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Talking History: The Italian Unification 1790-1870

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Two brothers, Benjamin & Adam Ashwell, tell the story of the Italian Unification, 1790-1870. Our story will start with a quick recap of Italian history from Roman times to 1790, then we'll slow down and examine the complex social, political, and economic themes as we cover the events of the Italian Unification.

Two brothers, Benjamin & Adam Ashwell, tell the story of the Italian Unification, 1790-1870. Our story will start with a quick recap of Italian history from Roman times to 1790, then we'll slow down and examine the complex social, political, and economic themes as we cover the events of the Italian Unification.
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Two brothers, Benjamin & Adam Ashwell, tell the story of the Italian Unification, 1790-1870. Our story will start with a quick recap of Italian history from Roman times to 1790, then we'll slow down and examine the complex social, political, and economic themes as we cover the events of the Italian Unification.




50 - Rome or Death

In this penultimate episode we'll cover the period from 1861 to 1871 and reach the end of our story. Italy started as a collection of small states, many of them ancient, and now the entire peninsula, minus a few outlying areas that Italy would gain after WWI, has been unified under a single government based in the ancient city of Rome. This was an amazing, almost unbelievable achievement. The Kingdom of Italy had weathered the death of its leading statesman only a few months after its...


49 - The Harsh Light of Day

We're closing in on the end of the story of the Italian unification. Through both force of arms and cunning, Piedmont has conquered almost all of Italy - from the perspective of grand, heroic history, we've already passed the climax and we’re just tying up loose ends. But that’s not how I feel about it - because we're about to leave the heady days of high hopes and dreams for the future into the murky realm of mistakes, and of what might have been.


Podcast Delay Update

A brief update on the podcast delays.


48 - A Kingdom is Born

1860 was a bad year to be a cartographer - or maybe a good year, depending on how you look at it. In 1859 there had been seven states in Italy: the Kingdom of Piedmont, the Austrian-controlled Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, the Duchy of Modena, the Papal States, and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. But, after the Second War of Italian Independence, which pitted France and Piedmont against Austria, we saw that number shrink to four, as Tuscany,...


47 - David and Goliath

Ever since the fall of the Roman Republic to the French army in 1849, we've focused pretty exclusively on events in Northern Italy, because that was there the action was. That is going to change. Distracted by the annexation of most of northern Italy, Piedmont will temporarily lose the initiative, which will pass into the hands of the republicans and revolutionaries, and in particular, to Garibaldi. Today we begin the famous story of The Thousand, or in Italian, Il Mille.


46 - A Vote for Italy

In the space of a single year, Italy will change forever, emerging from the Second War of Italian Unification with an entirely new political landscape.


45 - The Die is Cast

It's the beginning of 1859, and we're at a pivotal point in the story. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the entire Italian Unification hinges on the events of this episode, the timing of events here will play a role in everything to come. The plan was for Cavour to stir up trouble in the duchy of Modena, which would lead to an escalating series of diplomatic incidents that would start a war between Piedmont and Austria, while making Austria look like the aggressor. France...


44 - A Recipe for War

A new election in Piedmont will threaten to unseat Cavour, who will only survive through cunning, ruthlessness, and good old fashioned cheating. An assassination attempt on French Emperor Napoleon III will either warm the cockles of his heart or fan the flames of his ambition. Either way, Napoleon III will get serious about supporting Piedmont in a war against Austria. Cavour and Napoleon will meet and hash out the future of Italy in a single afternoon, including a pretext for war.


43 - The Wounded Heart of Italy

In this episode we're going to catch back up with both of our revolutionary friends Mazzini and Garibaldi. We'll start with Mazzini and the internal politics of the revolutionary movement post-1848, and then we'll get into a renewed round of revolutions. We'll then see Garibaldi wander the face of the globe searching for some peace and happiness. Then, toward the middle of the 1850's, Cavour will begin to infiltrate the revolutionary movement, laying plots and plans of his own, securing...


Podcast Update

Release schedule update.


42 - The Eagle and the Bee

The title of this episode, "The Eagle and the Bee", is a reference to the symbols of the House of Habsburg, the ruling house of Austria, and the House of Bonaparte, now the ruling house of France. The symbol of the House of Habsburg was a two-headed eagle, as it had been for centuries. The Bonapartes, having only recently risen to prominence, had adopted the industrious honey bee, as a complement to the traditional French eagle. And the conflict between these two, the eagle and the bee, is...


41 - The Right Name

Napoleon Bonaparte's rise to power is one of the events that puts the 1790 in our "1790 to 1870" tagline. For almost 20 years Napoleon was deeply involved in Italian affairs both big and small, and no history of the Unification would be complete without a detailed discussion of his influence. It will be another Bonaparte who helps puts the 1870 in our tagline: his nephew Louis-Napoleon.


40 - War and Peace

In this episode we'll continue the story of Piedmont's involvement in the Crimean war, and Cavour's role in the peace talks that followed. After that, we'll move on to the long awaited listener Q&A.


39 - The World Stage

In this episode we're going to tell the first half of the story of Piedmont's involvement in the Crimean War, and Cavour's growing dominance of the Piedmontese political scene. We'll begin with a little housekeeping in Piedmont - some politics and then elections. Then we'll move on to the bigger story of how the Crimean war got started, and why Piedmont, a thousand miles away, somehow got involved. We'll close with a new round in the continuing battle between the Catholic church and the...


38 - The Marriage

We'll open this episode with a discussion of why Piedmont had no competition - what had happened to the rest of Italy that Piedmont, backwards, isolated Piedmont, was now their last, best hope for unification? Then we’ll return to Piedmont, where the first of several showdowns with the Catholic Church is brewing, and where Cavour is using maneuvering to displace Massimo D'Azeglio as Prime Minister.


37 - Piedmont Seizes the Initiative

In this episode we'll meet Piedmont's new king, and see Piedmont try to regain its footing as it deals with its first constitutional crisis, triggered by its peace treaty with Austria. Against the backdrop of these events, Cavour, the late-bloomer of our Big Three, will rapidly become the dominant figure in Piedmontese politics.


36 - With a Whimper

We left off with Garibaldi leading his men out of the doomed city to continue the fight elsewhere. In this episode we'll follow our intrepid guerrilla leader's fight to the bitter end, and see the fall of the Republic of Venice, the last holdout against Austria. Then we'll discuss the revolutions of 1848 and try to make some sense of them - why did they happen, why did they fail, and what did they mean? Then we'll set the stage for the 1850's, often called the 'Decade of Preparation', in...


35 - As Fire Drives Out Fire

Adam is back with the finalstages of the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe.


34 - A Devil and a Panther

The poetic, heroic, and tragic defense was burned indelibly into the memory and imagination of Italian patriots, for whom the city of Rome would now forever be inextricably linked to the very idea of Italian nationalism. The story of the Roman Republic ensured that no future Italian state could long endure without the city of Rome as its capital.


33 - Mazzini at the Helm

This episode will focus on two different areas. First, we're going to jump back to Piedmont. Frightened by the success of the republicans in Rome, and humiliated by their defeat by the Austrians in July of 1848, the Piedmontese made a desperate stab to get back in the limelight by renewing their war with Austria. Second, we're going to cover Mazzini's role as the leader of the Roman Republic. Handed nearly supreme power in the republic, this revolutionary with no political experience will...