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Cultural Promotion and Imperialism. The Dante Alighieri Society and the...

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Title Cultural Promotion and Imperialism. The Dante Alighieri Society and the British Council Contesting the Mediterranean in the 1930s
Period 10 / 2006 - 06 / 2011
Status Completed
Dissertation Yes
Research number OND1320277
Data Supplier Website Huizinga Instituut

Abstract

For a better understanding of the different interests ideological, political and economical behind the export of language and culture, this project aims to analyse the history of two organisations, the Società Dante Alighieri (Italy) and the British Council (Great Britain), in the years between 1934 (the founding of the British Council) and the end of the Second World War. Given the fundamental crisis of democracy and of confidence in Western civilization that took place then, this period was crucial for the socio-political landscape of the twentieth century. All the more interesting is how cultural instruments were used in this setting, be it to seek refuge from these crises or as instruments for the creation of a new order. So far the literature about the above-mentioned two organisations has been focussed on institutional and political history. The choices made in the presentation of cultural and linguistic heritage, as well as the motives involved, are taken more or less for granted and are not analysed. Instead, the proposed project would approach the organisations as entities that are interpreting and claiming ownership of cultural heritage at both national and international level. The research will concentrate on the images and symbolical references used to create a na-tional identity, as revealed by the activities, publications and presentation of (artistic) artefacts by the two organisations. The main issue is how in the increasing tension of an ideological battlefield, the Dante Alighieri Society and the British Council chose to present their national heritage abroad and what function it was given in a European and intercontinental context. In Great Britain, where cultural politics had so far been considered unnecessary since the Empire would speak for itself, it became alarmingly clear by the early 1930 s that if a nazification of the European continent and of other parts of the world was to be avoided, an active promotion of British democratic culture was imperative. Italy on the other hand, the cradle of Western civilization, was by 1936 a firm ally of Hitler s Reich and its own cultural organisations were in the grip of an ever more rigid regime. How did these historic processes influence the image of the national culture that the Dante Alighieri Society and the British Council respectively promoted? What does this say about the national differences in the role that is assigned to culture and history in international relations and society? To complete the picture, the history of two other rivalling organisations, the Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland (Germany) and the Alliance française (France) will also be taken into account.

Abstract (NL)

Anno 2011 wordt algemeen erkend dat winning the hearts and minds een belangrijk onderdeel is van internationale machtstrijd. Hierdoor is bij het promoten van een nationale cultuur in het buitenland nog sterker de vraag of dat op een neutrale manier kan. Vanaf het einde van de negentiende eeuw begonnen particuliere organisaties zoals de Italiaanse Dante Alighieri Vereniging nationale cultuur in het buitenland te bevorderen. Na de Eerste Wereldoorlog werd buitenlandse cultuurpolitiek door overheden erkend als een essentieel instrument in de internationale machtspolitiek, zeker toen duidelijk werd hoe het Mussolini-regime en nazi-Duitsland daarvan gebruikmaakten. Tamara van Kessel deed onder meer onderzoek naar de Dante Alighieri Vereniging, een organisatie die gaandeweg maar niet zonder weerstand geabsorbeerd werd door de Italiaanse staat. Niet alleen autoritaire staten probeerden dit middel toe te passen. Van Kessel bestudeerde ook de British Council, die in 1934 in Groot-Brittannië werd opgericht om British life and thought aan buitenlanders over te brengen. Met de blik op het Middellandse Zeegebied, waar de Britse Empire met haar eerste tekenen van verval botste op het opkomende Italiaanse imperium, is te zien hoe cultuurpolitiek daar een onmisbaar wapen was geworden in de machtstrijd tussen de twee imperia. De British Council was bij het uitdragen van een Brits model van de moderne, democratische samenleving qua bewustzijn van de nieuwe macht van globale communicatie beter te vergelijken met de propagandaorganisaties van Mussolini dan de Dante Alighieri.

Related organisations

Related people

Supervisor Prof.dr. W. den Boer
Doctoral/PhD student Dr. T.M.C. van Kessel

Classification

A85000 Culture, philosophy of life and leisure activities
D34400 Modern history

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