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Following Italy's unification in 1861, architects, artists, politicians, and literati engaged in volatile debates over the pursuit of national and regional identity. Growing industrialization and urbanization across the country contrasted with the rediscovery of traditionally built forms and objects created by the agrarian peasantry. Pride in Modesty argues that these ordinary, often anonymous, everyday things inspired and transformed Italian art and architecture from the 1920s through the 1970s.

Through in-depth examinations of texts, drawings, and buildings, Michelangelo Sabatino finds that the folk traditions of the pre-industrial countryside have provided formal, practical, and poetic inspiration directly affecting both design and construction practices over a period of sixty years and a number of different political regimes. This surprising continuity allows Sabatino to reject the division of Italian history into sharply delimited periods such as Fascist Interwar and Democratic Postwar and to instead emphasize the long, continuous process that transformed pastoral and urban ideals into a new, modernist Italy.