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Talking History Podcast by Benjamin Ashwell

Talking History Podcast

by Benjamin Ashwell

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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.

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  • 50 - Rome or Death
    Mon, Dec 18, 2017

    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 formation, had survived a brutal civil war in the south, uprisings and revolts, had suffered disastrous war with Austria, and now had ended the thousand-year-old temporal power of the popes. But it had come at a price paid in money, tears, and blood. 

  • 49 - The Harsh Light of Day
    Mon, Jun 12, 2017

    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
    Sun, Mar 19, 2017

    A brief update on the podcast delays.

  • 48 - A Kingdom is Born
    Sat, Oct 22, 2016

    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, Modena, and Parma all disappeared into the Kingdom of Piedmont, which also absorbed the Lombardy half of Lombardy-Venetia, and the northeastern parts of the Papal States, called the Legations. Just as the ink was drying on the revised maps, Garibaldi set sail to Sicily with just over 1,000 men in an event that has moved into the realm of mythology in Italian history - akin perhaps to Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware in American history. 

  • 47 - David and Goliath
    Wed, Jul 20, 2016

    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
    Sat, Apr 09, 2016

    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
    Sun, Jan 24, 2016

    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 would then come to Piedmont's aid and crush the Austrians. We'll see Cavour's plan begin to crumble as the rest of Europe attempts to intervene to stop the war before it starts. In desperation, the lifelong gambler will double down on his plan. In the end, it will be Austria's foolishness rather than his cleverness that makes the difference, and he will win despite himself. 

  • 44 - A Recipe for War
    Wed, Nov 25, 2015

    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
    Mon, Sep 07, 2015

     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 his reputation as a devious, manipulative political genius. 


  • Podcast Update
    Sun, Aug 02, 2015

    Release schedule update.

  • 42 - The Eagle and the Bee
    Fri, Jun 26, 2015

    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 what this episode is leading into.

  • 41 - The Right Name
    Thu, May 28, 2015

    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
    Mon, Apr 27, 2015

    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
    Wed, Apr 08, 2015

    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 increasingly secular Piedmontese government.

  • 38 - The Marriage
    Tue, Mar 10, 2015

    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
    Wed, Feb 04, 2015

    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
    Mon, Jan 12, 2015

    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 which Piedmont would become ascendant. 

  • 35 - As Fire Drives Out Fire
    Sun, Dec 21, 2014

    Adam is back with the final stages of the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe.

  • 34 - A Devil and a Panther
    Mon, Dec 08, 2014

    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
    Mon, Nov 17, 2014

    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 wield that power wisely and with moderation, earning the respect of some of his harshest critics.

  • 32 - Roads to Rome
    Wed, Oct 29, 2014

    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 this episode we're going to set the stage for what will be the showdown between the Italian republicans and the European forces of conservatism.


  • 31 - One Brief Shining Moment
    Mon, Oct 06, 2014

    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 the moderate cause. When the dust settles the moderates are in retreat, and the radicals are left in power. 

  • 30 - The Lonely Right
    Mon, Sep 22, 2014

    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 by public pressure to grant constitutions. This first phase of the revolutions of 1848 in Italy will be remarkably peaceful, with one major exception. 

  • Interview - Italian Urban Development with Doug Cantelmo
    Sun, Aug 31, 2014

    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
    Mon, Aug 18, 2014

    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 opinion against the Austrians. Pope Pius had added fuel to the fire by starting his pontificate with a series of sweeping reforms, realizing too late what he had set in motion. People all over Italy began demanding reforms and constitutions. For the moment the rulers were able to placate their subjects with modest reforms, as they were unwilling to issue constitutions. 

  • Minisode 2 - Listener Questions
    Mon, Aug 04, 2014

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

  • 28 - The Deluge
    Tue, Jul 22, 2014

    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 revolution is still not inevitable. In this episode, we're going to see the Revolutions of 1848 kick off in France, quite by accident, and spread eastwards into Germany and the Austrian Empire.

  • 27 - Cracks in the Ice
    Mon, Jul 07, 2014

    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 timing like that might make it seem as though the revolutions were a carefully laid plan by a European-wide conspiracy, they were mostly spontaneous uprisings. They fed off each other’s energy and momentum, definitely, but there was no force behind the scenes coordinating things. What is perhaps even more remarkable, however, is that two years later, most of Europe would look largely the same as it had before the revolutions, at least superficially. 

  • 26 - Fly, Thought, on Wings of Gold
    Mon, Jun 16, 2014

    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
    Tue, May 27, 2014

    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 the current political map of Italy.

  • 24 - The Liberal Conservative
    Mon, May 12, 2014

    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 he would only hold that position for a mere two and a half months before his untimely death. Cavour was the man pulling the strings behind the eventual Italian unification - he made the secret deals with France and cooked up the excuses that led to war with Austria. His particular brand of liberal conservatism would dominate the early Italian state.

  • 23 - The Hero of Two Worlds
    Mon, Apr 28, 2014

    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 heart-throb romantic hero. Garibaldi was famous on a scale never before seen, as his fame coincided with an explosion in the technology of mass media - the telegraph, lithography, photography, combined with increasing literacy and public interest in foreign affairs.


  • 22 - You, Happy Austria, Marry
    Tue, Apr 15, 2014

    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 to approach a pivotal series of events that rocked Europe: the Revolutions of 1848. The Italian side of the revolutions can't really be understood without first understanding the Austrian side.  So, in this episode I'll be giving a primer on Austria. To start with, let's be clear: I'm not talking about the modern state of Austria so much as about the Austrian Empire, also known as the Habsburg Empire or Monarchy, which, while centered in Austria, was a multinational empire based more on dynastic than ethnic or cultural ties. We're going to be looking in particular at the following questions: What was the Austrian Empire, and why was the Austrian Empire?


  • 21 - Thought and Action
    Mon, Mar 31, 2014

    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 tell ahead of time which revolts would peter out almost before they began and which would somehow light the spark of popular resistance. That Mazzini tried again and again was not because he enjoyed making martyrs out of men, but because he believed in the unity of thought and action - if Italian patriotism was indeed favored by God, how could men of good conscience stand by and do nothing? They had to try. And, by trying, they inspired more people to believe in Italy. We’re not done with Mazzini - he still has a major role to play in the years to come. But, if he had died here, he would still be famous, as the man who made millions believe in Italy.

  • News Flash - Venetian Secession
    Sat, Mar 29, 2014

    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
    Mon, Mar 24, 2014

    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 them is so much more important to the story than simply a list of their actions. Their beliefs and values helped to shape a nation. Mazzini, sometimes called the beating heart of Italy, was the oldest of the three, and the first to become important to our story. This episode is the first of two specifically about Mazzini, as I can't fit it all into a single episode.

  • 19 - The Changing of the Guard
    Mon, Mar 10, 2014

    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 his brother Charles Felix was now king, but they were men cut from the same cloth, so Piedmont still had a decidedly pre-Napoleonic mindset. There will be a changing of the guard, and by 1831 all of these men will be dead and gone, replaced with new rulers who will be some of the key players in the Italian Unification. We're also going to see another wave of revolutions in that break out in 1831, and which will meet much the same fate as those in 1820 and 21.

  • 18 - Ozymandias in Italy
    Mon, Feb 24, 2014

    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 thousand, people spoke different languages, had different ethnic backgrounds in some cases, and had fought wars against each other not that long before. The formation of the modern unified Italian state was NOT a foregone conclusion.

  • 17 - Plots, Plans, and Revolutions
    Mon, Feb 10, 2014

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

  • 16 - The Restoration
    Mon, Jan 27, 2014

    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 governments restored in Italy. Some will be  reactionary, removing all things French, while others will be more progressive.

  • Minisode 1 - What About Sicily?
    Mon, Jan 20, 2014

    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?
    Mon, Jan 06, 2014

    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 perhaps form the nucleus of an opposition to those who came after him. Finally, what did all of this mean for the idea of Italy? Did the people in Italy feel more or less Italian after Napoleon left than they had before he arrived? 

  • 14 - Ere I Saw Elba
    Mon, Dec 23, 2013

    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 dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. We've talked in some detail about the impact that Napoleon had on Italy. But it's difficult to truly understand Napoleon's legacy in Italy without understanding his legacy in Europe as a whole. Napoleon had a profound impact on Europe, a bigger impact than anyone had had in centuries. This was in part due to the incredible scale and duration of the wars he started, but it was also because of how he tore down and rebuilt centuries-old institutions and sought to remake Europe to suit himself.

