Talking History: The Italian Unification

Two brothers telling 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 telling 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.
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2019-07-28 20:48
last episode published
2019-06-23 22:48
publication frequency
36.24 days
Benjamin& Adam Ashwell author  
Number of Episodes
Detail page
Society & Culture Education History



Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors

51 - The End

We've come to the end of the series - this will be the last episode of our story. I'd like to spend this episode addressing some of the big questions that the series raised: First, was unification inevitable? Second, was the incorporation of Southern I...

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 aft...

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 tyin...

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, th...

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, ...

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. ...

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 th...

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 revolutio...

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 ea...

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 withou...

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...

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 f...

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 o...

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 agains...

35 - As Fire Drives Out Fire

Adam is back with the final stages 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...

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...

32 - Roads to Rome

The creation and heroic defense of a new Roman Republic is one of the defining episodes in the story of the Italian unification. It's an epic story, a blockbuster, and Garibaldi and Mazzini are the two main characters. We're not quite there yet - in th...

31 - One Brief Shining Moment

Revolutions break out in Italy in earnest when Milan rises up against Austria. The Piedmontese declare war on Austria, ostensibly in a war of national liberation, but in reality because they want to annex northern Italy. The pope severs his ties with t...

30 - The Lonely Right

In this episode we're going to cover the first three months of 1848 in Italy. Sicily will kick off the year with a revolution, followed by a smaller one on the mainland. Then, like a chain of dominoes, almost all of the rulers in Italy will be forced b...

Interview - Italian Urban Development with Doug Cantelmo

An interview with Doug Cantelmo, Professor of Urban Development at St. John's University about urban development in late 19th century Italy.

29 - White Smoke

Clearly, the 1840's were a troubled time in Italy. The decade had begun with increased demands from the business minded classes for economic liberalization. Books advancing Italian nationalism had become stunningly successful, helping to turn popular o...

Minisode 2 - Listener Questions

Benjamin and Adam take a break from the story to answer questions sent in by listeners.

28 - The Deluge

In the last episode we saw Europe undergo an economic crisis in the 1840's, as harvests failed, trade slumped, and urban unemployment exploded. The ingredients are all there for disaster, but up to this point, we haven't seen them all mix together, and...

27 - Cracks in the Ice

Our story is now rapidly approaching an incredibly important series of events: the Revolutions of 1848.  In a single year, a series of  revolutions swept across Europe, occurring in France, Prussia, Austria, Italy, the German states, and others. While ...

26 - Fly, Thought, on Wings of Gold

Gearing up for the revolutions of 1848, we lay the groundwork by talking about liberalism, money, books, and opera in 19th century Italy. This unusually long episode has an intermission halfway through.

25 - The Story Thus Far

For this episode we're going to do something different. This episode is going to be divided into two parts. In the first half I am going to give a lighting fast recap of the story thus far. Then I’m going to review the state of Italy in 1847, including...

24 - The Liberal Conservative

The final character we have to introduce is Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, usually just called Cavour.  He was the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont Sardinia from 1852 to 1861, when he became the first Prime Minister of a united Italy, though ...

23 - The Hero of Two Worlds

Giuseppe Garibaldi is, by a huge margin, the most famous person in the story of the Italian Unification. But, his fame goes beyond that. In many ways, he was the most famous person of the entire 19th century - he was the first international superstar h...

22 - You, Happy Austria, Marry

As we've seen while moving through our story, Austria in the 18th and 19th centuries was heavily involved in Italian affairs, exerting strong control over the northern half of the peninsula and supporting the old order whenever possible. We're starting...

21 - Thought and Action

Mazzini organized many revolutions in Italy, but because of his public notoriety was blamed for all of them, even those he had actively opposed. The revolutions all failed - partly due to poor planning, but also partly due to bad luck. It was hard to t...

News Flash - Venetian Secession

In mid-March, 2014, Venetians overwhelmingly voted for secession from Italy in an unofficial, online referendum. Learn more about why this happened and what it means for Italy's future.

20 - The Beating Heart of Italy

The stars of the show are about to come on stage. There are three of them, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Count Cavour. They are larger than life in many ways. These three men were critical in defining what it means to be Italian. Each of th...

19 - The Changing of the Guard

In the early 1820's most of Italy was still ruled by the same men who had squared off against Napoleon - Grand Duke Ferdinand in Tuscany, King Ferdinand in Naples, and Pope Pius VII in the Papal States. King Victor Emmanuel I had abdicated in 1821 and ...

18 - Ozymandias in Italy

Where classicism had emphasized a cosmopolitan, international perspective, romanticism inspired nationalism and a search for identity. In Italy, though, this was a more complicated task than you might think. The peninsula had been fragmented for over a...

17 - Plots, Plans, and Revolutions

We cover the revolutions against the Kingdom of Piedmont and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1820-1821). 

16 - The Restoration

Episode 16 - The Restoration, is out! In this episode we're going to see what came after Napoleon, and how the victorious British, Prussians, Austrians, and Russians tried to undo the damage that had been done to the Old Order. We'll see the old govern...

Minisode 1 - What About Sicily?

Sardinia and Sicily were never conquered by Napoleon, and so came out of the Napoleonic Wars with a distinctly different attitude from the rest of Italy.

15 - Who Mourns for Napoleon?

We're going to look at Napoleon's legacy in three broad steps. First, what were Napoleon's reforms, economic, political, and social, and what did they accomplish. Second, who benefitted from his rule? Who was going to miss him when he was gone, and per...

14 - Ere I Saw Elba

For the last time in a while, we're going to be leaving Italy behind for this episode and focusing on events elsewhere in Europe. Specifically, we're going to cover, in broad strokes, the Napoleonic Wars and the end of Napoleon's empire, as well as the...

13 - An Army of Their Own

We're going to be looking at the Italian army under Napoleon in this episode. The Italian army took part in numerous conflicts, including Napoleon's famous (and failed) invasion of Russia in 1812, and established a strong military tradition were previo...

12 - Napoleon's Mistress

Napoleon had used Italy's disunity to his advantage, allowing him to control most of Italy, either directly or indirectly, for a comparatively small cost in men and resources. However, Napoleon was about to double down on his rise to power, and he'd ne...

Special Announcements - Collage and Interview

Tw quick announcements: 1) Check out the new series I'm hosting, History Podcasters: Collage, where your favorite podcasters give their takes on interesting topics. 2) I was interviewed in the podcast Audio Lounge how Adam and I go about researching an...

11 - Divide and Rule

It's 1799, and Italy is fractured, politically, socially, and economically. This isn't new - it’s been fractured for over a thousand years at this point. This made it easy for Napoleon to invade in the first place, and now he is going to exploit this t...

10 - The War of the 2nd Coalition

Adam's back with the War of the 2nd Coalition. The war in Europe spreads as Napoleon invades Egypt. Russia enters the war against France and helps invade Italy. Meanwhile politics back in France are getting increasingly heated as various factions vie f...

Venice 3 - The Road to Hell

In Venice Bonus Episode 2 we explained how the 4th Crusade started. Now we follow it to its tragic conclusion, with the sack of Constantinople by French and Venetian crusaders.