The word means ‘resurgence’ but that will not mean much to students. It was a nineteenth century movement designed to unite Italy, which had not been united since the Roman Empire; even then solidarity had not been achieved.
The origins of the idea came from ‘enlightenment ideas’ stirring in the eighteenth century, especially in the final years, with Bonaparte as the inspiration. The movement got itself together after the Congress of Vienna 1814/15. It is strange to relate that it commenced with insurrections – not one would have thought the best way to unite a country – but small rebellions in the 1820s and actual revolutions of 1848 paved the way, helped by violent anti-Austrian feelings and the fiery and compelling speeches of Mazzini, and the more moderate Gioberti.
The Risorgimento actually began to flourish with the Wars of Unification (1859-70), and the resultant single state under Victor Emmanuel II. Historians have tended to make the Risorgimento into a kind of romantic myth, exaggerating wide support for Unity, and forgetting the excesses perpetrated in the name of the new Italian state. There was no supremely nationalist feeling among the great majority of the population, and there is not now. Indeed, there is always the possibility, at some time in the future, of a split between industrial northern Italy and the very distinct southern regions. Garibaldi’s exploits do very well in historical romances, however.
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