BA Italian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Aesthetics and Politics of Italian Fascism

Course unit fact file
Unit code ITAL20501
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit explores Italian history between 1922 and 1945, the period dominated by the rise and rule of Mussolini and Italian Fascism. It focuses on the historical, artistic 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 and the role the arts played in shaping the idea of totalitarianism.

The cultural and aesthetic dimensions of Fascism will be explored through a variety of different artefacts, ranging from visual, architectural, cinematic and political ones. Particular emphasis will be also 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 and their portrayal in the film Il conformista by Bernardo Bertolucci will be examined. References will be made particularly to recent critical approaches to cultural theory and historiography.

The course will also use digital resources for the storage of artistic information, such as the website The Dialectics of Modernity, see


No prior knowledge of Italian required. SALC Free choice unit.


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 aesthetic features of the selected artefacts;


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 and artefacts as well as to identify and discuss different forms of cultural and political writing.
  • Acquire a critical awareness of cultural theory and historiography.

Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrate an ability to engage in self-directed analysis and synthesis of primary and secondary sources.
  • Demonstrate the capacity to critically interrogate visual and political artefacts.
  • Show awareness of and critically engage with the historical and political dimension of the arts.

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; visual presentations).
  • 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.

Employability skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: - Develop critical thinking and analytical skills, alongside effective communication of the fruits of these activities both in digital and written forms. - Demonstrate an extensive knowledge of Italian history and in general of European history. - Working, with guidance, on research including finding suitable material for assessments and being able to assess this material. - Time management, prioritising tasks, being able to work to deadlines.

Assessment methods

Assessment task  

Formative or Summative 

Weighting within unit (if summative) 

Building a virtual online exhibition  and one thematic timeline (with historical and artistic events) (group work) 







Resit Assessment:



Feedback methods

Feedback method


Oral feedback on online exhibition


Written feedback on 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)

Francesca Billiani, Fascist Modernism. Arts and Regimes (I.B. Tauris: London, 2021)

Francesca Billiani and Laura Pennacchietti, Architecture and the Novel Under the Fascist Regime (Palgrave, 2019), Open Access publication.

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

Marla Stone, The Patron State (Princeton UP, 1998).

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




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