Through The Pavilion of Italians Abroad set up during the first Italian universal exhibition in Milan in 1906, the chapter, located in the section of the volume entitled "Manifestations of Italianness", explores how a "positive" propaganda of Italian emigration was constructed in Giolitti's Italy characterised by industrial take-off, through the staging of statistical pictures, photographs, even colonial products. The other side of the coin is offered by the testimonies of workers who look at the pavilion with less disenchanted eyes and grasp its more contradictory aspects. Between April and November 1906 the first Italian International Exposition was held in Milan organised officially to celebrate the inauguration of the Simplon Tunnel completed some months previously, in February 1905. Among the numerous pavilions designed and constructed for the event there was also an “Exhibition of Italians Abroad”. It was not actually a new idea inasmuch as it revisited a project already begun with the Columbian Exposition in Genoa in 1892 and the Turin Exposition of 1898 (and subsequently reintroduced at the Turin Exposition of 1911, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy.) The 1906 Exhibition was however particularly important because it took place at a crucial moment in the phenomenon of Italian migration. It was a phenomenon of crucial importance for the Italian economy and society of the time (at that time the total population was just over 30 million) and it was evidently associated with the choices in economic policy that the liberal ruling class had made after Unification. In particular, Liberal milieux, which had had and continued to have substantial influence on public opinion and government choices, looked favourably on the migratory ‘valve’ as a ‘physiological’ element sustaining the equilibrium of the market in the international economy. For these reasons, the entire concept of the Exhibition of 1906 was aimed at representing Italian emigration abroad as a highly positive factor on the economic level. These exhibitions thus constituted a “test of nationalism”, but not only that. In this paper I will focus my attention on the content and tone of the Exhibition in an attempt to highlight the dysfunctions and evident contradictions between the representations of labour, of the successes and the results of emigrants abroad and the real conditions of Italian emigration. From the documentary materials such conditions appear only indirectly; both because of evident omissions and inadequacies, and because the extrememly rich documentation, especially photographic, is such that it represents and portrays a reality frequently unassuming and remote from what the texts and commentaries put forward. I will also try to make a comparison with the reception on the part of the public, looking at the perception of the exhibition on the part of workers sent to the expositions to perfect their professional expertise. The workers were struck by the positive message and successes of their co-nationals abroad, but a series of critical observations also emerged. As is evident from this worker’s testimony: “A doubt went through my mind that under the veil of a patriotic and philanthropic enterprise was hidden dishonest exploitation of our brothers even in those lands far from their homeland”. Generally, though, the message is more ambivalent. The workers are sensitive and they identify with their emigrant colleagues who have been successful, also appreciating the message of ‘Italianness’ that emerges out of the Exhibition. In some cases, when Italian colonies are talked of, there are suggestions that recall English jingoism. Nevertheless, the exhibition had a great impact on the more popular elements of the public. From the writings of the workers there is almost always reference to the “Pavilion of Italians Abroad”, but also to a participation, an involvement and a “sentiment” that at times brought “ tears to the eyes”. The workers were anything but indifferent to the call to a shared ‘Italianness’ that emerged from the exhibition; however, they perceived it in a somewhat more complex and controversial manner than the way it was presented by the ruling classes who had organised that great enterprise of national propaganda. From a methodological point of view, the chapter uses first-hand sources, both official documents produced directly by the government, newspapers and journals of the time, and letters and writings from workers who visited the pavilion.

“Bread denied by the Nation”. The Italians Abroad Exhibitions between the 19th and 20th centuries

Pellegrino
2022

Abstract

Through The Pavilion of Italians Abroad set up during the first Italian universal exhibition in Milan in 1906, the chapter, located in the section of the volume entitled "Manifestations of Italianness", explores how a "positive" propaganda of Italian emigration was constructed in Giolitti's Italy characterised by industrial take-off, through the staging of statistical pictures, photographs, even colonial products. The other side of the coin is offered by the testimonies of workers who look at the pavilion with less disenchanted eyes and grasp its more contradictory aspects. Between April and November 1906 the first Italian International Exposition was held in Milan organised officially to celebrate the inauguration of the Simplon Tunnel completed some months previously, in February 1905. Among the numerous pavilions designed and constructed for the event there was also an “Exhibition of Italians Abroad”. It was not actually a new idea inasmuch as it revisited a project already begun with the Columbian Exposition in Genoa in 1892 and the Turin Exposition of 1898 (and subsequently reintroduced at the Turin Exposition of 1911, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy.) The 1906 Exhibition was however particularly important because it took place at a crucial moment in the phenomenon of Italian migration. It was a phenomenon of crucial importance for the Italian economy and society of the time (at that time the total population was just over 30 million) and it was evidently associated with the choices in economic policy that the liberal ruling class had made after Unification. In particular, Liberal milieux, which had had and continued to have substantial influence on public opinion and government choices, looked favourably on the migratory ‘valve’ as a ‘physiological’ element sustaining the equilibrium of the market in the international economy. For these reasons, the entire concept of the Exhibition of 1906 was aimed at representing Italian emigration abroad as a highly positive factor on the economic level. These exhibitions thus constituted a “test of nationalism”, but not only that. In this paper I will focus my attention on the content and tone of the Exhibition in an attempt to highlight the dysfunctions and evident contradictions between the representations of labour, of the successes and the results of emigrants abroad and the real conditions of Italian emigration. From the documentary materials such conditions appear only indirectly; both because of evident omissions and inadequacies, and because the extrememly rich documentation, especially photographic, is such that it represents and portrays a reality frequently unassuming and remote from what the texts and commentaries put forward. I will also try to make a comparison with the reception on the part of the public, looking at the perception of the exhibition on the part of workers sent to the expositions to perfect their professional expertise. The workers were struck by the positive message and successes of their co-nationals abroad, but a series of critical observations also emerged. As is evident from this worker’s testimony: “A doubt went through my mind that under the veil of a patriotic and philanthropic enterprise was hidden dishonest exploitation of our brothers even in those lands far from their homeland”. Generally, though, the message is more ambivalent. The workers are sensitive and they identify with their emigrant colleagues who have been successful, also appreciating the message of ‘Italianness’ that emerges out of the Exhibition. In some cases, when Italian colonies are talked of, there are suggestions that recall English jingoism. Nevertheless, the exhibition had a great impact on the more popular elements of the public. From the writings of the workers there is almost always reference to the “Pavilion of Italians Abroad”, but also to a participation, an involvement and a “sentiment” that at times brought “ tears to the eyes”. The workers were anything but indifferent to the call to a shared ‘Italianness’ that emerged from the exhibition; however, they perceived it in a somewhat more complex and controversial manner than the way it was presented by the ruling classes who had organised that great enterprise of national propaganda. From a methodological point of view, the chapter uses first-hand sources, both official documents produced directly by the government, newspapers and journals of the time, and letters and writings from workers who visited the pavilion.
Italianness and Migration from the Risorgimento to the 1960s
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Pellegrino
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