Personal Statement:

Brian J Griffith is a Ph.D. Candidate in modern Italian history at University of California, Santa Barbara. His research interests include Fascist Italy, Italian colonialism, food studies/consumer culture, and transnationalism. Brian is currently completing a dissertation on winemaking, Fascist consumerism, and identity construction in interwar Italy titled Bacchus’ Blackshirt: Winemaking and Making Italians in Fascist Italy.


Dissertation Title:

Bacchus' Blackshirt: Winemaking and Making Italians in Fascist Italy


Selected Publications:


Teaching Fields:

  • Modern European Intellectual and Cultural History
  • The Holocaust/Comparative Genocide
  • Modern/Fascist Italy
  • Food Studies/Consumer Culture
  • Public History
  • Digital History
  • World History (1700-Present)


Courses Taught:

  • HIST 123B: Modern Europe in War and Revolution
    Summer 2015
  • Co-taught with Claudio Fogu, INT 184CF: The Digital Turn in Historical Culture
    Winter 2015
  • HIST 99: Undergraduate Research Assistantship
    Spring 2013


Awards & Professional Activities:

  • Graduate Humanities Research Fellowship
    University of California, Santa Barbara / Spring 2016
  • Dick Cook Memorial Award
    History Department / University of California, Santa Barbara / Spring 2015
  • Humanities & Social Sciences Research Grant
    University of California, Santa Barbara / Spring 2014


Dissertation Project:

Bacchus’ Blackshirt: Winemaking and Making Italians in Fascist Italy

A carro from Alfonsine's regional Festa Nazionale dell'Uva featuring a visual representation of the Axis Alliance (two Brownshirts, two Blackshirts, a swastika, a grape-covered sculpture of Mussolini's head, and, between them, a rotating Earth symbolizing the ideological affiliation between Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy).

A considerable number of what contemporary audiences enjoy as Italy’s heritage locations and practices—such as the ‘timeless’ panoramas of the ancient Roman Forum along Rome’s Via dei Fori Imperiali or popular attractions such as Siena’s Palio—have a decidedly interwar pedigree. The same could be claimed of Italian viti-viniculture (table and wine grape production). During its two decades in power in Italy, Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship established protected wine-producing regions (Chianti Classico, 1932-present), inaugurated grape- and wine-themed popular festivals (The National Festival of the Grape, 1930-present), significantly expanded grape vine cultivation in Italy and in its Mediterranean colonies, and marketed the peninsula’s “typical wines” (vini tipici) to foreign consumers. Each of these campaigns and processes, my research has begun to divulge, served as significant components of the regime’s objectives of fulfilling the Risorgimento’s partially completed mission of “making” Italians and improving Italy’s socio-economic position on the imaginative map of Western Europe during the Black Decades (Ventennio nero). To date, no scholar, in either the Italian- or English-speaking academies, has investigated the multifarious cultural, political, and economic contributions made by grape vine cultivation and alcohol consumption in Fascist Italy. In response to this historiographical lacuna, Bacchus’ Blackshirt analyzes the centrality of Italy’s viti-viniculture industry within the Fascist regime’s intertwined campaigns for encouraging the development of a singular national identity in Italy and establishing a synchronized community of autarkic consumerism under the auspices of the Corporatist State. Since grape vine cultivation was such a widespread practice in Italy, it offered the dictatorship an agro-cultural platform for projecting its socio-economic program to the Italian masses. By promoting Italy’s winemaking heritages via popular campaigns and outreaches, such as the annual Grape Festival and Siena’s biannual Exhibition-Market of Typical Italian Wines, the regime aimed to stimulate consumption of Italy’s grapes and wines and, simultaneously, to impress upon the masses that Italians, regardless of their regional affiliations and geographical separations, shared these histories and practices in common. As a result of these efforts, I contend, Mussolini’s dictatorship hoped to motivate domestic consumers to recognize themselves as Italians.


Edited Volume:

Sorella fascista: The Collected Papers of Ruth Williams Ricci

Ruth Williams Ricci (on the right-hand side) standing alongside a group of natives in front of a Casa del fascio in Italian East Africa.

While researching Fascist Italy’s 1935 invasion and colonization of Ethiopia at the Hoover Institute Archives at Stanford University, I stumbled upon the collected papers of an extraordinary American woman by the name of Ruth Williams Ricci. Ricci — a Fascist sympathizer from New York City who served both as a volunteer nurse in the Italian Red Cross and, later, as a freelance journalist during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War — toured throughout East and North Africa, participated in or witnessed many of Fascist Italy’s military and colonial campaigns and had personal contacts among the regime’s highest generals and officials. Ricci wrote extensively about these experiences, producing numerous articles published in both American and Italian journals and newspapers, as well as a partial book manuscript, each of which have remained more-or-less unexplored at Stanford University since the late 1970s. Very few researchers have ventured into the collection, still less know about Ricci at all. With the wealth of these largely untapped primary materials in mind, I recently began transcribing and editing Ricci’s collected papers with the ultimate goal of partnering with an academic publisher who could help me promote and distribute Ricci’s story, along with her voluminous writings, to a wide scholarly and lay audience. I believe Ricci’s writings would be appealing and useful to an interdisciplinary group of scholars, including those studying modern Europe, modern Africa, colonialism, post-colonialism, Women and Gender Studies, journalism, Italian Fascism, and more.


Working Paper:

Blackshirts, Black Skins: Political Messianism in Fascist Italy and Colonial Jamaica during the “Ethiopian Crisis,” 1935-1941

Enrico De Seta (1935). "Civilization – Look, Taitù, we are beginning to become civilized: this [baby] came white!"The purpose of this study is to explore the hybrid political, cultural, and socio-economic contexts behind the emergence of both Fascism in Italy and Rastafarianism in colonial Jamaica, and the border-crossing networks of exchange through which they developed, expanded, and, in the case of the Ras Tafarites, interacted. The Second Italo-Ethiopian War served as a converging point for the interests, hopes, and anxieties of Italians and Africans worldwide. It also launched two interwar politico-religious movements on a transoceanic collision course, sending information, ideas, and bodies into dynamic, global motion. Both Fascism and Rastafarianism, I argue, constituted two forms of interwar “political messianism” — to use J. L. Talbot’s oft-quoted phrase — with significant connections, in one way or another, to the East African kingdom of Ethiopia. Both shared similar hybrid ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds; both were formulated as a response to challenging diasporic conditions, and, perhaps more importantly, marginal political and economic contexts. Lastly, both movements sought to achieve some form of cultural revitalization for themselves via the mutual medium of Selassie’s Ethiopia. By seeking to purge Italy of its internal political dysfunction, cultural degeneracy, and to excise the psychological demons of previous national disasters and shames, Mussolini’s regime embarked on a campaign of politico-cultural “revitalization” — or reclamation (bonificare) — within the fires of Italy’s imperial conquest in East Africa. For Fascist Italy, Ethiopia symbolized both a source of collective psychological anguish and an opportunity to rise, once again, to its former glory as a Mediterranean Empire. By conquering Ethiopia, Italy hoped to draw an unequivocal distinction between itself — a “White,” and therefore ‘civilized’ society — and the ‘barbarity’ of the pre-modern East African kingdom of Ethiopia. Similarly, for the Ras Tafarites in British Jamaica, Ethiopia served as the politico-spiritual vehicle through which diasporic Africans would be released from their so-called “Babylonian Captivity” and regenerated as a “people” in His Imperial Majesty’s holy East African kingdom. By going “Back to Africa” at Selassie’s global messianic proclamation, Rastafarians hoped to escape from the oppressive conditions of their colonial society and “revitalize” their proud heritage as Black sons and daughters of Africa. Thus, both movements featured deep, and sometimes surprising, historical roots with Ethiopia; both had, in one way or another, become intimately entwined with its destinies.


Miscellaneous Links:

  • Brian J Griffith
    My professional website features my up-to-date Curriculum Vitae, research interests and current/future projects, teaching experience and philosophy, and miscellaneous resources pertaining to the study of modern Italian history.