Teacher | Student
Originally produced in: Italy
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Curricular level

Upper secondary school diploma (upper secondary school specializing in a technical education).

4th and 5th year (17/18 years of age).

Ministry of Education curricula have the Risorgimento as a topic to be covered at the end of fourth year, but in practice it is usually dealt with as part of the broader topic of the Italian Unification Process topic at the beginning of the fifth year. This way it can easily be linked to “post-unification” issues, such as the annexation of the Veneto (1866) and the occupation of Rome in 1870. Italy

Reason for this choice

Our motive for paying particular attention to this subject is to be found in the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, which occurs this year. This event has encouraged a renewed interest in the study and interpretation of the origins of our national identity through new publications, debates, exhibitions and public celebrations. This subject is also leads us onto another complex issue: how do Italians feel towards a united Italy? Moreover, the topic offers the students the chance to get to know those whose political commitment and self-sacrifice in the name of an ideal singled them out. Through dealing with this topic, we also want to draw a comparison between the revolutionary events throughout Europe at the time and all those peculiar features characterising 1848 in Italy.


Of the three revolutionary cycles, echoing through the U.S.A. and Europe following the Congress of Vienna, the last one definitely revealed the typical features of the Italian movement. These were a democratic demand for a Constitution, a yearning for national independence in order to free Italian territories from the “foreign” presence and build a new independent State, in which way was yet to be defined.

These two feelings have often blurred and blended: in some episodes the demands for equality are overwhelming, while in other cases the will and need to establish as soon as possible a State based on “freedom and independence” appears to prevail.

A number of thinkers, artists scholars, poets and musicians encouraged this wide movement in different ways: on one side, by fighting as volunteers in irregular armies. Others, in parallel, were indirectly helping the struggle by secretly canvassing and supporting the organisation from abroad.

The most important and active was with no doubt Giuseppe Mazzini. Victim of persecution in his own country, while living in different cities like Geneva, Marseille and London, he had restlessly plotted and attempted coups on absolute monarchies' kings. Ultimately, the goal he was to pursue so hard was the ideal of Italy as a Republic, united from north to south free from any kind of foreign domination. During the 1848/49 biennium, some temporary governments were instituted in many Italian cities, as a consequence of revolutionary uprising. They didn’t just limit their action to a military defence, but they even passed real constitution, in order to ensure public order and enforce laws.

As popular uprisings were taking place in some cities against despotic rulers and foreign domination, the Savoy Kingdom of Sardinia took military action: it declared war on the Austrian Empire and moved its armies towards Lombardy and the Veneto. Thus began what would become in the official history of Italy the First War of Independence, in which the monarchist armies of Savoy, Giuseppe Garibaldi’s volunteers, the Pontifical troops of Pius IX and those of Leopold of Tuscany would fight together against the common enemy, Austria, until diplomatic reasons and political opportunism would lead the Pope to withdraw his forces unexpectedly and the King of Sardinia to sign an unexpected, disappointing armistice with the Austro – Hungarian empire.

Teaching method guidelines

The topics are structured following the sequence of events that unfolded, considering “48” as the climax of a revolutionary wave that had been building up in the preceding years. The order in which the topic is dealt with follows the chronology of the political episodes and the content is by and large fact-centered. The presentation is thus necessarily in a narrative style. The targets listed therefore reflect a methodological choice: that of focussing exclusively on political history.

Conceptual Objectives

  • Given a post-Congress of Vienna geopolitical map of Italy, can identify the the main constituent states and compare it with a present-day map.
  • Is familiar with the most important phases of the revolutionary events in 1848 in Italy and the ideals that drove them, can locate them within the wider context of national unification.
  • Can recognize parallels and differences between the 1848-9 uprisings in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, awareness of the distinctive traits of each one and those behind them.
  • Can distinguish between the popular drive for uprising and military initiatives backed by heads of state, with particular reference to the role of the Kingdom of Sardinia.
  • Can name the protagonists of uprisings classifying them according to orientation and political movement to which they belong.
  • Is familiar with the following terms:
    • nation /people
    • liberalism /democracy
    • census suffrage/ universal suffrage (for men)
    • revolt/uprising/revolution
    • statute /constitution

Methodological Objectives and Skills

  • Can handle different types of source materials (iconographic sources in particular) and extract the necessary information for dealing with and understanding the topic under scrutiny, linking them with the historical framework of reference.
  • Can write a short descriptive and/or discursive text using terminology appropriately and summarizing information taken from the sources used in relation to the themes studied.

