Events 2018-2019

Fall 2018

All events of 2017-2018 are co-sponsored by the European Institute, Columbia University


October 18, Thursday, 6 pm

Emilio Cocco (Università degli studi di Teramo, Italy-American University of Rome)

Borders in the Ocean: Identity and Otherness in the Italian Navy Ocean Diaries

Respondent: Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Columbia University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

In this talk—based on my book “I confini nel mare" (2016), co-authored with Fabiana Dimpflmeier—I will discuss the national self-representations and the description of otherness as they appear in the logbooks and diaries written by Italian Navy officers on duty in ocean travels in the second part of the 19th century. My aim is to understand how the relation with otherness, mediated by the liminal space of the ocean, contributed to ongoing definitions of national identity. I try both to shed light on the role played by the Italian Navy in the nation-building process and to assess the latter’s importance in affecting the relation between modern Italian society and the sea. I hope to provide an original seaborne reading of the "making of Italy", which challenges conventional representations of the country that see it as a naturally peninsular phenomenon and only accidentally as a global one.


November 1, Thursday, 6 pm

Valerie McGuire (University of California, Berkeley)

Italy’s Eastern Question: Ottoman collapse and Italian Mobilities in the Mediterranean, 1895-1945

Respondent: Ruth Ben-Ghiat (New York University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

This paper rethinks the traditional view that Italy represents a minor imperial power whose colonial ambitions mainly centered on Africa. Recent debates in European history have highlighted that discourses of empire persisted within nation-states well into the twentieth century, and indeed, were spurred on by the First World War and collapse of the Ottoman empire, the decline in whose authority had opened up vast new territories for the expansion of liberal markets. Yet Italian empire has remained marginal to such discussions and is still largely perceived as an idiosyncratic case of empire, one that strained to export surplus labor while aiming to resolve the unemployment crisis in the peninsula. Countering this tendency in the historiography, I introduce a new perspective of Italian colonialism by linking together its Balkan and African ambitions through a Mediterranean framework and showing how the rise of an ‘Eastern Question’ in Europe occasioned discourses in Italian culture of reclaiming emigrants and markets the Mediterranean. First, I analyze several works by Italian authors of the Italian liberal state showing that the fantasy of a new Roman empire well pre-dated the rise of Mussolini and a Fascist state. Second, I discuss how recent discussions of mobility in Italian studies that have documented the intimate connection between overseas emigration and Italian colonization point to new ways of thinking about empire that can move us beyond the binary between settler and administrative forms of imperialism.


November 29, Thursday, 6 pm

Antonio Morone (Univesrsità degli studi di Pavia, Italy)

African soldiers and Italy’s neo-colonial policy, 1943-52

Respondent: Silvana Patriarca (Fordham University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

The Italian troops in the African colonial empire were rapidly defeated after Italy entered World War II in June 1940. British and Commonwealth troops occupied Addis Ababa in May 1941, while the last Italian forces in Libya were defeated at the beginning of 1943. This paper focuses on the immediate postwar period and, more specifically, on the different stories of the several African soldiers (ascari). Some of them tried to reach Italy in order to escape British military rule, unemployment, economic misery, and political persecution. Others became war prisoners and were subsequently released on Italian soil together with Italian soldiers from elsewhere. In both cases, Italian authorities discouraged the ascari’s attempts to freely move around the Italian peninsula, and they denied their claim to be “African Italian” and their dream to participate in a new post-fascist society. On the contrary, what they did was to “host” the ascari in military camps. At the same time, Italy was also engaged in an attempt to reweave the warp of its old colonial policy in Africa, by means of getting the support of the former colonial subjects and intermediaries, as in the case of the former ascari who in the new international situation were called upon to demonstrate their loyalty to Italy. The twist came on May 1849, when the UN General Assembly did not approve the Bevin-Sforza Agreement, which provided for a division of the former Italian colonies among Italy, UK and France. For the first time after the end of World War II, Italy and Britain declared themselves in favour of independence of their former colonies, leaving France still holding a more regressive position that had become indefensible. As a result, in the new political framework, support of the former ascari became politically pointless, if not problematic, and then quickly overshadowed by their forced deportation to Africa. Based on archival material and private correspondence, the paper will discuss the question of containment (in Italy) versus mobilization (in the former Italian colonies in Africa) of the ascari according to the purposes and goals of a neo-colonial Italian policy. 


Spring 2019


February 7, Thursday, 6 pm

Pamela Ballinger (University of Michigan)

Italy’s Eventful Decolonization: Multidirectional Memories of Empire’s End

Respondent: Victoria de Grazia (Columbia University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Scholars have typically characterized Italy’s decolonization as abrupt and having little resonance in the peninsula at the time or subsequently. In this paper, I challenge this interpretation by demonstrating the visible and deeply felt impacts of repatriation by Italian settlers to the metropole at the time of events and the continued, if selective, visibility of these experiences in public debates during succeeding decades. In particular, I examine films and novels, arenas for which most scholars (with notable exceptions, e.g. Ben-Ghiat and Baratieri) posit an explicit silence about imperial defeat and repatriation that instead become displaced onto other themes. Re-reading such cultural artefacts, I argue, raises the possibility of what Michael Rothberg has deemed the work of multidirectional memories, “subject to ongoing negotiation, crossreferencing, and borrowing.” Writing specifically of the Holocaust, slavery, and colonialism as “singular yet relational histories,” Rothberg urges that “experiences of particular suffering can be brought into dialogue with each other.” Rather than treat an influential film like Antonioni’s l’Eclisse as telling a story of an absent or amnesiac Italian decolonization (as Pinkus has), then, we instead may see it as encoding multidirectional memories: of fascism, of Italian colonialism, of the experience of Italians in other powers’ colonies, and so on. Whereas a notion of psychological displacement implies a unidirectional movement (uncomfortable ideas or images about a subject are moved into a more acceptable realm), the multidirectional concept allows us to recognize and acknowledge a wider play of associations and connections, thereby rethinking the complex reception of Italian decolonization within the metropole.



Dominique Kirchner Reill (University of Miami)

Title tba

Respondent: tba

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)


March (dta)

Blaise Wilfert (École Normale Superieure, Paris)

Title tba

Respondent: tba

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)


April (dta)

Diana Moore (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

British Women in the Italian Risorgimento: An Orientalist Civilizing Mission?

Respondent: tba

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

This paper examines the work of three British women, Julia Salis Schwabe, Mary Chambers, and Jessie White Mario, who established schools in rural or southern Italy and wrote about the socioeconomic problems of the new state. Though some historians have argued that Schwabe and her supporters saw themselves as elite empire builders with a duty to impose their superior Protestant culture upon an uncivilized Italy, I argue that their sense of superiority was based as much on class as religion and that many middle-class Italian liberals and radicals shared these ideas about the economic and moral poverty of the general Italian populace. Therefore, we cannot conclude that they were acting specifically as colonizers in Italy. Instead, I argue that their actions reveal the relative importance of shared middle-class sympathies and liberal values in nineteenth-century nationalist movements and also highlight the potential overlaps between nineteenth-century European nationalist movements and imperialist endeavors. Their actions also reveal increased possibilities for female agency in this era of middle-class Liberal cooperation as the women were able to leverage their status, wealth, and connections into positions of leadership and authority in reforming projects both at home and abroad.