Reviews 2015

Libri per diventare italiani. L’editoria per la scuola a Milano nel secondo Ottocento [Books that Made the Italians: Educational Publishers in Milan in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century]

Libri per diventare italiani. L’editoria per la scuola a Milano nel secondo Ottocento [Books that Made the Italians: Educational Publishers in Milan in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century]. Elisa Marazzi. Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2014. 331 pages. €38.00 (paperback).

The book’s title evokes the pronouncement Massimo D’Azeglio’s famously made on the unification of Italy in 1861: We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians. Elisa Marazzi’s study is an account of the history and influence (on the Italian publishing market) of schoolbook publishers from Milan. The author – a researcher of the history of Italian educational publishing – discusses four publishing houses set up in northern Italy: Vallardi, Trevisini, Agnelli and Carrara, whose publishing activity was particularly robust in post-unification Italy. Their policies and production revolutionised the Italian publishing market and boosted its dynamic development, primarily in the northern part of the country. As Marazzi points out, the Milan-based publishers aimed "to form the characters of young Italians" (13). Realising that changes in Italian book publishing were inevitable, the publishers actively shaped, developed and modernised the Italian book market, focusing predominantly on books and journals for educators, children and youth. Through their efforts, the vision of social development they implemented and their dedication to educating the young generation of Italians, the Milan publishers contributed to combating illiteracy in Italy and fostered reading habits and interest in books and magazines among children and youth. Their engagement was also beneficial for teachers and educators.

The book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter – "Geografia del libro di testo. Uno sguardo comparativo" [Geography of the textbook: A comparative perspective] – introduces the reader to the post-unification history of Italian schooling, outlines the policies launched by minister Coppino and the tenets of Giovanni Gentile’s school reform, relates the struggles of publishers from Florence, Turin and Milan, and portrays their publishing policies and successes: the publication of books by Baccini, Collodi and De Amicis. In the second chapter, titled "Istruire guadagnando. Editori scolastici tra pedagogia e mercato" [Profiting by educating: Schoolbook publishers between pedagogy and the market], Marazzi depicts Milan as the "capital" of Italian publishing in the nineteenth century, describes the Milan educational publishing market and sketches the policies of its publishers. The third chapter – "La fabbrica dei manuali e gli artigiani del libro. Strategie editoriali a confronto" [The schoolbook factory and the book craftsmen: Editorial strategies] – will engage primarily the readers interested in the history of prominent Italian publishers: Antonio Vallardi, Enrico and Luigi Trevisini, Giacomo Agnelli and Paolo Carrara. The fourth chapter is devoted to book series and collections for children and youth, initiated in Italy after 1861. The fifth chapter maps out the history of readings for children and youth, school reading lists and prize-books in Italy. The last, sixth, chapter focuses on the market of magazines for teachers, educators, children and youth. Marazzi describes the Italian path of the feuilleton and the marketing strategies practised in Milan’s publishing market in the early twentieth century.

The history of Italians and their post-unification efforts to build a homogeneous country and society is studied not only by historians. In 2012, Lindsay Myers wrote Making the Italians: Poetics and Politics of Italian Children’s Fantasy, a study of the development of Italian society explored through the lens of literature for children. Marazzi, in turn, examines how the Milan publishers influenced society and how they engaged with and supported the public education system by publishing schoolbooks, publishers’ catalogues, book series, journals and newspapers. The nineteenth-century publishers were fully aware of the role they had in producing and forming new citizens. The Milanese publishers not only displayed particular commitment to adjusting their publishing offer to the requirements of the new age but also sought to break with 18th-century educational models by releasing new works for children. Many of those books soon garnered international success. Especially interesting is also the history of libri-premi, i.e. prize-books. The publishers knew perfectly well that school was the first and foremost place where young Italians reached for books. Consequently, they developed their offer of prize-books so as to make children want to obtain and preserve them.

Marazzi focuses particularly on two publishers: Antonio Vallardi and Enrico Trevisini. She describes the histories of the two families, which took up the challenge of establishing and running publishing houses that were rather avant-garde by the standards to the age. They were committed to brand development and service to the country. Their novel book distribution systems (setting up branches in southern Italy) and investments in modern printing machinery and advertising contributed to modernising the publishing market. As the Vallardi and Trevisini publishing houses were before long joined in those efforts by other publishers, the Milanese market soon gained a reputation for modernity.

Lucidly structured, the book features a wealth of engaging detail. All chapters definitely cater to the expectations of the readers searching for reliable information about Milan-based publishers of educational literature and fiction. This richly informative book is also a thoroughly researched one. Marazzi studied both the oldest and the latest literature, publications and monographs as well as meticulously scrutinised archives and libraries for precious, poorly available source materials. The book is a useful reading to all those who are interested in the history of the Italian publishing market, the history of the post-unification Italian nation-building and/or the development of the Italian market of literature for children and youth. It offers valuable insights to historians and literature scholars as well as to library researchers and educators.

Libri per diventare italiani is of interest not only to those who are specifically interested in Italian literature for children published after 1861 but also to anyone who has an interest in Italian culture in general.

Katarzyna Biernacka-Licznar
University of Wrocław, Poland

Works Cited

Myers, Lindsay. Making the Italians: Poetics and Politics of Italian Children's Literature. Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2012.