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Speaker: James J. Fortuna (St Andrews)

This paper will consider the design, role, and legacy of the often-overlooked cruise ships commissioned by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany as part of each regime’s effort to nationalize their respective tourism industries. Several years after the Fascist regime consolidated various shipping companies into the single state-run ‘Italian Line,’ the Nazi-organized ‘Strength through Joy’ (KdF) organization commissioned its own fleet of cruise liners which would eventually come to frequent ports across Europe and the Americas. By the end of the 1930s, these KdF ships were the cornerstone of what had quickly become the largest tourism operator of the decade, and their Italian counterparts continued to shuttle visitors across the Atlantic towards the glories of an updated and flourishing Rome which had been “reclaimed” and beautified to much international acclaim. Indeed, travel writers such as Thomas Wolfe and Johnathan Patric of popular international publications such as Scribner’s Magazine and National Geographic were quick to celebrate what they at first understood to be rather positive changes in the reimagined Germany and Italy.

Accordingly, this paper will argue that aside from the programs’ more apparent domestic propaganda value, these ships were also critical to the regimes’ ability to assert themselves in global diplomatic terms, as a new transatlantic exchange of tourists and professionals served to demystify Italy and Germany while simultaneously legitimizing their new political systems. Analysis of design plans, interior detail, posters and advertising material will contribute to our understanding of the role played by these interwar cruise liners. Similar focus on the role of certain architects-cum-interior designers such as Paul Ludwig Troost and Michele Busiri Vici will also prove significant, as both would go on to hold significant influence within their respective party’s architectural program.

James J. Fortuna recently completed a PhD at the University of St Andrews under the supervision of Prof. Riccardo Bavaj and the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History. His research is mainly concerned with the politically-inflected architecture and infrastructure of the interwar period. Current projects related to this conference include a study of coastal resort construction and tourism across the Mediterranean between the years 1919-42, as well as a larger comparative analysis of the major transatlantic cruise companies based in Germany, Italy, and the USA. He also holds MPhil degrees in History and Classics from the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin and am an Adjunct Professor within the Faculty of Humanities and Foreign Languages at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida.

IHR Seminar SeriesTransport & Mobility History

Re evaluating the Transatlantic Cruise Liners of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany