Non-Fiction

Europe’s open-access drive escalates as university stand-offs spread

11 July 2018

From Nature:

Bold efforts to push academic publishing towards an open-access model are gaining steam. Negotiators from libraries and university consortia across Europe are sharing tactics on how to broker new kinds of contracts that could see more articles appear outside paywalls. And inspired by the results of a stand-off in Germany, they increasingly declare that if they don’t like what publishers offer, they will refuse to pay for journal access at all. On 16 May, a Swedish consortium became the latest to say that it wouldn’t renew its contract, with publishing giant Elsevier.

Under the new contracts, termed ‘read and publish’ deals, libraries still pay subscriptions for access to paywalled articles, but their researchers can also publish under open-access terms so that anyone can read their work for free.

. . . .

Despite decades of campaigning for research papers to be published openly — on the grounds that the fruits of publicly funded research should be available for all to read — scholarly publishing’s dominant business model remains to publish articles behind paywalls and collect subscriptions from libraries.

. . . .

On 2 May, negotiators from countries across Europe agreed to align their bargaining strategies at a closed meeting in Berlin attended by the European Commission’s special envoy for open access, Robert-Jan Smits. According to Gerard Meijer, one of the German negotiators present, consortia are “frustrated” by the lack of progress in talks and feel the limits of partnerships between institutions and large publishers “have been reached. It is up to us now to act, and to step out of these negotiations if these are going nowhere,” he says.

The meeting was the latest in a string of events in which negotiators from different countries swapped tactics. “More and more people are willing to share their experiences,” says Matthijs van Otegem, director of the library at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and chair of the open-access working group at the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) in The Hague, the Netherlands.

In September last year, LIBER published a list of principles to guide negotiators seeking to change their deals. These include ending non-disclosure agreements that publishers customarily place on contracts (which would enable negotiators to compare deals in different countries) and not agreeing to price hikes without open-access agreements in place.

. . . .

A key driver behind the activity in Europe is the European Commission’s goal that, by 2020, all research will be freely accessible as soon as it is published.

. . . .

One reason that libraries no longer fear an end to their contracts with publishers is that a growing number of free versions of paywalled articles can be found online as preprints or accepted manuscripts, notes Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an advocacy group in Washington DC. Sci-Hub, a website that illicitly hosts full copies of papers and is used by academics around the world, is also a big factor, says Joseph Esposito, a publishing consultant in New York City. “Without Sci-Hub the researchers would be screaming at the libraries and state agencies not to cut them off,” he says.

Link to the rest at Nature

Academic publishing is broken. Here’s how to redesign it.

9 July 2018

From Fast Company:

The world of scholarly communication is broken. Giant, corporate publishers with racketeering business practices and profit margins that exceed Apple’s treat life-saving research as a private commodity to be sold at exorbitant profits. Only around 25% of the global corpus of research knowledge is open access, or accessible to the public for free and without subscription, which is a real impediment to resolving major problems, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Recently, Springer Nature, one of the largest academic publishers in the world, had to withdraw its European stock market floatation due to a lack of interest. This announcement came just days after Couperin, a French consortium, cancelled its subscriptions to Springer Nature journals, after Swedish and German universities cancelled their Elsevier subscriptions to no ill effect, besides replenished library budgets. At the same time, Elsevier has sued Sci-Hub, a website that provides free, easy access to 67 million research articles. All evidence of a broken system.

. . . .

A global community to coordinate and regain control–to develop a public open-access infrastructure–of research and scholarly communication for the public good is long overdue. The issues of governance and ownership of public research have never been clearer. Another isolated platform will simply replicate the problems of the current journal-based system, including the “publish or perish” mentality that perverts the research process, and the anachronistic evaluation system based on corporate brands.

Researchers are still forced to write “papers” for these journals, a communication format designed in the 17th century. Now, in a world where the power of web-based social networks is revolutionizing almost every other industry, researchers need to take back control.

. . . .

