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Fascism and anti-fascism in the Special Collections archives of the University of Reading

by Gian Paolo Ghirardini

To find documents related to Italian Fascism and anti-fascism in the Special Collections archives of the University of Reading is far from surprising. Since the late 1940s, when Luigi Meneghello initiated the Italian Studies Programme, Reading has demonstrated a strong commitment to the study of Italian culture. During the years, through the work of eminent historians such as Stuart Woolf, Paul Corner and Christopher Duggan, Reading has imposed its name as one of the most valuable centers for the study of modern Italian history in the UK.

The Special Collections of the University of Reading, housed at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), comprise 140 collections of historical and literary papers. The Collections include two sections relating to the history of Italian Fascism: the Salò Republic Collection and the Italian Refugees’ Relief Committee Collection.

The Salò Republic Collection comprises around 500 documents from various administrative departments of the Republic. It includes requisition orders from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose offices were located in the Lombard town of Brescia, and from the Navy Admiralty. It also includes propaganda material from the Ministero della Cultura Popolare and several bulletins from the Agenzia Stefani. A few dozen intercepted radio messages from Allied broadcasts are also part of the collection. Most of the documents are original, except for the intercepted radio messages that seem to be carbon copies. However, some of the order sheets and part of the propaganda material are clearly part of a serially produced lot of material.

The documents of the Salò Republic arouse a certain interest in connection with various historical issues. Firstly, they may contribute to casting a light on the relations of the various branches of the Salò Army and on the difficulties the high command had in keeping the troops under control; also, they offer material to investigate the sense of morality of Fascist soldier and of the Fascist base. Secondly, by providing information on the links between the Salò administration, the local bourgeoisie and the clergy in Brescia, they may help in charting the sociological basis of the Republic in a Lombard provincial environment; thus, this collection provides the opportunity to unfold some considerations on the relationship between the political institutions of the Republic and an Italian periphery, suddenly brought to the centre of the political warfare in September 1943. Thirdly, the intercepted radio messages offer a chance to examine the modalities of the propaganda of the Salò Republic against the Allied forces.

The Italian Refugees’ Relief Committee Collection comprises the documents of a committee set up in London in 1927 with the purpose of raising funds for the Italian anti-fascists who had fled the regime of Mussolini and found refuge in France. It includes a considerable number (c. 500) of letters, notes, account statements and reports related to the daily organization of the Committee from 1927 to 1930. Most of the letters are original, only a small minority of the papers being carbon copies, and some of them are handwritten in Italian.

The collection lends itself to the examination of the community of anti-fascist supporters in London and of the Italian refugees in Paris. The letters concerning membership and donations allow us to re-construct the network of contacts within the community of anti-fascist supporters based in London. They also allow us to illuminate the way in which the activity of eminent anti-fascist such as Luigi Sturzo and Gaetano Salvemini was perceived in that context. Moreover, the work of the Refugees’ Relief Committee can be uncovered through the analysis of letters and appeals sent to newspapers, copies of which are included in the collection. Finally, the correspondence between the London-based Committee and its counterpart in Paris provides insights on the living conditions of the Italian refugees in France.

The Salò Republic Collection and the Italian Refugees’ Relief Committee Collection of the University of Reading stand out as two valuable sources for the study of Fascism and anti-fascism. They not only provide material for the study of the Fascist regime and the subsequent Salò Republic, but also offer a term of reference for the investigation of their reception in the UK.

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2013 by in Critic's corner.
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