USIS Italy

Network of United States Information Service in Italy

Italy; United States



The history of American information programs in Italy dates back to 1943 and the arrival of U.S. troops in the peninsula. Over the next two years, American officials operating in the country continually adapted their information strategies based on experience and on the evolution of the military campaign, proceeding alongside American GIs.

Immediately after the landing in Sicily, the Office of War Infomation (in collaboration with the OSS) began to make contact with important representatives of Italian politics, economy and culture. From July 10, 1943, radio, cinema, press and any other means of communication were placed under the control of the Allied authorities in all liberated territories, through the Psychological Warfare Branch (PWB).

After January 1945, control on all information policies was transferred to the OWI, while the PWB was definitively disbanded in May 1945. However, the PWB remained operational and maintained control over all new editorial publications until December 31, 1945, when the Allied Military Government (AMG) ceased its functions and all jurisdiction passed to the Italian government.

More generally, Anglo-American control over the media in the peninsula would last until December 31, 1945, being progressively extended to the entire national territory, as it was liberated from German occupation.

In the war years, the American attention mostly aimed at emphasizing the role of the Allied military intervention, offering a positive image of the Anglo-American troops and their contribution to the liberation of the country. The entire information activity was, therefore, centered around values of democracy and freedom, which were at the core of the Allied policies during the conflict and were considered the founding values for the postwar order and world.

From the first months of 1945, the network of offices dependent on the OWI and the PWB was called USIS (United States Information Service). The first permanent USIS center in Italy was opened in Rome. It was announced on February 28, 1945, with a note from the American Embassy to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The opening of the Rome office was followed by the opening of four other centers, in Naples, Florence, Palermo and Milan, each equipped with a library, for a total of about five thousand periodicals. In Genoa, Bari, Turin and Bologna, USIS opened only reading rooms, as the establishment of real information centers would take place over the next three years.

Between 1945-1947, USIS Italy adopted a pedagogical-educational approach, in line with the interpretation of the Italian situation proposed in a report published on June 29, 1945, by Admiral Ellery Stone, head of the Allied Control Commission in Italy. Stone was convinced that material aid would not have been sufficient in a country that had emerged from twenty years of fascist dictatorship and was now pervaded by revolutionary forces. He therefore encouraged a mighty commitment "in the field of education and mental training of the Italians, to initiate them into a democratic vision of life." Based on this, until 1947, the activity of USIS was understood as mostly revolving around  information and public relations and/or educational in nature. For this reason, the materials disseminated in this early phase by the centers did not have overtly political content, but rather a technical-didactic and illustrative character.

In such a context, the projected image of the United States was intended not only as a means to increase Italians' respect toward Americans and their institutions (so as to nurture trust in the US international leadership), but also and above all as the most effective tool to educate the Italians to democracy. In line with this attitude  was the publication, as early as March 1945, of a bimonthly magazine in Italian, "Nuovo mondo," whose subtitle was "Magazine for the Italian population, published for the duration of the war by the United States Information Office." Under the editorship of Bruno Zevi and with a staff composed of both Italian and American journalists, the magazine ran until October 1945, dealing mainly with four major themes: war, Italy, America and America in Italy. Publication ended due to both, the conclusion of the world conflict, but also the overly sweetened image of America offered by the pages of the magazine. In spite of this, "Nuovo mondo" can be considered the first American attempt to set up an active cultural policy in Italy, concentrating its efforts on the presentation of an image of American society that made it appear not as something distant and unattainable, but rather as a model that could be imitated overseas.

The first real turning point in the evolution of USIS policy and activities in Italy occurred during 1947 and was a direct consequence of the beginning of the Cold War. De Gasperi's trip to the United States, the expulsion of the Italian Left from the government and the announcement of the Marshall Plan led to a significant change in approach, so that USIS' political goales were prioritized over the cultural ones. The network of offices, under closer control of the American ambassador in Rome, James Dunn, contributed therefore to promote the American campaign conducted in support of democratic forces in Italy, largely adopting strong anti-communist tones.

The polarization of the international context and the consequent threat posed by the Italian Communist Party determined an escalation of the role of USIS in the peninsula and an enlargement of the program, which continued in the following years. From this moment on, the activity of USIS in Italy was no longer focused only on the presentation of American life and society, but participated in the construction of an image of America as a rich and free country, whose prosperity and well-being were reproducible indefinitely and would guarantee the most effective antidote against the spread of communism.

American efforts in the anti-communist campaign were summarized in June '48 in a lengthy report sent by Dunn to Washington. The extensive involvement of USIS - mainly through the radio and the press - was confirmed by the fact that the topics covered in the report coincided perfectly with those addressed in the Daily News. Between 1947 and 1948, the latter abounded in pieces on the arrival of American aid, combining lists and quantitative data on the goods that arrived every day with excerpts of the speeches given by Dunn during official ceremonies, as well as articles on the solidarity initiatives promoted by the American people towards the Italian population. Almost as frequent were the articles on Italy's entry into the UN, as well as those on Trieste, which gave maximum prominence to the American position, favorable to the return of the territory of Trieste to Italy. Direct relations with Italian journalists and editors were also intensified, to the extent that USIS offered direct support both to Italian correspondents from America and to those newspapers which, not having foreign correspondents, received news and material on the US from USIS itself. Moreover, the length of Voice of America's transmissions was increased. the Radio broadcasts were engaged not only in entertainment programs, but also in programs - the main example was Ai vostri ordini - dedicated to satisfying Italian curiosities about American society. Moreover, while USIS' support to ECA's Information Division was limited to advertising the achievements of the Marshall Plan, by publicizing its initiatives and distributing printed and audiovisual material, its offices were given full responsibility for the dissemination and promotion of the Atlantic Alliance and NATO. During this period, USIS Italian offices mainly used the press, radio and audiovisual material, believing that these were the media best able to reach the masses.

