In 2011, Italy celebrated its 150 years. That's the whole point of this Atlas of Contemporary Italy, written by two specialists in the subject, namely Aurelian Delpirou, lecturer at the Paris Urban Planning Institute, and Stephane Mourlane, lecturer in contemporary history at the University of Provence Aix-Marseille I. The collaboration of these two authors, one a geographer and the other a historian, offers us an original work, which is intended to be a synthesis of the history of Italy, since Risorgimento from the second half of the 19th century to the present day.
An excellent synthesis
This work should therefore be considered, in my opinion, as a synthesis, and what is more as an excellent synthesis. This is truly a total work on the subject. The historical inserts are clear, precise, and obviously synthetic. What might have been a gap actually turns out to be a quality. The reader does not get lost in the midst of numerous digressions and / or analyzes, and enjoys immediate and clear access to information. The plan of the book actually corresponds to five major concerns, five essential questions relating to contemporary Italy, both historically and geographically and culturally. The first step is to focus on the contrasts of Italy in the 19th and 20th centuries, and on its essential and introductory characteristics. Once this observation has been made and established, the authors question the population itself: who are the "Italians"? What are their cultural characteristics? This specific problem leads them de facto to analyze the evolution of Italian politics and the historical and institutional transformations of the Italian state since the end of the 19th century, Risorgimento to the Second Republic, passing through the Kingdom of Italy, the ventennio fascist and the First Republic of Democrazia Cristiana and bipartitismo imperfetto. Italian culture is not to be outdone, as it is studied concisely in Part IV. Finally, in a fifth "chapter", Delpirou and Mourlane offer a very interesting vision of Italy, seen "in front of the world". This is about working on a comprehensive, "global" vision of Italy. In short, within the framework of this work, we are in a very hierarchical synthesis, and cleverly presented.
Nevertheless, I would like to share a small caveat, which for many is a detail, but which is important for me, who am an Italianist: it concerns the absence, in the bibliography, of works in the Italian language. . The authors also specified that “ only works in French are mentioned ". I would have preferred to have both, in order to be able to refer more easily to the vision that Italian scientists and specialists have of their own country. However, I imagine that this is, for the vast majority of readers, a minor detail. Obviously, the low price of this work (17 € for a work entirely in color and illustrated!) Can excuse this absence. In any case, it is therefore a "totalizing" work, a synthesis, considering the long duration - 150 years of history - and crossing all possible points of view. By multiplying the angles of approach and study, as well as the spatial and temporal scales, Delpirou and Mourlane manage to overcome the pitfall of writing a synthetic book on current issues, while avoiding popularization.
An original multidisciplinary work
By the multiplication of fields of study, the two authors, well helped by Aurélie Boissiere, independent cartographer, offer their readers a completely original and interesting multidisciplinary work. History, geography, but also sociology intersect and re-intersect ceaselessly, with the aim of making us better understand "the Italian spirit", this " italianità That everyone knows more or less nowadays. Special mention for the maps, which are very well done, clear and precise, and which are very useful. Of course, this is an atlas, and therefore, in a way, a collection of maps. But we must underline the quality of the latter, which perfectly illustrate the historical and geographical remarks which are explained in the inserts. As you can imagine, the originality of this Atlas of Contemporary Italy is not in the maps ... but in the overall presentation of the book. It is therefore a modern, dynamic work that aims to be as intelligible as possible. In this regard, I really appreciated the implementation of small quotes within each topic discussed. To give you just one example, within the issue of " linguistic question "In Italy, the authors gave a magnificent quote, which I had to transcribe, in love with the Italian language and culture:" In the perpetual music of its language, Italy has always existed » (Del Lungo, The genesi storica dell’unità italiana, 1898). Thus, the quotes are there to delicately support the remarks that are made and presented, to illustrate them more easily. It is true, in this sense, that a reader will retain a striking quotation much better than a long analytical development, and the authors have understood this very well. Another (very) good positive for them and for the remarkable work they have done.
Likewise, the presence of graphics should be emphasized. They obviously contribute to the increased intelligibility of the work, and its desire to present to as many people as possible an original and pleasant multidisciplinary synthesis of contemporary Italy. The graphics are, in this sense, both simple and precise: without falling into excess of popularization, Delpirou and Mourlane provide their readership with clear, but above all precise, scientific sources. In reality, and as I mentioned previously, everything in this little work seems to have been constructed with a view to making the reader grasp all the issues relating to contemporary Italy, and all the historical proteanness that it contains in its breast. I will certainly repeat myself, but in my opinion this was no easy task, and both authors achieved their end (s) brilliantly. By holding in our hands this Atlas of Contemporary Italy, one would have the impression of yet another allusive and simplistic work. It is not, quite the contrary. With good reason, it is remarkable to observe that the authors have managed to deal with contemporary Italian history, geography and culture in a total and totalizing dimension, in "only" eighty pages! Once again, they should be congratulated. Therefore, once the general description of the work has been completed, it is necessary to ask the question of the possible uses of such a work. Who can it be for?
For what use (s)?
Therefore, the uses of such a work can be diverse and multiple. At first, this atlas may be of interest to anyone who wishes to learn about contemporary Italy. Its synthetic dimension is an undeniable asset in the matter: the reader is not lost, he is not "deceived", and finds in his hands a work that is at the same time concise, original and pleasant. I was surprised to read it all at once, with disconcerting ease. And although, in all modesty, I know Italian history and culture quite well, I learned a lot, and was surprised. The points of view discussed are very original, and have the merit of not falling into simplism or "déjà vu". Once again, the discourse held by the authors is intended to be multidisciplinary and totalizing, synthetic. Marc Lazar, in the preface to the work, moreover expresses quite clearly the objectives of this Atlas of Contemporary Italy : « Visualizing Italy and, therefore, representing it in order to grasp it in its unity and its diversity, its changes and its permanence, such is the great contribution of this atlas, informative and fascinating. »
Once is not customary, I would gladly offer this little book to students, whether they are interested in the history of contemporary Italy or its culture. In this sense, it would be appropriate to obtain or consult this work in an introductory context on Italy of the contemporary period. By multiplying the points of view and angles of study, it would be more than enough to offer students an overview of the evolutions, changes and continuities of Italy since 1861, both historically and civilizably. Therefore, I cannot recommend this atlas to all young (and not so young) students of history, but also of Italian. University courses in the Italian language, and in particular in LLCE (Foreign Languages, Literatures and Civilizations, ndlr), offer civilization courses, which also hold an important place in the curriculum. Having followed these teachings myself, as part of an international academic career, I would have appreciated, at the time, to have had such a book. Both synthetic and scientific, it can be read quickly and easily. The presence of maps and graphics makes the discourse held by the book clearer, more precise, and, in this sense, more intelligible. In short, this is an extremely interesting and pleasant work, suitable for a wide audience, both "laymen" in the subject and students. It is not content with an introductory dimension, and develops completely original points of view.
Aurelien Delpirou is agrégé and doctor in geography. He is a lecturer at the Paris Urban Planning Institute (Paris-Est Créteil University).
Stephane Mourlane is agrégé and doctor in history. He is a lecturer at the University of Provence (Aix-Marseille 1).
Aurélie Boissiere is an independent cartographer.
Marc Lazar, the preface, is a university professor in history and political sociology at Sciences-Po and Luiss-Guido Carli in Rome.
DELPIROU Aurélien, MOURLANE Stéphane, Atlas of Contemporary Italy, Paris, Éditions Autrement, Coll. Atlas / World, 2011.