A Rugged Nation

Mountains and the Making of Modern Italy

Marco Armiero


A Rugged Nation uncovers how Italian identity and mountains have constituted one another. State regimes since unification in 1861 have made mountains into national symbols and resources. The nationalisation of Italian mountains has been a story of military conquest and resistance, ecological and social transformation, expropriating resources and imposing meanings.

World War I permanently transformed mountain landscapes and people, nationalising both. When the Fascists came to power, the process of politicisation of mountains reached its acme; the regime constructed and exploited mountains both rhetorically and materially, on one hand celebrating ruralism and rural people and, on the other, giving mountain natural resources to large hydro-electric corporations. The book ends with two exemplar tales about mountains and their place in the Italian recent history: the Resistance against the Nazi-Fascists, which found its sanctuary up in the mountains, and the 1963 Vajont disaster, which, with 2,000 people killed, represents the tragic epilogue of the hydroelectric modernisation of the Alps.


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‘This is a highly original book that changes the way we think about one of the oldest and most studied nations on earth. Through abundant details and intriguing stories, Armiero convincingly shows how central to Italy’s identity its mountains have become.’

Donald Worster, author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

‘Armiero scales the summits of environmental history, deftly blending cultural and materialist approaches. His book provides a full and fascinating account of the evolving role of mountains in shaping Italian nationalist imagination and the role of nationalism in shaping the mountain landscapes.’

J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University

‘A Rugged Nation provides a new perspective on Italy. It is an engaging read and illustrates how environmental history can augment national history.’

J.Donald Hughes, University of Denver in Environmental History

‘Finally we have a sequel to Nicolson’s Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory. Marco Armiero focuses not on the Swiss Alps as viewed by the British, but on the Italian Alps and Apennines as viewed by their own countrymen to show what became of mountain glory. Richly documented and imaginatively argued, A Rugged Nation brings vital understanding into the natures of nations, and will set the standard on mountain studies for years to come.’

Marcus Hall, University of Zurich

‘… a very good synthetic presentation of the role and place of mountains in Italian politics from 1860 to 1940, with precise and complementary sources and analysis in numerous footnotes and a huge bibliography.’

Bernard Debarbieux, University of Geneva, in Journal of Alpine Research


Marco Armiero (Ph.D. in Economic History) is an environmental historian, currently working as a Senior Researcher at the National Research Council, Italy. He was among the founders of the environmental history field in Italy, co-authoring with Stefania Barca the first Italian textbook on the subject, Storia dell’Ambiente. Una Introduzione (2004). His main topics of study have been the history of environmental conflicts over property rights and access to common resources (forests and sea), the politics of nature and landscape in Italian-nation building and the environmental history of mass migrations. He co-edited with Marcus Hall the book Nature and History in Modern Italy (2010) and edited Views from the South. Environmental Stories from the Mediterranean World (19th-20th cent.) (2006). He has worked at the Program in Agrarian Studies, Yale University; at the Environmental Science, Policy and Management Department, UC Berkeley; and at The Bill Lane Center for the Study of the American West, Stanford University.

Since February 2010 he has been a Marie Curie Fellow at the L’Institut de Ciéncia i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, working on a project about the political ecology of garbage in contemporary Naples, Italy.


Chapter 1. Wild Mountains
Chapter 2. Rebel Mountains
Chapter 3. Heroic Mountains
Chapter 4. Dark Mountains
Chapter 5. Epilogue

Publication date: 15 July 2011, 250pp.
ISBN 978-1-874267-645 (HB) £60
ISBN 13 978-1-874267-70-6 (PB) £28