Distinguished Italian scholar tackles the history of Italy

Papotti lecture

Davide Papotti speaking to Denver audience. Photo courtesy of Jake Pemberton.

May 10, 2016Davide Papotti, an esteemed Italian professor, negotiated Italy’s historical heritage and current political issues to a diverse audience on Tuesday night at the University of Denver.

The event was organized by the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Department of the University of Denver.

Dr. Papotti is a professor of geography at the University of Parma, located in a region of northern Italy called Emilia-Romagna, and traveled to America to share his knowledge with the DU population for the whole week. The professor is also a scholar of several other fields, including immigration and multiculturalism in Italy, and is the author of 70 scientific titles.

On Tuesday night, after an hour-long reception where people ate free Italian food and conversed, the Lindsay Auditorium of Sturm Hall filled to about 2/3 of capacity to listen to what Papotti had to say. As the professor began his presentation, the audience was completely captivated by the middle-aged man’s thick Italian accent.

Those among the crowd included local Italians living in Colorado, as well as professors and students involved in the Italian Department at DU. As the attendees leaned forward, laughter echoed throughout the room as Papotti started the lecture with a playful joke.

“I hope no one here was at my earlier presentation. If you were, I am sorry that you have to listen to me again,” he said.

Once he got the audience comfortable and interested, the professor started his Italian-map-filled PowerPoint to guide the audience through the discussion. Papotti made it clear that his aim for the night was to provide food for thought of the geography of Italy, of which he accomplished by the end of the night.

papotti pic 4

Photo courtesy of Jake Pemberton


Papotti began with the fact that Italy is a young country that unified in 1861, and used a quote from an old Italian scholar that explained that once the country was united, it’s identity had to be formed as well. The professor puts things into perspective when he compared Italy’s age to the United States.

“Italy is 85 years younger than the US as a political entity,” he explained.

As the lecture progressed, members of the audience stayed focused and engaged in Papotti’s discussion, nodding their heads in agreement to specific points made and laughing at occasional jokes.

At the time Italy was unified, certain regions of the country still need to be included. The scholar continued to shine light on the fact that the unification process was difficult to complete as Italy went from a kingdom to a republic post-WWII.

Once the Republican constitution was approved in 1948, the regions were recognized as government entities with specific tasks and duties and slowly grew through the decades, as Papotti exclaimed.

As the regions were recognized, the metropolitan cities were experiencing the same fate, and Dr. Papotti emphasized how far the country has come since then.

“It was still far from being the urbanized city that is it today,” Papotti said.

A half an hour into the lecture, about 5 students began to noticeably doze off before jolting awake to continue taking notes.  However, Papotti was none the wiser, and sustained the discussion as he progressed to bring up the problem of minorities in Italy.

Papotti pic 2.jpg

Photo courtesy of Jake Pemberton

Due to the cultural and linguistic minorities in northeastern Italy, as well as the French and German minorities in northwestern Italy, such regions that held the “outsiders” were granted special autonomous status that allowed them to retain taxes. Papotti explained how tension rose as other regions envied this grant.

Papotti switched gears as he addressed the industrial development of the Italian provinces in 1871. The development produced an inequality of quality of life in the country, where ¼ of the population experiences the best quality, and ¼ experiences the worst.

“The unifying process is still incomplete, but I hope the economic situation gets better,” said Papotti.

The scholar stated how the difficult and irreconcilable differences in Italy is forcing geographers to ask for help, and ended the night with a quote spoken by Italian scholar Massimo D’Azeglio.

“They (Italians) think of reforming Italy,” Papotti said. “But no one realizes to do this they have to reform themselves.”


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