  • 13 - An Army of Their Own
    Wed, Dec 11, 2013

    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 previously there had been none. We'll be talking about how armies of the time fought, the origins and development of the Italian army, its social impact, and the campaigns in which it fought.

  • 12 - Napoleon's Mistress
    Mon, Nov 25, 2013

    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 need to tighten his grip on Italy to help finance his bet. In 1806, Napoleon told a Prussian minister "Italy is my mistress whose favors I want no one to share."

    By 1810 the map of Italy will be greatly simplified, and Italy will be divided into three pieces, all under Napoleon’s control. First we'll Napoleon replace the Italian Republic, in the northeast of Italy, with the Kingdom of Italy, making himself its new king. Then he'll dissolve the Papal states, which, with the rest of northwest of Italy, will be annexed to France. Finally, he'll put first his brother and then his brother-in-law on the throne of the nominally independent Kingdom of Naples. 

  • Special Announcements - Collage and Interview
    Thu, Nov 21, 2013

    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 and writing this podcast. Check out Audio Lounge, Episode 5.

  • 11 - Divide and Rule
    Mon, Nov 11, 2013

    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 to keep Italy under his thumb. In this episode we’re going to see how Napoleon manages to juggle the various forces in Italy - he needs to keep things united enough to be stable, but fractured enough to be pliable.

  • 10 - The War of the 2nd Coalition
    Mon, Oct 28, 2013

    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 for power.

  • Venice 3 - The Road to Hell
    Mon, Oct 21, 2013

    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.

  • 9 - Napoleon's Plaything
    Mon, Oct 07, 2013

    We go over Napoleon's invasion of Italy again, this time focusing on his administrative and political actions. Italians of the 19th century would see politics and governments differently than Italians of the 18th century, because between 1797 and 1815 Napoleon would reshape Italy's political consciousness. He got started quickly, as in just 2 years he had already upended Northern Italy.

  • 8 - Twilight of the Old Order
    Mon, Sep 23, 2013

    We cover Italy in the early 1790's, the final years of the old order before Napoleon's invasion. This covers some of the same time period as episode 7, but this time we look at things from the Italian perspective.

  • 7 - The War Enters Italy
    Mon, Sep 09, 2013

    Adam talks about the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleon's invasion of Italy. At the end of the episode we answer questions from listeners.

  • Venice 2 - Paved With Good Intentions
    Mon, Sep 02, 2013

    This is the first of two special epiodes on Venice that will cover the 4th Crusade. It's a tragically human tale that begins as an attempt to liberate Jerusalem and ends with the Crusader sack of Constantinople.

  • 6 - The French Revolution
    Sun, Aug 25, 2013

    The French Revolution. Adam makes his triumphant return to the podcast! He discusses the French Revolution, which is what set the ball in motion that would eventually lead to the Unification of Italy!

  • 5 - Early Modern Europe
    Sun, Aug 11, 2013

    In the last of our prequel episodes, we cover 1500-1790, laying the groundwork for the Italian Unification.

  • Venice 1 - In the Beginning
    Wed, Aug 07, 2013

    This is the first of a series of bonus episodes on the history of Venice. In this episode we start with the founding of Venice by Roman refugees fleeing barbarian invasions and work our way up to the end of the 11th century, just before the 1st crusade.

  • 4 - The Renaissance
    Sun, Jul 28, 2013

    We discuss the Italian Renaissance, the late medieval era in Italy, and the papacy.

  • 3 - The High Middle Ages
    Sat, Jul 20, 2013

    We discuss the birth of the Italian city states and their governments, as well as cover the overall politics of Italy between 1000 and 1300.

  • 2 - Rome to Charlemagne
    Wed, Jul 10, 2013

    In this episode Benjamin discusses the meaning of nations and nationalism, geography of Italy, and the importance of names. Then he tells the history of Italy from Rome to Charlgemagne. 

  • 1 - What's All This Then?
    Wed, Jul 10, 2013

    Hello! Welcome to Talking History: The Italian Unification, 1790-1870. In this episode we introduce ourselves, give you an overview of the unification, and lay out our plan for the podcast series.

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