Perry Willson

+ 44 (0)1382 3 84523
Professor of Modern European History and Research Co-ordinator for History


My main research interests lie in women's/gender history and Italian Fascism. Amongst other topics, I have published on the Resistance, the history of the rural world, abortion, labour and business history, imperialism, mass mobilisation and the history of the private sphere. My most recent book explores the history of Italian women over the course of the twentieth century.

I currently jointly hold a grant for an AHRC Interdisciplinary Research Network for a project entitled 'La Mamma: Interrogating a National Stereotype'.

I was Chair of the Association for the Study of Modern Italy from 2006-09 and I am currently Vice-Convenor of Women's History Scotland.

I serve on the Editorial Board of Modern Italy journal and on the Advisory Boards of Gender and History and Storia delle donne.

I have held Fellowships at the Einaudi Foundation (Turin), the European University Institute (Florence) and Nuffield College (Oxford).



Europe in Transition 1870-1922 (Level Two)

Making History (Level Three)

Society and Politics in Italy 1860-1980 (Level Three)

Fascist Italy (Level Four)


Approaches to Gender, Culture and Society

Gender in Italy since 1880


My early work took a 'history from below' approach, concentrating on women workers in Sesto San Giovanni (the 'Italian Sheffield'), an industrial suburb of Milan, during the Fascist period. This book drew upon, amongst other sources, oral testimony to explore themes like work and the meaning of work for female factory workers.

I then went on to research women who joined the Fascist party, focusing on the 2 ½ million strong Sezione Massaie Rurali, looking both at the peasant membership and the predominantly middle class female party hierarchs who organised them.

In my most recent book, I considerably broadened the scope of my enquiry. Women in Twentieth Century Italy, published by Palgrave Macmillan (and in an expanded edition, by Laterza Editori in Italy), is the first book-length overview of Italian women's experience during this period of intense and dramatic change.

My current research projects both involve a return to the Fascist period. Reflecting my enduring interest in the experience of 'ordinary people' under the Fascist dictatorship, I am at present engaged in writing a book (for Oxford University Press) on Everyday Life in Fascist Italy. I am also continuing my research into the role of women under Fascism with a project on the Fasci Femminili (women's Fascist groups).

Suggested Areas for Postgraduate Supervision

I welcome enquiries from prospective postgraduate students interested in working on topics in British or European gender history of the last two centuries.

I would also be happy to supervise students in more or less any aspect of nineteenth or twentieth century Italian history, particularly, but far from exclusively, gender history and social history.

Suggestions for topics include:

  • The social history of the First and Second World Wars
  • The history of sexuality
  • Gender and empire
  • The history of welfare (particularly in relation to gender)
  • The world of the peasantry
  • Business/labour history
  • First or second wave feminism in Italy
  • Women/gender under Fascism
  • Gender roles in the miracolo economico

AHRC funded studentships are available in my research area - more details.

Selected Publications

Books/Edited Volumes

Italiane: Biografia del Novecento, (Laterza Editori, Rome-Bari, 2011)

Women in Twentieth Century Italy (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2009)

Co-editor (with Paola Filippucci) of Gender and the Private Sphere in Italy Since 1945 (special issue of Modern Italy, 9, 1, 2004)

(Editor) Gender, Family and Sexuality: the Private Sphere in Italy 1860-1945, (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2004)

La fabbrica orologio: donne e lavoro alla Magneti Marelli nell'Italia fascista, (Franco Angeli, Milan, 2003)

Peasant Women and Politics in Fascist Italy: the Massaie Rurali, (Routledge, London, 2002)

The Clockwork Factory. Women and Work in Fascist Italy, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993)

Recent Articles/Chapters

'Fasciste della prima e della seconda ora', in Simonetta Soldani, Alessandra Pescarolo, Teresa Mori, Anna Scattigno (eds), Di Generazione in Generazione. Le Italiane dall'Unità ad Oggi, Viella, Rome. Forthcoming 2014.

'The Nation in Uniform? Fascist Italy 1919-1943', Past and Present, no. 221, 2013, pp. 239-272.

'Italian Fascism and the Mass Mobilisation of Working-Class Women 1937-1943', Contemporary European History, no. 1, vol. 22, 2013, pp. 65-86.

'Women in Mussolini’s Italy 1922-45', in Richard Bosworth (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Fascism, Oxford University Press, 2009.

'Empire, Gender and the "Home Front" in Fascist Italy', Women's History Review , vol.16, no.4, 2007.

'Italy' in Bonnie Smith (editor in chief), Encyclopaedia of Women in World History , Oxford University Press, 2007 (5 vols).

'The Fairy Tale Witch: Laura Marani Argnani and the Women's Fasci of Reggio Emilia 1929-1940', Contemporary European History , vol. 15, no. 1, 2006.

'"Le virtù della terra". Due periodici per le contadine negli anni del fascismo', in Simonetta Soldani and Silvia Franchini (eds), Donne e giornalismo. Politica e cultura di genere nella stampa "femminile" , Franco Angeli, Milan, 2004.

'Italy' in Kevin Passmore (ed.), Women, Gender and Fascism in Europe 1919-1945 , Manchester University Press, 2003.

'I Fasci Femminili', 'Regina Terruzzi', 'La Sezione operaie e lavoranti a domicilio', 'Le Massaie Rurali', 'L'Opera nazionale maternità ed infanzia', all in Victoria de Grazia and Sergio Luzzatto (eds), Dizionario del fascismo , Einaudi, Turin, 2 vols, 2002 and 2003.

'Contadine e politica nel ventennio: La Sezione "Massaie rurali" dei Fasci femminili', Italia contemporanea , no. 218, 2000.

'Saints and Heroines: Re-writing the History of Italian Women in the Resistance', in Timothy Kirk, Anthony McElligot (eds), Opposing Fascism: Community, Authority and Resistance in Europe , Cambridge University Press, 1999.