BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Aesthetics and Politics of Italian Fascism

Unit code ITAL20501
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Italian Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit explores Italian history between 1925 and 1945, the period dominated by the rise and rule of Mussolini and Italian Fascism. It focuses on the historical and the cultural dimension of Fascism, by analysing the main developments of Fascist ideology and politics alongside the different cultural and aesthetic spaces which were created in Italy during the Fascist period. The Fascist era still elicits complex and conflicting responses, and generates contrasting interpretations and memories. Issues and debates that will be considered include the ideological coherence of Italian Fascism, the significance of the Cult of the Duce, and the degree of support enjoyed by the regime.

The cultural and aesthetic dimensions of Fascism will be explored through a variety of different texts, ranging from literary, cinematic and political ones. Particular emphasis will be placed on the role played by intellectual agents both in shaping and negotiating common aesthetic understanding among different communities and in articulating forms of resistance to dominant literary and cultural discourses. Key Italian intellectuals, such as Antonio Gramsci, as well as key literary texts such as Gli indifferenti by Alberto Moravia and the film Il conformista by Bernardo Bertolucci will be examined. Reference will be made particularly to recent critical approaches to cultural theory. 


For students outside the Italian Studies programme, a good reading knowledge of Italian and the agreement of the course convenor are required.


The unit aims to provide students with:

  • a sense of the chronology of Italian history during the period 1915-1945; 
  • a knowledge and understanding of the main forces shaping Italian history in this period;
  • an awareness of key debates regarding Italian Fascism; 
  • a knowledge of Italian social and economic history as well as political history; 
  • an understanding of the significance and memory of the Fascist era for Italy and Italians after 1945.
  • a detailed knowledge of key concepts of cultural theory;
  • an insight into the textual structures of the selected text;
  • an awareness of some of the recent literary and critical debates in relation to the chosen text


The lectures will deal with the following topics:

  • Italy and the First World War: intellectual and political origins of Fascism
  • Concepts of Fascism. Authoritarianism or Totalitarianism?
  • Society during the Fascist Era: Economic Campaigns and Early Indoctrination
  • The ‘anni del consenso’ and Opposition to Fascism.
  • War and Defeat. From Resistenza to Liberazione
  • Antonio Gramsci: popular art; nazional-popolare; hegemony; organic intellectual.
  • Moravia’s novel Gli indifferenti (1929)
  • Bernardo Bertolucci's film adaptation (1970) of Moravia's novel Il conformist (1951)
  • “Absent Minds?” The final class will draw some conclusions on the intellectual, cultural and aesthetic profile of literary life in Italy during the years of totalitarianism. We will also compare and contrast the material covered during the course to identify similar trends and recurrent issues

In the seminars, students will discuss set readings and will present their group projects to peers.


Film Screening: Bertolucci, Il Conformista

Documentary Screening: “Mussolini, The Story of a Personality Cult”

Teaching and learning methods

This unit aims to achieve research-led learning.

Students will take ownership of their own individual research projects (i.e. presentation; book review; essay) while being supported and guided by the lecturer who is research active in the field of crime fiction. They will learn research skills and methods, and will develop a critical attitude and further develop their capacity to interrogate literary texts.

Constructive alignment between ILOs and assessment methods will be achieved through the combination of lectures and student-led seminars.

Students will work independently on a project and engage in team-work in preparation for their oral presentation. They will lead seminar discussions, and lectures will include a half-an-hour Q&A session at the end, in order to foster intellectual engagement.



Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the historical, social and aesthetic dimension of Italian Fascism
  • Show awareness of the historical debates surrounding Fascism
  • Demonstrate an ability to analyse selected portions of the text as well as to identify and discuss different forms of cultural, political and literary writing
  • Acquire  a critical awareness of cultural theory

Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrate an ability to engage in self-directed analysis and synthesis of primary and secondary sources
  • Demonstrate the capacity to critically interrogate literary texts
  • Show awareness of and critically engage with the historical and political dimension of literature

Practical skills

  • Have acquired good presentation, writing, and language skills, through different learning and assessment methods
  • Ability to work in a team and to engage with and learn from other people’s opinions
  • Ability to research, select and present information in different forms and styles, for specific purposes

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Writing and presentation skills
  • Research skills and critical thinking skills
  • Ability to master different scholarly styles (i.e. essay; book review; oral presentation)
  • Ability to initiate and carry out projects, within a structured environment
  • Ability to manage a project and work in a team
  • Personal responsibility and autonomous planning

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit


Group Presentation

Book review




20 minutes

1.500 words

3.000 words






Feedback methods

  • oral feedback on group presentation
  • written feedback on book review and essay
  • additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

  • Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities, Italy 1922-1945 (Berkeley-London: University of California Press, 2001)

  • Emilio Gentile, The sacralization of politics in fascist Italy, (Cambridge, Mass.-London : Harvard University Press, 1996)

  • Francesca Billiani, ‘Documenting the Real Across Modernity in the 1930s: Political and Aesthetic Debates Around and About the Novel in Fascist Italy",  in Literature as Document, Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 2014 (in press).

  • Berezin, Mabel, Making the Fascist Self (London: Cornell University Press, 1997)

  • Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta, Fascist Spectacle: the Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997)

Recommended readings will include journal articles featuring the most up-to-date research

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Francesca Billiani Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Blackboard - Lecture Power Points, student presentations, recommended readings and course announcements will be posted on Blackboard

 Langugae of teaching - English; some primary and secondary sources will be in Italian



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