If we diversify our thinking away from the superficial field of journals and articles, and instead focus on the power of networked technologies, we can see all sorts of innovative models for scholarly communication. One ideal, based on existing services, would be something much more granular and continuous, with communication and peer review as layered, collaborative processes: Envisage a hosting service such as GitHub combined with Wikipedia combined with a Q&A site such as Stack Exchange. Imagine using version control to track the process of research in real time. Peer review becomes a community-governed process, where the quality of engagement becomes the hallmark of individual reputations. Governance structures can be mediated through community elections. Critically, all research outputs can be published and credited–videos, code, visualizations, text, data, things we haven’t even thought of yet. Best of all, a system of fully open communication and collaboration, with not an “impact factor” (a paper’s average number of citations, used to rate journals) in sight.

Such a system of scholarly communication requires the harmonizing of three key elements: quality control and moderation, certification and reputation, and incentives for engagement. For example, it would be easy to have a quality-control process in which instead of the closed and secretive process of peer review, self-organized and unrestricted communities collaborate together for research to attain verification and validation. The recklessly used impact factor can be replaced by a reward system that altruistically recognizes the quality of engagement, as defined by how content is digested by a community, which itself can be used to unlock new abilities within such a system. The beauty is that the incentive for researchers switches from publishing in journal X to engaging in a manner that is of most value to their community. By coupling such activities with academic records and profiles, research assessment bodies can begin to recognize the immense value this has over current methods of evaluation, including its simplicity.

. . . .

How will we fund scholarly publishing? Well, it’s a $25 billion a year industry: I’m sure libraries can spare a dime. Making a more just system of scholarly communication open-source means that any community can copy it, and customize it to suit the community’s own needs, driving down costs immensely. Furthermore, initiatives such as the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS) or a recent proposal for libraries to set aside just 2.5% of their budget to support such innovative systems, offer paths forward. The possibility is real for creating something so superior to the present system that people will wonder how publishers ever got away with it for so long.

. . . .

On average, academics currently spend around $5,000 for each published article–to get a PDF and some extra sides. A range of different studies and working examples exist that show the true cost of publishing an article can be as low as $100 using cost-efficient funding schemes, community buy-in, and technologies that go a step further than PDF generation. We can do better.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG will note that academic publishing is an extraordinarily profitable activity for the academic publishers and ripe for disruption. A long time ago, he worked for a large subsidiary of Reed Elsevier, now the RELX Group, which also owns Elsevier.

Elsevier is the world’s largest academic publisher, so he has some understanding about what a wonderfully profitable business it is, particularly in an online publishing world.

The two most important inputs for academic publishing, scholarly articles and peer review, cost the journals virtually nothing. Academics write articles for publication because publishing research papers is a requirement for most academic teaching posts. Peer review services by other academics in the field is designed to ensure the quality of the publications. Being selected for a peer review panel adds to an academic’s distinction and provides him/her a leg up the competition to be published in the academic journal for which the peer reviewers are providing essentially free expert services.

Before Air-Conditioning

8 July 2018

From The New Yorker:

Exactly what year it was I can no longer recall—probably 1927 or ’28—there was an extraordinarily hot September, which hung on even after school had started and we were back from our Rockaway Beach bungalow. Every window in New York was open, and on the streets venders manning little carts chopped ice and sprinkled colored sugar over mounds of it for a couple of pennies. We kids would jump onto the back steps of the slow-moving, horse-drawn ice wagons and steal a chip or two; the ice smelled vaguely of manure but cooled palm and tongue.

People on West 110th Street, where I lived, were a little too bourgeois to sit out on their fire escapes, but around the corner on 111th and farther uptown mattresses were put out as night fell, and whole families lay on those iron balconies in their underwear.

Even through the nights, the pall of heat never broke. With a couple of other kids, I would go across 110th to the Park and walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s. Babies cried in the darkness, men’s deep voices murmured, and a woman let out an occasional high laugh beside the lake. I can recall only white people spread out on the grass; Harlem began above 116th Street then.

