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Davide Turcato

Gold medallist sheds light on overlooked Italian anarchist

May 28, 2009

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By Roberta Staley

It is a historian’s gruelling but intriguing lot: countless hours unearthing the ephemera of bygone lives and epochs in hopes of gathering enough information from scribbled letters and dusty newspaper clippings to create truthful portrayals of people and the times in which they lived.

Occasionally, they uncover something truly remarkable, as happened with Davide Turcato, who graduates this June with the Governor General’s gold medal and a PhD in history from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Turcato’s dissertation on 19th-century Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, completed following years searching the libraries and archives of Europe for writings about and by his subject, was declared "stunning" by external examiner Dr. Kirwin Shaffer of Penn State.

Titled Making Sense of Anarchism: The Experiments with Revolution of Errico Malatesta, Italian Exile in London, 1889-1900, the dissertation is a tour de force. It not only sets the record straight on the originality of Malatesta’s socialist thought but also emphasizes the continuity and goal-oriented character of the anarchist movement around him.

Curiously, the thesis began as a hobby for the Italian-born historian who grew up in Modena, home of Pavarotti, Ferraris and balsamic vinegar. For years he was struck by how Malatesta, an influential humanist, political thinker and revolutionary in his day, had been dismissed by historians, and he began compiling a bibliography on the anarchist a decade ago.

"Historians usually consider anarchists as irrational," says Turcato, a former research associate in SFU’s School of Computing Science. "My goal was to show that there is a rational interpretation of what anarchists did, as well as show that Malatesta’s thought was very sophisticated."

As an anarchist advocating insurrection against oppressive government Malatesta lived most of his life in exile. It was a life of hardship and poverty, but one he embraced for what he believed to be the good of society. "His commitment to the cause is admirable," says Turcato.

Turcato now intends to find a way to reconcile his own interests in both historical research and computational linguistics, which is his current field of work.

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