The limits of cultural nationalism: Italian Switzerland from a risorgimento perspective


  • *Acknowledgements: Thanks to Jonathan Steinberg for inviting me to present an early draft of this article at a conference entitled Perché la Svizzera Italiana, held at the University of Pennsylvania in April 2008. Similar thanks to Lucy Riall and Silvana Patriarca, who allowed me to present a different version at the conference mentioned in note 1. My gratitude goes to the editor and anonymous reviewers of Nations and Nationalism for their perceptive comments and to Sue Cornish for her excellent copy-editing and encouragement.

  • Permissions for images: Figure 1 is an adapted version of a map by Poulpy located at Figure 2 is from Freiheitsbaum auf dem Münsterplatz in Basel, 1798, Swiss National Museum, inventory number LM-44587. Figure 3 is from Rocco Torricelli, Saccheggio della Casa Agnelli li 29 Aprile (c. 1800), Archivio Fotografico del Dicastero Attività Culturali Città di Lugano. Figure 4 is from Balthasar A. Dunker, Wilheim Tell Bekämpft die Revolution (1798), Swiss National Museum, inventory number LM-20965. Figure 5 is from Antonio Soldati, Rivoluzione del Cantone Ticino, 5 Dicembre 1839 (c. 1840) from the print collection of the Archivio Cantonale di Ticino in Bellinzona.


ABSTRACT. This article critiques the ‘cultural turn’ in Italian Risorgimento historiography by examining Italian Switzerland, and specifically Ticino. This area paradoxically aided and abetted Italian patriots, especially Giuseppe Mazzini, yet rejected becoming part of the Italian national project. This paradox is heightened by the fact that the vast majority of the Italian nationalist literary canon, as identified by Alberto Maria Banti, was republished in Ticino. The paradox is explained in terms of the conflict between long-standing traditions of local autonomy and the idea of any form of uniform or centralised control, as originally represented by the Cisalpine Republic and then by both versions (Napoleonic and Piedmontese) of the Kingdom of Italy. However, I also use Banti's cultural concepts to demonstrate the creation of a powerful counter-myth of Italian Swiss nationalism in the character of William Tell.