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Inaugural Lecture Series
December 13, 2018 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Professor Enrico Dal Lago
“The Social Origins of Agrarian Violence in Comparative Perspective: The First Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina and the Early Mafia in Sicily, 1865-1875”
A comparative historical project focusing on the events and transformations that occurred in the United States in the period after the American Civil War and in Italy in the period after national unification can help us understand better the deep economic, social, and political changes experienced by the rural areas of the nineteenth-century Euro-American world.
This is especially true with regard to the U.S. South and southern Italy after 1865 and in relation to issues such as the agrarian elites’ ideologies and practices of power and the labour relations that characterized the agrarian countryside of the two regions – one of which was a former slave society, while the other one was a long-term free labour society. My aim in implementing the methodology of comparative history in this project is to research the specific ways in which the agrarian elites in the U.S. South and southern Italy, despite the temporary loss of power they experienced in the aftermath of the American Civil War and of Italian national unification, managed to maintain a tight grip on the agrarian working classes of the two southern regions – i.e., freed African Americans and free southern Italian peasants – preventing them from moving beyond the social status quo. In this lecture, I compare the Reconstruction U.S. South with post-unification southern Italy by investigating specifically the reasons behind the origin and expansion of violent practices of agrarian vigilantism and criminal activity in the cotton-producing regions of upcountry South Carolina and in the citrus-growing regions of coastal western Sicily. In comparable terms, in both the cases of upcountry South Carolina and coastal western Sicily, those violent practices were tightly related to both a regional agrarian past and the specific historical circumstances of the period between 1865 and 1875. Also in comparable terms, those practices led to the creation of two particular traditions of illegal violent activity – the first Ku Klux Klan and the early Mafia – which, although very different in character, served a similar purpose of controlling the agrarian workforce in areas characterized by the production of highly valuable cash-crops.
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