Best Mussolini biographer comes from Mars

von macchiato

And this is how he introduces himself:

I am Richard Bosworth, and I have spent 40 years of my life so far always working on Italy. I began working on pre-1914 Italy, and I think this has always given me a particular background when I then moved on to write my biography of Mussolini and my way of studying how the Italians lived under the regime in the book Mussolini’s Italy.

I have made my main academic career in my home country of Australia, although I have always had a lot of connections with the rest of the English speaking world, and now I’m at Jesus College Oxford. I’ve been to Italy every year since 1967. So, I have spent a lot of my life sitting in the Archivio Centrale dello Stato in Rome, and it’s for that reason that, in a way, I got rather tired talking about fascism, and writing books about it, that I wrote my last book Whispering City, which is a sort of love story about Rome.

If you’re not catholic, if you’re an Australian, how come that you find Italy’s history so unique, so interesting, what’s so interesting about it?

I don’t think this question would really be asked terribly much of people who work on early modern or medieval or ancient history. It’s only really adressed to people who work on the history of societies after the nation comes into existence, when there is always that sort of subcurrent of belief that nations should only be written about by people from that nation. Now, I’m certainly no Australian nationalist, nor am I an Italian nationalist, and I am not a nationalist of any kind.

I’d like to think of myself, apart from being a „Martian“, as a „rootless cosmopolitan“ in the most extreme definition of that term. The fact that I work on Italy is almost entirely accidental: when I was a young doctoral student, working on Britain and Italy, with the emphasis on Britain before the First World War, my supervisor, who was an old English person, an old Cambridge person, said: my dear boy, I think you should go to Rome for a few months.

I went to Rome for a few months, and I decided it was much nicer than Cambridge (a view that I still have). And after that, the effect that I would have an excuse to go to Rome every year, seemed to me to be rather nice, and so I simply went on working on Italy, and of course after you’ve invested a reasonable amount of your skill and concentration and reading on a place, it’s not terribly likely that I would suddenly change and say, in a fit of madness, I want to become an Australian historian.

But certainly with time, as a historian, you’ll have thought, in what does Italian nationalism or ultrantionalism differ from the French, of Polish, or German version of it?

Well I think that’s a very interesting question, and I don’t think I’m the one very qualified to answer it. I suppose it does seem to me that in a democracy, it might be a fundamental question that members of any individual country or nation constantly ask themselves. I wish Australian nationalists would ask themselves this questions rather more often than they do. Again, if I am trying to think over my career, one of the advantages of having people from outside doing your history is precisely because they are people from outside, and therefore the will be carrying different things; there will be certain things that they will never know as well as the locals; but there will be other things, other questions that they’ll want to ask, other methods they want to focus on, where the prompting is somehow coming from something which is general, or anyway beyond the immediate nation, and I think that’s tremendously useful because I deeply believe that history is a subject which utterly rejects the idea of final solution, of the definitive answer. It’s one of the areas where I am likely to quarrel with political scientists, who seem to me often to be in search for the final answer.

I think that in a democracy history has to speak with many voices. All one can do as a historian is do your work, read the sources that you happen upon, that you want to concentrate on, try to reconstruct as accurately as possible a narrative, come up with an answer, and then rather hope that that answer is wrong, and that other people want to argue with you and discuss with you what it was that made you think that was a better answer rather than some alternative answer.

(first part of a June 2012 interview at Oxford with Richard J. Bosworth by faschistensindimmerdieanderen – to be continued)