Reading Political Cartoons about Italy

Garibaldiecavour

A cartoon from 1861 showing Cavour and Garibaldi making ‘the boot’ of Italy.

Cartoons are excellent sources for historians. They can help us understand what happened but they tell us more about how people felt about events and ideas.  This is because cartoons show the artist’s opinions – how people saw their world and the events that they witnessed, read or heard about. This in turn helps us understand why people acted the way that they did.  This is a two way street – the more we understand what was happening at the time the cartoon was drawn, the events, people and ideas that were active in people’s minds, the more we understand their attitudes towards those events, and vice-versa.

So, because political cartoons are about opinion, we have to learn to read them in a particular way and place them in context. Our aim should always to be to understand the point of view of the cartoonist and how and why he or she came to that view. Fortunately, cartoonists help us to grasp their point of view by using a set of techniques which are often repeated:

Captions and labels – If an object is supposed to represent something in the real world, like a treaty, battle, country or idea, the object will often have a label naming it.

Speech bubbles – As in modern day comic books, cartoonists often used speech bubbles, sometimes looking like scrolls of paper or banners.

Sizes of people and objects – This is often used to make us compare things. A big person next to a small person might indicate that one is more powerful than another.

Facial expressions and posture – Cartoonists use faces when trying to persuade us, because they know that we will focus on a face in a cartoon. Anger, cruelty, honour, wisdom, drunkenness, greed and other emotions will be presented and used to persuade us to agree with the cartoonist’s point of view.

Distortion or caricature – If a person is being criticised then they will be made to look less attractive. On the other hand, ideas and people that the cartoonist wants us to support or to be attracted to will be made to look handsome or beautiful. Italy, for instance, is often represented as a beautiful woman who needs protection.

Shading and colour – Most of the cartoons that we will see when studying this period are black and white ink sketches or engravings, though a few may be in colour. Shade and colour are used in similar ways. Sometimes light and dark moves our eye around the picture. An important, brave, kind or wise person might be shown in a pool of light or in rays of light from a sun. Dark shadows and corners often hide cruel, or cunning evil-doers or symbols of oppression.

Arrangement of objects – Like the use of dark and shade, sometimes the position of objects is used to help the cartoonist get his or her view across. Important things might be above less important things. Things being pressed or squashed represent oppression. Something that is overshadowing or threatening another thing is often put at the top of a picture.

Cartoons like this one of Garibaldi helping Victor Emmanuel II (via @cartoonstock)  use some of these techniques.  Take a look at it, and see if you can spot them, and perhaps discuss with a learning partner what the cartoon’s meanings might be.   In our next post we’ll find out about the specific symbols that cartoonists used to communicate their ideas about Italy.

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Why has our book got so few photographs in it?

Yes, Pam and I have almost finished writing our book, Enquiring History: Italian Unification 1815-1871 (£)
The proofs went off yesterday and they’re beginning to look really good (I would say that, I guess).  Our lovely editor, Ian Dawson, asked us to explain why there are so few photographs in our book.

The reason is simple – events in Italy were taking place just as the first commercial photographic processes were being invented and popularised. The first process, which Louis Daguerre and his partner Joseph Niépce had been working on used bithumen, and later silver iodide, coated metal plates. These were bulky and difficult to transport. Daguerre’s process, which was announced to the world from Paris in 1839, was taken up by Henry Fox-Talbot who used it to create ‘negative’ images on film and paper from which, whilst less bulky was still difficult to use and which required people to stand very still whilst the photograph was being taken.

Photography came to Italy quite quickly. In 1851 Robert Macpherson using glass plates coated in different mixtures of light sensitive chemicals and egg white or gelatine, took up photography in Rome and for about 10 years made good money selling pictures of architecture to the tourists who visited the city. However, the growing instability that led to the events after 1859 made it much harder for him to make a living. We haven’t used any of his pictures because they used long exposure times, and therefore Macpherson didn’t take many pictures of individuals, and none of ‘events’.

It wasn’t until 1884 – just after the events in this book – that George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera, started to sell dry photographic film that gave amateur and professional photographers and easy way to take pictures without having to transport bulky chemicals.

Further Reading

Photography and Italy (Exposures) by Antonia Pelizzari (£)

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40310998?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21105413582223

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Episode 19 – The completion of Italy and her on-going problems

3641994250_177e7f6bea_mToday’s podcast is the final one in our series about Italian unification. As we saw in the last podcast the first 10 years of a united Italy after 1860 saw the new state go through severe birth pains. In the last podcast we looked at:

  • Continuing differences between North and South;
  • The problems caused by “Piedmontisation”; and
  • The Brigand’s war;

In today’s podcast we’ll focus on:

  • The disillusionment of the radicals and democrats after 1860;
  • The attitude of the Catholic Church to the new state; and
  • The effect of the death of Cavour.