Later on, in the Depression thirties, the summers seemed even hotter. Out West, it was the time of the red sun and the dust storms, when whole desiccated farms blew away and sent the Okies, whom Steinbeck immortalized, out on their desperate treks toward the Pacific. My father had a small coat factory on Thirty-ninth Street then, with about a dozen men working sewing machines. Just to watch them handling thick woollen winter coats in that heat was, for me, a torture. The cutters were on piecework, paid by the number of seams they finished, so their lunch break was short—fifteen or twenty minutes. They brought their own food: bunches of radishes, a tomato perhaps, cucumbers, and a jar of thick sour cream, which went into a bowl they kept under the machines. A small loaf of pumpernickel also materialized, which they tore apart and used as a spoon to scoop up the cream and vegetables.

The men sweated a lot in those lofts, and I remember one worker who had a peculiar way of dripping. He was a tiny fellow, who disdained scissors, and, at the end of a seam, always bit off the thread instead of cutting it, so that inch-long strands stuck to his lower lip, and by the end of the day he had a multicolored beard His sweat poured onto those thread ends and dripped down onto the cloth, which he was constantly blotting with a rag.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

The Wheel, the Woman, and the Human Body

6 July 2018

From Long Reads:

Angeline Allen must have been pleased. On October 28, 1893, the 20-something divorcée, an aspiring model, made the cover of the country’s most popular men’s magazine, a titillating journal of crime, sport, and cheesecake called the National Police Gazette. Granted, the reason wasn’t Allen’s “wealth of golden hair” or “strikingly pretty face,” though the magazine mentioned both. Rather, the cover story was about Allen’s attire during a recent bicycle ride near her Newark, New Jersey, home. The “eccentric” young woman had ridden through town in “a costume that caused hundreds to turn and gaze in astonishment,” the Gazette reported.

The story’s headline summed up the cause of fascination: “She Wore Trousers” — dark blue corduroy bloomers, to be exact, snug around the calves and puffy above the knees. “She rode her wheel through the principal streets in a leisurely manner and appeared to be utterly oblivious of the sensation she was causing,” according to the reporter.

It is unlikely Allen was truly oblivious, having already shown an exhibitionistic streak over the summer when she appeared on an Asbury Park, New Jersey, beach in a bathing skirt that “did not reach within many inches of her knees,” according to a disapproving newspaper report. (“Her stockings or tights were of light blue silk,” the report added.) Allen didn’t mind people noticing her revealing outfits — “that’s what I wear them for,” she told one reporter — and she kept cycling around Newark in pants despite the journalistic scolding. As another paper reported that November, “The natives watch for her with bated breath, and her appearance is the signal for a rush to all the front windows along the street.”

For a grown woman to reveal so much leg in public was a staggeringly brazen act. What was noticeably unnoteworthy by then was Allen’s choice of vehicle. Ten years earlier, all bicycles had been high-wheelers, and riding one had been largely the province of daring, athletic men. The women who had attempted it were seen as acrobats, hussies, or freaks; one female performer who rode a high-wheeler in the early 1880s was perceived as “a sort of semi-monster,” another woman reported. But by the early 1890s, the bike had undergone a transformation. Allen’s machine — a so-called safety bicycle — had two thigh-high wheels; air-filled rubber tires; and rear-wheel drive, with a chain to transmit power from the pedals. In fact, it looked a lot like a 21st-century commuter bike, and it had become nearly as acceptable as one. Even the fashion police who scorned Allen’s riding outfit didn’t object to her riding.

. . . .

It wasn’t just that women enjoyed the physical sensation of riding — the rush of balancing and cruising. What made the bicycle truly liberating was its fundamental incompatibility with many of the limits placed on women. Take clothing, for example. Starting at puberty, women were expected to wear heavy floor-length skirts, rigid corsets, and tight, pointy-toed shoes. These garments made any sort of physical exertion difficult, as young girls sadly discovered. “I ‘ran wild’ until my 16th birthday, when the hampering long skirts were brought, with their accompanying corset and high heels,” recalled the temperance activist Frances Willard in an 1895 memoir. “I remember writing in my journal, in the first heartbreak of a young human colt taken from its pleasant pasture, ‘Altogether, I recognize that my occupation is gone.’” Reformers had been calling for more sensible clothing for women since the 1850s, when the newspaper editor Amelia Bloomer wore the baggy trousers that critics named after her, but rational arguments hadn’t made much headway.

