Discovering otherness, empowering the nation: Italian geographical societies and their dual path
In comparison with other similar European institutions, the Italian Geographical Society appeared on the scene very late. Founded in 1867, for three decades at least the Society has been almost totally controlled by the politicians and by the army. During this period its main objective was the study and the exploration of African territories, according to the governmental strategy to establish a colonial empire for the young national state.
In partial conflict with the Geographical Society of Rome, academic geography convened in the Società di studi geografici, founded in Florence in 1895 and devoted to the advancement of independent scientific research. Bound to the legacy of the Risorgimento age and in particular to the role of the Italian Society for the Advancement of Science, the Florence society aimed to explore homeland and the relation between humanity and the environment, maintaining a role not influenced by politics. In this context geographers contributed to the study but notably to specify the territorial understanding of the state. Afterwards also this society was involved in colonial survey. Collected dataset and produced cartography were useful to help overseas lands military and economic conquest.
During and after the First World War both societies supported nationalistic aims and got involved in the project to redeem Italian newly-conquered lands, thus pre-empting the overcome of geography by the state, which occurred under the fascist regime.