Podcast No 19 – The Problems caused by Unification II

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Episode 18 – How successful was the new state of Italy after 1860?

5544073096_bdbeed5f18_zItaly (and for that matter many Italians) went through a difficult time in the 10 years after the unification of North and South in 1860. Over the next two podcasts we’ll look at those difficulties in 6 different categories:

  • Continuing differences between North and South;
  • The problems caused by “Piedmontisation”;
  • The Brigand’s war;
  • The disillusionment of the radicals and democrats after 1860;
  • The attitude of the Catholic Church to the new state; and
  • The effect of the death of Cavour.

In today’s podcast we’ll look at the first three of these problems, that of the differences between North and South, and the problems caused by ‘Piedmontisation’, we’ll end by look at how these hit the South especially hard and caused a civil war known as ‘the brigands war’.

Podcast no 18 – Was Italian unification a success between 1861 and 1870 v2

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Episode 17 – How did Garibaldi Conquer the South in 1860?

3949414617_722d21eb98_zAs we heard last time, when the Kingdom of northern Italy was formally announced in January 1860, Cavour had largely fulfilled his ambitions for the expansion of Piedmont by creating a Kingdom of Italy which included Parma, Modena, Tuscay, Lombardy and which was dominated by Piedmont. Cavour saw the task before in 1860 him as one of making this new state work. In today’s podcast we’re going to hear how these plans were dramatically changed by Garibaldi. We’re going to cover the reasons why Cavour was so concerned by Garibaldi’s actions, but also why he couldn’t intervene to stop the conquest of the South. Continue reading

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Carabinieri

picture of CarabinieriItaly has two police forces, and you can trace the roots of this dual authority back to unification, as you can see from this really interesting BBC news magazine article. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28254297

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The Peace of Villafranca

As we heard in the last podcast, on the 11th of August 1859 Emperor Napoleon III of France met with Emperor Francis Joseph I of Austria in the Swiss town of Villafranca to agree a peace deal, which would end the bloody war between France and Piedmont on the one side, and Austria on the other.

In this podcast we will cover the reasons for the failure of the peace of Villafranca, and the underlying reasons why things changed so much in Italy in 1859 and early 1860.

Podcast No 16 – Why wasn’t the peace of Villafranca put in place

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Episode 15 – The War of 1859 and the Peace of Villafranca

In the last podcast we covered the reasons for, and the build up to the war of 1859, sometimes called the ‘Second War of Independence’. In today’s podcast we’ll look at the course of that war, and discuss what it tells us about how Italy came to be unified.

The podcast refers to the Peace of Villafranca, a short treaty that ended the war between France and Austria.  You can find the text of the treaty under the ‘sources’ tab above.

I found some really interesting links whilst I was researching this podcast

http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/article/other/solferino-article-bugnion-240409.htm is a link to a page about the founding of the Red Cross, by Henry Dunant.  Dunant saw the misery and suffering caused by the battle of Solferino and was moved to create the charity in response.

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/49830477 ; and

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/3258953#pstart837696

are both digitised versions of Australian newspapers reporting on the events that we cover by re-printing articles by English newspapers.  These links are to articles copied from The Times and The Spectator, and show some interesting British attitudes to the events in Italy.

Download the transcript – Podcast No 15 – The War of 1859 and the peace of Villafranca.

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What is liberalism? What did a ‘Liberal’ believe in the 1800s?

Why do I need this information?

Well, it’s interesting in its own right I hope, but if you study Italian unification for more than 10 minutes you’ll meet the term ‘Liberalism’, and you need to understand what it means, or more precisely what it meant in the 1800s. Unfortunately we don’t often find detailed explanations of the idea in many textbooks, and this can lead to confusion. This confusion is made worse by the modern use of the word in America, where ‘liberal’ means left-wing. The term is often used as a term of abuse against political opponents.

In the 1800s and early 1900s however, ‘Liberalism’ had a very different meaning. Liberalism was a political agenda, and the ‘Liberal Party’ was political party in Britain which was dedicated to achieving ‘liberty’. But what did they mean by this? What kind of ‘liberty’ did they want?

