In the conclusion to his book, Dario Gaggio suggests that tourists who rent what is described as a Tuscan villa should know it was originally a farmhouse built during the Fascist regime for sharecroppers who later participated in a postwar communist-inspired peasant rebellion; after they left their farmhouse for city jobs, it fell into ruin, was purchased by another large landowner, gutted, and renovated with European Union (EU) funds (p. 282). This anecdote could function as Gaggio’s argument: Tuscany’s landscape is not simply the carefully preserved remnant of a static past, but rather the still dynamic product of a century of conflict and negotiations between sharecroppers, landlords, government officials, animals, trees, and the unforgiving clay and rocky marl that together shaped Tuscany’s now iconic vistas. The book’s introduction lays out Gaggio’s theoretical framework. Rather than examine landscape solely as a visual category, Gaggio follows geographers who read landscapes through the work done to produce them. This approach is particularly effective in Tuscany, where the predominant (and to a large degree, intentionally contrived) perception of a timeless landscape is quite simply inaccurate. The first chapter begins with a short excursus on the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century consolidation of sharecropping in central Italy, although Gaggio moves quickly to the Fascist attempt to preserve the class inequalities of sharecropping though modernization in the 1920s and 1930s. This tension—between nostalgia and utopian modernization—is a theme throughout. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the postwar revolt of sharecroppers who saw Italy’s economic miracle as passing them by. Neither communist organizers nor government officials could find a way to satisfy sharecroppers’ demands for amenities like running water and electricity while not fundamentally altering land tenure. The result was a mass exodus to the cities. Land abandonment opened a gap filled by Sardinian shepherds who used the abandoned fields as pastures in the 1960s through the 1980s. Tuscans often perceived this change in the landscape in declensionist terms, created by the (Sardinian) Other who nonetheless was Italian. Gaggio then describes the resulting transformation of the agricultural landscape. For centuries, sharecroppers had used coltura promiscua—a “promiscuous” or mixed polyculture of olives, grape vines, and rows of grain—rather than separate monocultures of each. This mixed farming was far more productive but demanded enormous amounts of low-cost labor that sharecropping provided. With the postwar exodus of sharecroppers, landlords demanded subsidies from the national government to transform their holdings into the unvaried monocultures of grapevines. Gaggio highlights the fact that this now iconic landscape is actually a radical break with the region’s deep agricultural past of intertwined crops. The final two chapters deal with the failure of various plans to promote agricultural and bovine raising as well as the contested elaboration of landscape as heritage. The book’s strength is as an engaging narrative about a famous landscape whose history was thought to be well known. Archival sources form the core of Gaggio’s story, but he draws on an incredibly broad range of additional traces of the past: EU treaties and conventions, oral histories, memoirs of marquises but also of sharecroppers, interviews, careful reads of material culture, photographs of sharecroppers’ farmhouses-turned-villas, the framing of objects in museums dedicated to Tuscany’s agricultural past, and even the region’s flora. Minor elements are felicitous: the cover—which features a hilly field, cypress trees, a villa, and a seemingly extraneous tractor—is the perfect visual encapsulation of the book’s argument. The footnotes rather than endnotes are also a joy for any scholar who wants to peruse the sources quickly without chasing off each time to the end of the book. Gaggio not only provides a novel analytical approach but achieves it by broadening his source base. This book has much to offer not only to environmental historians, many of whom are engaged in the analysis of the change over time of a particular landscape, but also to social historians, human geographers, and scholars of landscape and museum studies. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 15, 2018
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