Where reason failed, though, recreation succeeded. The drop-frame safety did allow women to ride in dresses, but not in the swagged, voluminous frocks of the Victorian parlor. Female cyclists had to don simple, “short” (that is, ankle-length) skirts in order to avoid getting them caught under the bicycle’s rear wheel. And to keep them from flying up, some women had tailors put weights in their hems or line their skirt fronts with leather. Other women, like Angeline Allen, shucked their dresses altogether and wore bloomers. The display that reporters had deemed shocking in 1893 became commonplace just a few years later as more and more women started riding. “The eye of the spectator has long since become accustomed to costumes once conspicuous,” wrote an American journalist in 1895. “Bloomer and tailor-made alike ride on unchallenged.” (For her part, Allen may well have given up riding, but not scandal; she progressed to posing onstage in scanty attire for re-creations of famous paintings, a risqué popular amusement.)

Link to the rest at Long Reads

William Martin, champion six-day bicycle rider of the world, photographic print, 1891 Library of Congress Catalog: https://lccn.loc.gov/92508479 Image download: https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/cph/3c00000/3c05000/3c05400/3c05442u.tif Original url: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/92508479/

Business Of Books 2018: Digital Models Favor Subscriptions and Streaming Over Purchases and Ownership

5 July 2018

From No Shelf Required:

Business of Books 2018New tunes for an old trade” explores “the underlying trends shaping the transformation [of the publishing industry] and takes a closer look at a number of case studies that show how new actors are managing to innovate in the business of books.” The paper aims to identify the principles governing “how the publishing industry is pushing back its horizons in an age of platform-based interactions, community-driven business dynamics, and cross-media exploitation of intellectual property.”

. . . .

The hybridization and simultaneous combination of new and old practices that is so characteristic of this transformation can be seen at all levels of publishing:

  • In the role and reach of authors, as well as the empowerment of the recipients, the consumers, as they define the public space – the agora – in which publishers work
  • In the very concept of “storytelling”, which no longer has a privileged connection to books, but has once again become detached from formats as the boundaries blur between different media and channels
  • Content is created across formats and media, by any participant in the community, by professionals and by amateurs, by industrial companies and by lone individuals
  • The power of digitization has been unleashed through mobile devices, bringing reading, movies, games and social interactions seamlessly and coequally to the attention of consumers

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

When in the Course of human events

4 July 2018
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

1 July 2018
Comments Off on Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

From The Wall Street Journal:

Rome is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Three thousand years or so of history take us down beneath the modern streets, past Mussolini’s imperial city, on through the capital of Risorgimento Italy, past Baroque palazzos and churches, through the castles of medieval militias, and on to the Romes of Constantine, Trajan, Augustus, Caesar and their republican predecessors. Deepest of all is the archaic age, where mythology locates Romulus and Remus and their Trojan ancestor Aeneas, and archaeology finds clusters of wooden huts on hilltops around the boggy forum.

Notoriously the modern city preserves traces of nearly all these ancient Romes, often incongruously juxtaposed. An ATM pokes out of a wall right next to the columns of an ancient temple opposite a Baroque church. A trattoria shelters in the substructures of Pompey’s theater. Christian basilicas cannibalize the column capitals from pagan temples; gardens planted in the 16th century spread among the ruins of imperial palaces. The manhole covers in the streets read SPQR, a Latin abbreviation for “Senate and People of Rome,” echoing ancient coins. Freud used the city of Rome as a metaphor for the human mind, an accumulation of material from all ages still in some sense accessible if we just refocus our gaze.

