Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis



First Advisor

Chiarella Espoito

Relational Format



This study seeks to document and detail the historical narrative and experience of the Sicilian peasantry at the time of Italian unification or, as the entire movement is commonly called, il Risorgimento. Focusing principally on the period between Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi's successful expedition in the first few days of April 1860, throughout the next six months during his brief prodictatorship and on into the months and years immediately following Sicily's annexation to Piedmont-Sardinia, this thesis represents a much-needed contribution to the new school of revisionist scholarship on il Risorgimento. It does not refute the findings of previous revisionist interpretations of this movement, and indeed reiterates the conclusions of a number of scholars and historians' works before it in that it finds that the actions and liberal policy decisions of Garibaldi's prodictatorial regime resulted in the further perpetuation of the already-impoverished status of the peasantry in Sicilian society. However, it does draw upon new sources to assert that the peasantry's choice to revolt in April 1860 as well as in the six years following the annexation to Piedmont-Sardinia in October was indeed a rational decision, and one that signals the achievement of some level of political and social consciousness that was not present or realized before this time. These sources include the correspondence of the British consuls stationed in Sicily at this time, a series of agricultural reports commissioned by the Italian parliament and a diary from one of Garibaldi's troops, as well as a range of secondary literatures. This thesis also offers a critique of the essentialist practices and scholarship of proponents of meridionalismo, or the rough equivalent of Edward Said's 'orientalism' as manifested in the southern half of the Italian peninsula. It also presents the theoretical concept of a 'collective social defense mechanism' embedded in Sicilian society, which has been brought to life and cemented at the center of Sicilian culture by a number of actors and occupying powers throughout history. This mechanism accounts for the state of poverty endured by the Sicilian peasantry throughout much of the nineteenth century as well as the gross levels of crime, corruption and injustice that are still apparent on the island to this day.

Included in

History Commons



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