Anti-communism, the promotion of NATO and the "mass approach" (i.e., the adoption of a strategy that addressed first and foremost the masses and, among them, specifically the workers) would remain at the center of USIS activity until 1953.

After the long campaign of 1948, a new expansion of the program occurred beginning in 1950, when President Truman's launched the so-called "Campaign of Truth." Over the next few months, new centers were opened in Genoa, Venice, Bologna, and Turin, and soon the USIS network was transformed from a simple network for the distribution of material produced in Washington, into an active promoter of an intense propaganda campaign, the direction of which was entrusted to the American ambassador and the director of the national USIS. The appointment to this role of Lloyd A. Free, at the end of 1950, marked a greater autonomy of the national offices in proposing initiatives and a greater coordination between the various offices, thanks to quarterly meetings between the various directors.

In this phase (1950-1952), reaching the workers was still considered a priority, while the cultural elites still played a secondary role, subordinate to the influence they could exert on the primary groups. Beginning in 1954, however, the role of "public opinion molders" gradually gained in importance, as they were progressively included among the program's "primary target groups."

1953 was a year of general changes, both in the course of the Cold War and in the American policies regarding information programs, with the creation, in the summer, of the USIA as an independent agency. This evolution also affected Italy, where a profound change in the operational strategies and objectives of USIS took place. The most important event in this sense was the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Italy, Clare Boothe Luce. Luce was the wife of the editor of Time magazine Henry Luce, former member of Congress and one of the greatest champions of anti-communism in America. The new ambassador immediately demonstrated her activism and determination in the fight against the Italian communist forces, to the point of ending up being criticized, on more than one occasion, for her excessive interference in Italian affairs. During her years as an ambassador, Luce traveled far and wide throughout the country and ended up becoming an important - and often intrusive - public figure in Italian politics. The USIS contributed to this development, working hard to promote her image and publicize her initiatives and interventions. In return, between 1953 and 1955, Luce strengthened the role of USIS offices, starting, in collaboration with Lloyd A. Free, the reorganization of the network and promoting a new definition of USIS goals and methods. The change of course was immediately evident in the 1953 Country Plan. The main change concerned the identification of the target groups: the workers took a back seat, while the "public opinion moulders" became primary in their role as cultural mediators. Workers and the masses, however, did not disappear completely, being brought under the category of "complementary audience groups". USIS opted hence to maintain a "limited mass information program." Overall, it was a remarkable change: USIS abandoned any pretense or prospect of addressing the Italian masses directly, recognizing the "public opinion molders" - both those of the present, and those of the future - as having a central role in the most effective possible transmission of its messages.

Over the next two years, USIS and its officials gradually learned to exploit the thirst for knowledge and the curiosity of Italian intellectuals and leaders towards America and the new disciplines that were developing in the US (first and foremost, sociology), using the role and influence of Italian ruling elite to their advantage. This approach will be confirmed and implemented, in a stable manner, during the following years, without being substantially modified.

As a consequence of budget cuts, between 1954 and 1955, the structure of the offices was also reorganized. The offices in Bari and Bologna were closed (although the library was left open) and other offices were downsized, while the Venice office was replaced by that of Trieste. The evaluation of the effects and results obtained by the program following the 1953 turnaround was positive, so no changes were made to the Country Plan for 1956.

When Luce left Italy at the end of the year, USIS's branch in Italy had become one of USIA's largest, most important, and most positively evaluated programs. Over the next few years, its policy did not undergo any major changes and the basic approach remained that of focusing on long-term goals and on the reliance on "cultural mediators". The radio and film programs, on the other hand, were progressively downsized, until the disappearance of any reference to them in the reports and "Country Plans" of the following years. In fact, the documentation relating to the following years refers mostly, if not completely, to the Educational Exchange Program, in connection with the Fulbright Program and with the birth of an Italian Fulbright Association, which brought together all the "returned grantees;" the Book Translation Program; the Library Program; and, finally, the progress of the program for the creation of chairs in American Studies at Italian universities.

This latter was probably the most successful and long-lasting project promoted by USIS in Italy. It was launched in the mid-1950s and in little more than ten years it led to the creation of six chairs in six Italian universities and eighteen courses in fourteen universities, for a total of twenty-four courses in "American Studies". These ranged from literature, history, political thought and law, and involved some of the major Italian universities, including La Sapienza in Rome, the University of Pisa and those of Florence, Bologna, Turin, Naples and Padua.

Beginning in 1956, however, in a more relaxed international climate, the Italian USIS program was progressively scaled back and the resources allocated to the European USIS offices began to be gradually reduced. By the early 1960s, Western Europe had fully recovered, had undertaken and accelerated its own process of integration and could be considered, without any doubt, a valid and secure ally of the United States. As far as Italy was concerned, many programs and collaborations, initially promoted by USIS, became, in the second half of the 1950s, more and more able to stand on their own two feet and proceed independently. Starting in the 1960s, the expansive phase of USIS came to an end, with a progressive closure of many centers.

Related Vectors

Fulbright Program

cultural exchange program


United States Information Agency

Bruno Zevi

Clare Boothe Luce

US ambassador to Italy

USIS Films - Trieste Record


Tobia, Simontte. Advertising America. The United States Information Service in Italy (1945-1956). Milano: Il Filarete, 2008.

Bruti Liberati, Luigi. "Words, words, words." La guerra fredda dell’USIS in Italia (1945-1956). Milano: CUEM, 2004.

Crisanti, Giulia. "Modernizzazione in celluloide. Le politiche d’informazione americane in Italia e il FondoUSIS di Trieste (1941-1966)." MA Diss. University of Pisa, 2015.

Author Giulia Crisanti