We can find out by reading “Liberalism” by L T Hobhouse.  Hobhouse was a political theorist – a journalist and academic who studied political ideas. In 1911 he wrote a description of ‘liberalism’, which set out several of the ‘liberties’ which were important parts of this political idea. I won’t cover all of these ideas, but have summarised some of them below. When you read in a textbook that Cavour, or another Italian leader was a ‘liberal’, or had ‘liberal ideals’ then the writer is probably referring to some ideas such as these. However, when you read this ideas, you should be thinking about how Italy actually measured up to these ideals, before 1860 and afterwards.

Civil Liberty – Constitutional Rule

“the first condition of free government is government not by the arbitrary determination of the ruler, but by fixed rules of law, to which the ruler himself is subject”

This first liberty is in many ways the basis of all the others. Having clearly set out laws, which apply to everyone as well as to the government, was a very important element of liberalism. In our studies of Italy, this idea most is most obviously represented in the calls for constitutions that the rulers of the various states faced during the 1800s. These calls reached a peak during revolts. In the 1848-9 revolutionary period the rulers of Piedmont, Rome and the Kingdome of Naples all made reforms in the direction of constitutional rule. Only the 1848 statuto in Piedmont survived this period. If you take a detailed look at the statuto you might consider how much the King of Piedmont was really bound by the laws that it sets out.

Fiscal Liberty

“No taxation without oversight by the legislature”

‘Fiscal’ is a word which refers to anything to do with taxes. This liberty means that taxes should be within the control of a parliament or other representatives of the people. ‘No taxation without representation’ was an important slogan of the American revolt against British rule in 1775. The idea was that it was unfair to tax people who did not have representatives who could oversee how taxes were raised or spent. In our studies of Italy after 1870 we have a chance to see how liberal the state was in this regard – a heavy burden of taxation fell on the peasants, who were the least likely to be able to vote.

Personal Liberty

“with liberty of thought goes liberty of speech and liberty of writing, printing, and peaceable discussion”

This liberty was also a very important one for those pressing for change in Italy in our period. A system of censorship controlled the publication of books and journals (these were serious magazines about the arts, science or politics) in across the Italian states during our period.

Economic Liberty

Interestingly Hobhouse has a lot more to say about economic liberty than many of the other liberties that he writes about. Under this heading he covers such matters as freedom of men to contract with each other on terms that they see fit and freedom to form trade unions so that workers can gain ‘something approaching terms of equality with the employer’. However, most of his focus, when discussing economic liberty, is on freedom of trade, which means the removal of tariffs and trade barriers within and between countries,

This means that one of the most important aspects of liberalism was the call for the removal of import taxes and protectionism. If you studied the role of protectionism in the American boom of the 1920s for GCSE you’ll know that Protectionism means raising taxes on goods imported into an area. This has the effect of ‘protecting’ the makers of goods inside that area, as it makes their goods cheaper to buy than those coming in from outside. One of the things that Italian some liberals hoped would help improve the condition of industry across the peninsula was the removal of trade barriers.

Domestic Liberty

Under this heading Hobhouse discusses freedom to marry and to divorce – “marriage as far as the law is concerned on a purely contractual basis”, and equality for men and women. Even in 1911 when Hobhouse’s work was published women did not have the vote in England or Italy, Hobhouse himself campaigned for women’s suffrage (the right of women to vote in elections).

Hobhouse set out the need for the state to set up public education for children, which in Italy was controversial, as the Catholic Church was in control of education in most of the Italian states. Simiarly, attempts to modernize marriage in Italy were also contested, as the influence of the Catholic Church was so strong.

So, now you know what ‘liberalism’ meant, and the kinds of ‘liberty’ that ‘liberals’ were interested in. Unfortunately you can’t assume that all liberals believed exactly the same thing. Some might for instance be very keen on increasing the level of ‘economic liberty’ in their state, but at the same time be very concerned about the risks of changing the way that marriage worked, or how the church was involved in schools. Similarly many middle class ‘liberals’ would have feared giving the right to vote to many more peasants.

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Venice Under Siege

There’s a great article in January’s History Today about Venice during the First World War. It’s a little outside our period but it refers to many of the themes that we use to understand the difficulties that Italy faced after unification. In particular we can see the attitude of the liberals who ruled Italy towards its peasantry in the 1871 quote from Antonio Papadopili, a member of the Venice’s elite, who wrote:

The fact is that the Venetian population do not want to work.  To render this town worthy of its name and fame, the people must be moralised.

Negative feelings towards Austria (Venetia was part of the Austrian Empire until 1866) are also evident, which I guess is not surprising as during the war they carried out 42 bombing raids on the city, according to the author Richard Bosworth.  See more at  http://www.historytoday.com/richard-bosworth/venice-fog-war (subscribers only).

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