The 20th Century in Italy

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The 20th Century in Italy       (go Back to the main menu of History of Italy)

The Italian Colonies in Africa

Among the numerous and complex problems of the new State emerged the need to bring uniformity to a territory that was so politically and economically diverse. The indiscriminate application of the administrative, judicial and fiscal structures of the old Piedmont was to create a further divide between Italy's more economically developed Northern and Central regions and the structurally weaker Southern region (the Mezzogiorno). A mass emigration of peasants and the poorest classes to the two Americas occurred (in the decades spanning the 19-20C the number reached several million) and the so-called southern question took root.
At the same time, in order to compete with the other European powers, Italy followed a policy of colonial expansion in Africa. She occupied Eritrea (1885-96), Somalia (1889-1905), Libya and the islands of the Aegean (1911-12). A commercial concession (500 sq miles) centred on Tien-Tsin was obtained from China in 1902.
In the economic and social areas the period from the taking of Rome to Italy entering the First World War (1870-1915) was characterized by general growth in the whole country. This was undoubtedly favoured by an interlude in international politics that allowed Italy to put her financial affairs in order and re-organize her administrative structure. There then followed the development of certain essential sectors, such as the rail network and basic industries, often making use of foreign capital. At the same time, attempts were made to strengthen international political relations (by joining in the Triple Alliance with the Germany of Bismark and the Austria of Franz Joseph) and commercial links, even if it was eventually necessary to resort to protectionism in order to protect the still fragile national economy.
While agriculture encountered notable difficulties due to the fall in prices on foreign markets and the backward conditions of a large part of the countryside, as well as the scourge of malaria, industry was a growth area. The textile industry, with its two main sectors of silk and cotton, as well as the metallurgical and mechanical industries were favoured by increasing supplies of electrical energy from the newly built water-powered plants in the upper Alpine and Apennine valleys.



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