This short text introduces the essays that are part of this monographic issue, entitled Politics and crime in 19th century Italy. The three essays investigate the topic through different approaches, by analyzing the figures of brigands (Tatasciore), patriots of the Risorgimento (Di Fiore), and anarchists (Grasso). All the essays tackle the theme of the social construction of crime and political identities.
I misteri del brigante italiano: alle origini di un tipo criminale
This paper focuses on the cultural construction of the «Italian brigand», a prominent figure in the social imagination of the 19th century Europe. The first objective is to establish a connection between the cultural representations of the brigands and the romantic discourse concerning the «mysteries» of the criminal classes. The paper aims especially at analysing the processes of identification, folklorisation, mediatization, politicization and criminalization related to brigands and brigandage in the age of the Italian Risorgimento. In doing that, the paper offers a contribution to the study of the complex mixture of literary imagination, criminological discourse and political conflict, which appears to be the privileged vector of definition of the changing representations of this social type.
Keywords: Brigands; Representations; Crime; Risorgimento
The essay reconstructs the representation of liberal-democratic patriots in the context of the securitization policies of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, fitting into the recent field of security history studies. It focuses in particular on the construction of the threat to security represented by liberal revolutionaries in the way in which it was elaborated in police practices, namely through a process of criminalization and de-legitimation of the political enemy. The intersection of registers of suspects, political biographies, and secret agent reports reveals the tendency to lump together the profiles of liberal patriots with those of common criminals and, consequently, state security issues with issues of collective security. The essay also highlights how the various subjects in charge of the political control of the Kingdom – from the central and peripheral authorities of the High Police to the consuls and secret agents abroad – used, in interventions related to political communication as well as administrative documents, a politically and ideologically marked language, which both shared and contributed to shape style and topics of the wider reactionary public discourse of the time.
Keywords: Security history; High police; Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; Political crime; Reactionary image
The essay addresses police officers’ culture and their construction of a complex «object» situated between criminality and politics. In particular, it focuses on the system of control, prevention and subsequent repression implemented against anarchist subversive activities in the late 19th century. In order to illustrate this intricate path, the essay analyzes the career of one of those officers, Ettore Sernicoli. Sernicoli initially took part in surveillance of the internationalist anarchic movement, then dedicated himself to a theoretical reflection on anarchism in two published essays. His twin role as repressor and scholar allows an exploration of the mutual influence between the explanation of anarchism and its repression. At such crossroads, the investigator’s worldview enables us in particular to analyze that distinctive continuity between hermeneutics and representations of subversion and criminality, which characterised the transnational campaign against the internationalist anarchic movement in the troubled final decades of the 19th century in Europe.
Keywords: Anarchism; Repression; Police; Europe in the 19th century
Taking Vanessa Roghi’s recent Piccole città. Una storia comune di eroina as its point of departure, this essay examines the link between historiography and autobiography and how it has changed in recent years. Roghi describes the story of the spread of heroin use in Italy, and the public representation of the «junkie». At the same time, she often refers to the «small town» of Grosseto, where she grew up, the experience of her father, arrested for heroin use and distribution, and her memory of those events. By doing so, she invites a reflection on the interweaving of autobiographical experience and historical research. The two have always been interlinked, but their connection has changed in the last few decades. The essay first analyzes the attention paid to autobiographical experience by historians (men and women), who in different ways defined their Jewishness also by rethinking the memory of the Shoah. Then the focus moves onto the transition of the late 1980s, to show how the crisis of ideologies influenced historians’ attitude to autobiography.
Keywords: Heroin; Historians and Autobiography; Cultural labour; Historians and generations