Researching 1920s and 1930s Italy

One of my writing projects is a novel I’d like to work on this year – a triple timeline story set in Rome, Italy and centered around sports.

One of the timelines I plan on having in my story is 1920s and 30s Italy, the Fascist era leading up to WWII.

I’m reading interesting books about the era, but I find it especially helpful to read the newspapers of the time to get you more to the level of what my protagonists would be seeing, reading and thinking on a daily basis.

Historical newspaper research/ Kimberly Sullivan

Newspapers are also helpful because advertisements help you to understand what the new products were, and what they cost. In that era, cars were still out of reach for most, but you see plenty of full-page advertisements for the Italian car maker Fiat enticing families to purchase their own car. In the end, the automobile had its big boom in the post-war years in Italy, but it’s interesting to see the marketing techniques of the era.

Historical newspaper research/ Kimberly Sullivan

Train travel was also heavily advertised, with new “high speed” trains enticing travelers to make the trip from Rome to Milan in nine and a half hours. This was interesting information for me – when I lived in Milan over twenty years ago, it was still a five and a half hour trip. Now, with high speed rail today, you can get there in three.

It’s also great to read specific articles on the official opening of sports venues and athletics programs I am interested in learning about for my project. I can read the speeches made and how the day unfolded – down to the weather – and see photos taken.

And, since this was the Fascist era, I also review the Popolo d’Italia articles, with Mussoli as its official director, since it was the official propoganda outlet of the time – although most media outlets had fallen into line with official thinking as the regime progressed.Historical newspaper research/ Kimberly Sullivan

It’s a fascinating look into the past. One of my pet peeves as an author – and as a reader of historical fiction – is being pulled out of the past because I hear the modern-day author in my mind commenting on and judging characters from modern-day sensibilities.

I know it is easy to do, but I do try as much as possible to get fully into the mindset of the time and this exploration of period newspapers is always an important way to surround myself in the past. This is why I so enjoy the research phase of my projects, and love this opportunity to immerse myself in the past to fully get a handle on the characters I’ll be creating and the popular thinking and events of the time that would shape their thoughts and actions.

Now back to that research rabbit hole…

Historical newspaper research/ Kimberly Sullivan


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