The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded a 2017 fellowship to Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg for a book project that explores how land reclamation projects in the 1930s helped generate public support for Benito Mussolini’s regime.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, director of Brown University’s Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, has won a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the organization announced on Thursday, April 6.

Stewart-Steinberg, a professor of comparative literature and Italian studies at Brown who is also affiliated with the Department of Modern Culture and Media, was one of 173 awardees for 2017, selected on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise from among nearly 3,000 applicants. 

The fellowship will support her book project “Grounds for Reclamation,” an investigation of the role of land reclamation — the conversion of unused land to farmland — in Italy and the creation of new population centers south of Rome in creating political support for fascist ideology and political policies.

“There’s been an overwhelming, predominant interpretation that fascism in Italy was imposed from above on an unwilling population, as opposed to the regime having considerable popular support,” Stewart-Steinberg said. “But to the extent to which there was consent to fascist rule in Italy, it was very pronounced consent that was built from the ground up.”

Under Benito Mussolini, a large marshy area south of Rome called the Pontine region was drained, and canals, farmhouses and cities were built in a very short period of time, Stewart-Steinberg said. Italian citizens were relocated from the north into new, highly regimented settlements, she added.

“After the fall of the regime, not a lot of people wanted to talk about this, because it had been moderately successful,” Stewart-Steinberg said, “but there is a population that remains very dedicated to the fascist regime and its land reclamation policies.”

Research for the first part of the book, which will focus on the land reclamation projects themselves, will also be supported in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant that will enable Stewart-Steinberg to attend a summer seminar in Seattle called “City/Nature: Urban Environmental Humanities.” She will have the opportunity to dive into how urban and rural environments are shaped and understood, and to work alongside seminar participants from a broad range of disciplines, from architects and urban planners to engineers and humanities scholars.

For the second section of the book, Stewart-Steinberg will examine how the land reclamation projects of the 1930s have become of great interest once again, feeding into a post-fascist phenomenon of right-wing populism. She will study the largest reclamation museum in the Pontine region and do a close reading of the novels of Antonio Pennacchi, which present a fictionalized account of land reclamation in the 1930s.

“Reclamation serves as an important linchpin of so-called post-fascist discourses,” Stewart-Steinberg said. “This book is an intervention into continuing debates among historians of Italian fascism about the nature of fascist consent. It also participates in contemporary discussions about Italy’s so-called ‘memory wars.’”

“Grounds for Reclamation” brings together scholarship from a wide range of fields of study — history, water management, agriculture, media studies, architecture, urban studies, museum studies, literary theory and others — and extends Stewart-Steinberg’s research into 19th and 20th century Italian and German literature, culture and politics.

Edward Hirsch, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, said the 173 artists, writers, scholars and scientists “represent the best of the best” in the variety of disciplines from which they come.

“Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we’re thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group,” he said. “It’s an honor to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant to do.”