Suggestion of Activities

  • Description of the geopolitical situation in Italy in 1848 through the observation of a map dating to that year.
  • Description and analysis of a painting dating back to that year in which the Palermo January 12th 1848 uprising is depicted.
  • Read and analyse the Albertine Statute (making references to the present-day republican constitution).
  • Read and analyse a proclamation made by Carlo Alberto in which the involvement of volunteer troops and popular initiative is underlined in reference to the military exploits during the First War of independence.
  • Description and analysis of a 19th Century etching showing Daniele Manin declaring the Republic of Venice. Presentation of an excerpt taken from a book by Cristina Belgioioso on the Venetian revolution.
  • Description and analysis of a 19th Century etching showing one of the principal episodes in the Five Days of Milan.
  • Read and analyse a selection of articles from the Constitution of the Roman Republic – The origins of the Garibaldi figure: Garibaldi sul Gianicolo by Gerolamo Induno from 1849.
  • Description and analysis of a 19th Century print showing the Novara defeat of March 23rd 1849. Presentation of an excerpt taken from the libretto of Verdi's opera: La battaglia di Legnano

All of the activities set by the teacher aim to strengthen the students' awareness of how the Risorgimento was not only a political and military movement but had repercussions on the whole of society at the time, with an impact on literature, visual arts, music and mores. The sources and documents chosen allow us to observe how this impact on culture was most evident in the two years spanning 1848-9, when widespread popular involvement in the patriotic and democratic enterprises was at its highest. The sheer volume of images produced both in and on 1848 testify how important contemporaries felt these events were and how much, for the first time ever, “public opinion” had counted. The activities set are therefore, from the outset, interdisciplinary. The questionnaires about the sources are aimed at encouraging pupils to carry out research, gathering information that can be used to understand the context in which the document was produced; subsequently, the teacher will fill in the background to the document through the presentation.

Citizenship Education

The decision to deal with this particular period in national history in some depth reflects the desire to make pupils aware of the ideals that drove the movements involved in the Risorgimento and the struggles of the nameless masses of modest citizens for a constitutional charter which would secure their civil and political rights. These claims are intertwined, in the case of Italy, with the desire held by the majority of the population for the acquisition of the right to self-determination to create a united state. Dealing with the “issue” of national identity is also a chance to touch on the factors that have brought about the inception of separatist movements and the call for autonomy voiced in present-day Italy, both of which aim to undermine both the concept and the very framework of a united state. Through the examples given the pupils will be given the opportunity to grasp the real meaning of the following terms:

  • civil rights
  • political rights
  • social and economic rights
  • right to self-determination

Suggestion of Evaluation

Both during and at the end of the planned activities the teacher will assess how much historical knowledge has been acquired as well as the pupils' awareness of the importance of the Risorgimento topic in being able to observe and interpret current affairs informedly.

Assessment criteria:

The pupil can:

  • pinpoint the key concepts and the progression of events that led to the revolutionary episodes of 1848 in Italy and in Europe. Can also relate these to the broader framework of national unification (1815 – 1870)
  • analyse a written/iconographic source dating back to that period.
  • Analyse and appraise a present-day written source.
  • Contextualise the issue of the creation of a national state.
  • Appraise the 'length' of the unification process in relation to the brevity of the political and military incidents that it was made up of.

Further Information and Interdisciplinarity

On the Risorgimento and the history of Italian unification in general, a variety of information can be found at http://www.italia150.it/, while information on events, exhibitions, history, art and literature, including the official events that have been scheduled, the office of the President of the Republic website http://www.italiaunita150.it/ where initiatives launched by organizations, societies and schools throughout the country are also listed. The exhibition housed in the Scuderie del Qurinale in Rome, “1861. I pittori del Risorgimento”, is particularly noteworthy (http://www.scuderiequirinale.it).

A useful source of information and reference on the events of ’48-’49 in Italy in general are the entries in the Dizionario Storiografico published by Bruno Mondadori – Paravia, which can be viewed at http://www.pbmstoria.it/dizionaristoria.