Holocaust in Northern Italy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Holocaust Memorial Day Lecture, Hull City Hall, Hull, January 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description New Approaches to the Resistance conference, 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a public conference aimed at those interested in the Italian Resistance (1943-45 and its afterlives). The conference was advertised to the public and interested practitioners in Italian history and heritage in the UK (via the hosts and co-organisers, the Italian Cultural Institute, London). It was also advertised to academic, educational and research sectors by the convenors and the co-funders, the Association for the Study of Modern Italy.
The audience totalled 80+ people: this was far more than anticipated for this niche topic - and it exposed the wider interest in this theme from people in sectors beyond Universities.

The engagement with people beyond Universities was particularly good - reaching 40-50 people who were not expected to attend.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.icilondon.esteri.it/IIC_Londra/webform/SchedaEvento.aspx?id=1250&citta=Londra
 
Description Public lecture, Hull, April 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Atkinson's inaugural professorial lecture (April 2014) attracted an audience of 90+ people from the University and the public. It sparked questions and discussions, plus other research collaborations which have a public engagement element.

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Public lecture, Italian Resistance conference, London, April 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Rethinking the Spaces of the Resistance': a lecture by Atkinson summarising results of an AHRC funded project for this audience of the public, heritage professionals, eductors and academics. 80+ people attended the conference - which was far more than anticipated.


This prompted much discussion and subsequent contact 9from across the world), plus reaction and discussion on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.icilondon.esteri.it/IIC_Londra/webform/SchedaEvento.aspx?id=1250&citta=Londra
 
Description Public lecture, Museum of Club Culture gallery, Hull, April 2011 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A multimedia presentation on the topic 'The Italian Partisans in World War II' at the Museum of Club Culture gallery, Kingston-Upon-Hull, April 2011. 40 people attended from the public and cultural sectors. This was part of the University of Hull's outreach programme.

Raised awareness of this research and improved contacts with local cultural sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://museumofclubculture.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/italian-partisans-in-world-war-ii.html
 
Description Public lecture, research roundtables and media interviews, Chile July 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A keynote lecture at a major public conference in Santiago de Chile, Chile. The lecture was had an audience of 400+ present, and was also broadcast throughout Latin America (with particular take-up in Chile and Equador, with wider circulation after the event in Argentina and Spain) See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mhek99MAFqY
There were also two 'Meet the expert' sessions, with invited participants of 20 (these were also webcast), plus media interviews with Chilean media.

Meeting to advise the Chilean Minister for Culture and Heritage, and sustained engagement and field visits with DIBAM (Chilean Culture and Heritage national body) on how to address their agenda.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.dibam.cl/seminario2013/
 
Description Thinking geographically about Fascist Italy  
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Public Lecture, British School at Rome (British Academy British International Research Institute)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description YouTube presentation, Regional Culture / History organisation, April 2012 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An invited YouTube presentation on research into the geographies of Italian partisan activities (1943-45, North Eastern Italy). This was promoted by the Quaderni Bellunesi society (a regional history and culture organisation, see: http://www.quadernibellunesi.it/)

This presentation opened access to a series of other workshops and events in Northern Italy that related to Resistance histories and their aftermath
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-8vpMW9hbc