Domesticating Foreign Struggles
The Italian Risorgimento and Antebellum American Identity

Paola Gemme

Looking overseas to learn about ourselves


"Gemme’s study is the most original and best-documented analysis of American attitudes toward Risorgimento Italy that we have. Gemme’s book is a first-rate example of the new internationalist turn in American studies. Lucid, provocative, nuanced, and thoroughly documented, it makes a lasting and perceptive contribution both to emergent transnational scholarship and to the larger case for early-American cultural imperialism."
—Dennis Berthold, Texas A&M University

"Reading antebellum America and the Italian Risorgimento in light of each other, Gemme wonderfully furthers the project of a trans- or postnational American studies. Her tandem account of nineteenth-century republican ideology is detailed and riveting."
—Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

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When antebellum Americans talked about the contemporary struggle for Italian unification (the Risorgimento), they were often saying more about themselves than about Italy. In Domesticating Foreign Struggles Paola Gemme unpacks the American cultural record on the Risorgimento not only to make sense of the U.S. engagement with the broader world but also to understand the nation’s domestic preoccupations.

Swayed by the myth of the United States as a catalyst of and model for global liberal movements, says Gemme, Americans saw parallels to their own history in the Risorgimento--and they said as much in newspapers, magazines, travel accounts, diplomatic dispatches, poems, maps, and paintings. And yet, in American eyes, Italians were too civically deficient to ever achieve republican goals. Such a view, says Gemme, reaffirmed cherished beliefs both in the United States as the center of world events and in the notion of American exceptionalism. Gemme argues that Americans also pondered the place of “subordinate” ethnic groups in domestic culture--especially Irish Catholic immigrants and enslaved African Americans--through the discourse on Risorgimento Italy.

Thus, says Gemme, national identity rested not only on differentiation from outside groups but also on a desire for internal racial and cultural homogeneity. Writing in a tradition pioneered by Amy Kaplan, Richard Slotkin, and others, Gemme advances the movement to “internationalize” American studies by situating the United States in its global cultural context.

Page count: 216 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $24.95

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Paola Gemme is an associate professor of American studies and English at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas.