Fault Lines

My first research project investigated earthquakes and modern urbanization in Italy. The resulting book, titled Fault Lines: Earthquakes and Urbanism in Modern Italy, has been published  by  Berghahn Books, Oxford and New York (2015). Fault Lines has been awarded the 2015 Book Prize of the American Society for Italian Studies, in the category 20th and 21st centuries, and the 2016 Anci-Storia Book Prize, jointly awarded by the SISSCO (Società Italiana per lo Studio della Storia Contemporanea) and the ANCI (Associazione Nazionale dei Comuni Italiani). The book has also been shortlisted for the 2016 SISSCO Opera Prima award and for the 2017 Turku Book Prize of the European Society for Environmental History. You can read reviews of Fault Lines in the academic journals Environmental History,  Global Environment, and Journal of Modern Italian Studies, and on the scholarly blogs Entitle, Lavoro Culturale, and Edge Effects, where it was listed in the Reading List for Earth Day 2017. Based on this work, I appeared in the documentary “Belice, il sisma dei poveri cristi” aired in 2018 by RAI Storia, the history channel of the Italian public TV.

In Fault Lines, I investigate if and how geological fault lines can translate into historical ones, by looking at the 1908 earthquake in Messina and the 1968 earthquake in the Belice Valley, Sicily. The book follows the history of these two places before and after their destruction, exploring plans and developments that preceded—and sometimes prepared the way for—the disasters, and the urbanism that emerged from their ruins. It tells about fault lines between “rural” and “urban,” between “backwardness” and “development,” between “before” and “after.” Through these fractured stories, earthquakes emerge as a significant influence on urban development, proving that natural hazards deserve a larger place in the history of modern urbanism.

Creative Commons License
Santa Margherita Belice, September 2013 by Giacomo Parrinello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Here is a short excerpt from the introduction to Fault Lines:

“This book tells the story of the earthquake in my city, the 1908 Messina earthquake, and the story of the one that hit the valley of the Belice River, Sicily, exactly sixty years later. These are two of the biggest seismic disasters in the history of modern Italy, and two equally tragic and fascinating stories of destruction and rebirth. In both places, two brand new environments materialized from the ruins of the earthquake. Each of these environments epitomized a pivotal moment in the history of urbanization in Italy—the modernization of historic cities between the nineteenth and the twentieth century and the urbanization of the countryside in the second half of the twentieth century, respectively. These post-quake environments, at the same time, exaggerated the characteristics of those two key moments as in a distorting mirror, due to the exceptional context from which they emerged.

A fundamental curiosity drives this book: Can earthquakes speak , or are they just background noise in the historic landscape? What role do earthquakes play in the history of built environments and of the communities that inhabit them? Are they really drivers of change? What do they actually transform, and how? Can geological fault lines translate into historical ones? Questions like these have a lot to do with my experience with earthquakes and their effects, perhaps even more than the choice of the case studies. Yet these questions, in a sense so personal, may also speak to a broader audience, and intersect with questions and curiosities arising from other places, experiences, and contexts, about other fault lines, real and metaphorical. To understand whether earthquakes can speak is, in effect, to tackle the broader question of the role of natural hazards in modern urban environments, and of non-human forces and features in history.”

This project’s outputs also include :

“Post-Disaster Migrations and Returns: the 1908 Messina Earthquake and the 1968 Belice Valley Earthquake (Sicily) », in «Environmental Change and Migration in Historical Perspective», Uwe Luebken ed., special issue of Global Environment: Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences, 9 (2012), 26-49.

“The City-Territory: Large-Scale Planning and Development Policies in the Aftermath of the 1968 Belice Earthquake (Sicily),” Planning Perspectives: An international journal of history, planning, and the environment, 28, 4 (2013), 571-593.

«Belice 1968: istituzioni, territorio, memorie» in Mariuccia Salvati and Loredana Sciolla, eds. L’Italia e le sue regioni: istituzioni, territori, culture, società, vol. 3: Culture, 403-18. Roma: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani.

« Les enjeux de l’après : vulnérabilité et résilience à l’épreuve des politiques de la catastrophe au 20e siècle », VertigO – la revue électronique en sciences de l’environnement [online], 16, 3 (2016).



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