Founded in 1917 to promote cultural exchange between Italy and the English-speaking world, the British Institute today offers a comprehensive programme of courses in the Italian language, the English language and history of art as well as a wide range of cultural events.
The British Institute of Florence, established in 1917 and granted a Royal Charter in 1923, was the first of the British cultural institutes to operate overseas and served as a model for the establishment of the British Council in 1934.
In the drawing rooms and libraries of pre-war Florence local residents, among them poets, journalists, university professors, publishers and journalists such as Herbert Trench, Lina Waterfield, Guido Ferrando, Guido Biagi and Aldo Sorani, discussed the idea of a reading room, library and space for cultural exchange between Britain and Italy. Once war began, British propaganda to promote Italian entry into the war and continued encouragement of the population to support the war after 1915 gave a sense of urgency to what had been a peacetime project. When the Institute was founded it was done so with the support of John Buchan at the new Ministry of Information in London and Rennel Rodd, the British Ambassador in Rome.
Over the next few years, leading up to the granting of the Royal Charter in 1923, this fledgling instituion laid the ground work for its future, supported both locally and in London by, among others, Arthur Acton (father of Harold Acton), Walter Ashburner, Edward Hutton, G.M. Trevelyan and Janet Trevelyan, Gaetano Salvemini, Edmund Gardner and Sir Israel Gollancz. By the time the Institute applied for a Royal Charter it knew exactly what it stood for and what it wanted to achieve. It had begun courses of lectures, published a journal, La Vita Britannica, and was in the process of building its library. The Institute’s objectives, defined in the 1923 Charter, were to promote understanding between the citizens of Italy and the countries of the British Commonwealth through the maintenance in Florence of a library illustrating Italian and British culture and the promotion of the study of both the English and Italian language and the cultures of both countries.