Rome makes concrete our sense of a deeply layered past, but not one formed by gentle sedimentation. The city’s geological stratigraphy has been repeatedly convulsed, metamorphosed under spectacular pressures. It is an accumulation of urban wreckage, some put to new uses, the rest a sober reminder that no city can become eternal except through constant demolition and reconstruction.

In “Rome: A History in Seven Sackings,” Matthew Kneale, a British novelist whose works reveal a deep understanding of the tangled human life of cities, has had the good idea of writing the biography of Rome not as a study in longevity but as a tale of disaster. Disaster after disaster, in fact, as the city faced invasions of Gauls and Goths, Byzantines and Normans, Catholic and Protestant armies in the wars of religion, Napoleon and the Nazis, and somehow survived each trauma. The effect is rather like that of a biologist telling the story of life on earth in terms of mass extinctions. The sacks of Rome were nowhere near as traumatic. Before gunpowder it was not that easy for armies to do serious damage to cities built of stone and brick, but invaders could steal treasures, commit rape and murder, terrify residents and generally make them doubt the power of their gods or god.

. . . .

The cutting off of the aqueducts in the sixth century during the Gothic Wars meant that the carrying capacity of the city was dramatically reduced. For generations Romans lived in a largely abandoned city. Areas that had been densely populated became part of the disabitato, areas of vineyards and gardens within the ancient wall circuit. The loss of the aqueducts and changing mores, Mr. Kneale notes, also meant the end of Rome’s hundreds of public baths: “In Christian eyes water was for drinking, not bathing, while it was certainly not for pleasure bathing, which smacked of licentiousness.”

. . . .

Seven sackings is, as Mr. Kneale frankly admits, an arbitrary total. Arguably Rome has been sacked on many more occasions. His story is of constant external threats and repeated recoveries. An alternative narrative might have explored the violence that Romans did to their own city, and each other, over the millennia. That was a theme that would have appealed to the historians and poets of classical Rome who found in the story of Romulus’s killing of his brother Remus the archetype of multiple acts of civil violence. The republican general Sulla, when his lucrative command was threatened by political enemies, turned his army around and marched on the city. Coriolanus in myth had nearly done the same. Constantine seized the city from his rivals after a battle at the Milvian Bridge. A bitter rivalry between the papacy and the liberal state dominated the history of the city from Italy’s unification in 1871 until the 1930s. What Mussolini did to the medieval city to make space for his grandiose triumphal Road of the Imperial Forums was a different kind of civil sack.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945

24 June 2018

From The Guardian:

Italy’s pro-fascist King, Victor Emanuele III, abdicated in disgrace in the spring of 1946. Mussolini was dead – but not quite departed. Neo-fascists had stolen the dictator’s corpse from its grave in Milan: the unburied body became a potent symbol of totalitarian resurrection. On 2 June that year, Italians were asked to decide by referendum if they wanted to become a republic. A clamour of books, films and newspapers exhorted them to join the democratic world. Raised under fascism, many Italians had never seen a ballot box before. For the first time, Italian women were allowed to vote. Armoured cars stood outside the polling stations in anticipation of violence; there was none.

John Foot’s lively history of Italy since 1945, The Archipelago, describes how the referendum divided the nation grievously. The impoverished south remained monarchist; the prosperous north, republican. All across Italy at this time, Rita Hayworth’s raunchy hit Amado Mio (from the Hollywood blockbuster Gilda) boomed out from bars and cafes. In the north, the Hayworth anthem seemed to crystallise the republican spirit. The Duce and his cohorts had gone for good; the nationalist myopia of fascism was no more.

Needless to say, Italy is unrecognisable today from the nation that ousted the royal family in 1946, says Foot. With high levels of political corruption and tax evasion, the nation-state is under immense strain.

. . . .

“Italy had never been an entirely mono-cultural or mono-ethnic country,” he writes. Albanians, Normans, Arabs, Greeks and Germanic langobardi (“long-beards”, later Lombards) have intermarried to form an indecipherable blend of Italic peoples.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

And here’s Rita Hayworth singing Amada Mio:

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