The heralds of violence: Nationalist-populist armed movements in pre - WWI Europe


This research proposal aims to analyse the phenomenology of the organized political violence in Italy, Spain and France, in the decade preceding the outbreak of the First World War. The project considers the forms of organization, the ideological background, the individual and collective behaviours, the political targets and the relationship with the State of three organized groups of armed civilians: the squads of the Agrarian association in the province of Bologna (Italy), the Barcelona Somatén (Spain) and the Camelots du Roi of the Action Française in Paris (France).

Since the 1990s, the scholars have begun to reflect on the role of the First World War in transforming the European politics, through a process of banalization and diffusion of the political violence in the daily life. In this way, the political violence became a central issue of the historical debate and an important analytical category in order to investigate both the Great War itself and its aftermath, as demonstrated by the very important studies of George Mosse, Annette Becker, Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau, Angelo Ventrone, and Robert Gerwarth. These historians rightly considered the First World War as a fundamental experience that produced deep changes in the society and politics of belligerent states. At the same time, these reflexions have called much more attention on the topic of violence, which has been considered as a value in itself and a formative experience, capable of shaping long lasting behaviours and collective practices. However, focusing on the Great War as a triggering factor, these historians considered the post-WWI political and paramilitary violence as essentially the outcome of the brutalization process produced by the Great War itself. This research proposal aims to go beyond these interpretations, taking into account the ideological, organizational and practical antecedents of the period preceding the Great War, in order to analyse how politics were changing even before WWI and what was the role of the organized street violence in this process. Therefore, this project will analyse the repertories of the violence perpetrated by groups of armed civilians as a manifestation of the enlargement of the public sphere and of the modernization processes that have concerned the European society at the beginning of XXth century. Fixing the analysis on a solid empiric and documentary basis, the candidate will give an account of the developments of the organized violence in a period during which politics were deeply changing and violence was becoming a central issue of the political arena. Some of the practices, behaviours, and mentalities that characterized the period under review seem to anticipate the features of politics in the aftermath of the First World War. Thanks to a comparative methodology, this research will analyse the way through which the radicalization of politics took place, the forms and times of this process in the different countries, the role of WWI, in order to reconstruct a general European framework and to underline the specificities of every country. Given the comparative approach and the complexity of the research, the candidate has to demonstrate excellent capacity in historical research, record collection, reworking of the collected materials, great mastery of the international literature and of comparative methodologies.

2012 - 2014

Matteo Millan

Responsabile per il Dipartimento
Giulia Albanese

Giulia Albanese
Monica Fioravanzo
Giovanni Focardi