Events 2017-2018

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

Fall 2017

SEPTEMBER 28, THURSDAY, 6 pm, Schapiro Center for Engineering & Physical Science Research, Room 415 

Simone Brioni (Stony Brook University)

What is a 'Minor' Literature? Somali Italian Literature and Beyond

Respondent: Madeleine Dobie (Columbia University)

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University)

My paper analyses to what extent Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of the three main features of ‘minor literature’ – namely ‘the deterritorialization of language, the connection of the individual to a political immediacy, and the collective assemblage of enunciation’ – are relevant in analyzing literature by authors of Somali origins in Italian. Because of Deleuze and Guattari’s abstract reference to gender and race issues and their vague concern for the geographical, linguistic and cultural specificities of literatures by minor authors, I will argue that ‘minor literature’ should not be seen as a rigid framework to be applied in interpreting a specific case study, although its theoretical flexibility might be useful when investigating a literature that strongly refuse categorization. In particular, Deleuze and Guattari’s reference to ‘minor’ ‘literature as a literature ‘in becoming’ helps to identify the position of Somali Italian literature in a transnational context, proposing some changes in how 'Italian' literature has been conceptualized so far.

* Event co-sponsored by the Middle East Institute (MEI), Columbia University


OCTOBER 19, THURSDAY, 6 pm, International Affairs Building, Room 403

Joseph Viscomi (New York University)

Migrants, criminals and spies in the Italian Mediterranean

Respondent: Silvana Patriarca (Fordham University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

In what ways do the movements of subversive Italians during the twentieth century challenge historiography of the modern Mediterranean? What socio-political constellations emerge from their itineraries? Which boundaries are inverted or reinforced? I explore these questions through the microhistories of Italians in Egypt who evaded the law –or manipulated its ambiguity in their favor– between 1919 and 1940. Using documents that appeal either to Italian consular courts in Egypt or to Italian political leaders, in this talk I propose that these individual cases help us to understand the overlapping regimes of law, nationalism, and colonialism in what we could articulate as an Italian Mediterranean.


NOVEMBER 2, THURSDAY, 6 pm, Columbia Global Centers in New York, Conference Room

Ridha Moumni (Independent Art Historian & Curator)

The discovery of ancient Carthage and the reception of antiquity in 19th century Tunisia

Respondent: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University)

In Tunis, the first collections of antiquities were established in the 18th - 19th centuries. European Consuls, foreign scholars, and international traders acquired most of the archaeological remains then available from the ancient city of Carthage. Whether growing out of their personal taste, commercial considerations, or a desire for cultural distinction, they enriched the collections of major European museums. This collecting practice was not limited to foreigners, but also touched the local ruling class. Ministers and the Bey himself constituted rich collections, the most famous of which belonged to the main Tunisian families of the 19th century. The result of ongoing sustained effort, these collections had a notoriety exceeding the country, guaranteeing the fame of their owners on a transnational level, as when they were exhibited in World’s Fair of 1855 and 1873. The Tunisian ruling class quickly became aware of the stakes of their cultural heritage, formerly ignored, which became an important referent of national identity before the French colonization in 1881.

* Event co-presented with the Columbia Global Centers in New York and the Middle East Institute, Columbia University



NOVEMBER 17, FRIDAY, 11.30 am, Fayerweather Hall, Room 310

Andrew Arsan (University of Cambridge)

Intervention: An Eastern Mediterranean genealogy

Respondent: Aaron Jakes (New School)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

The times in which we live are rife with interventions - humanitarian, financial, and political - into the inner affairs of sovereign states. Deep incisions into the body politic, they injure even as they seek to heal, upturning conventional understandings of the state as an autonomous entity by inserting foreign elements beneath its skin. This paper sketches out a genealogy for these practices, tracing them back to the nineteenth-century Mediterranean and the particular sovereign arrangements born of the Ottoman empire’s unhappy encounter with Britain and France. From the 1830s onwards, it argues, these two states devised novel ways of organising population, territory, and debt and new understandings of sovereignty. And in doing so, they made of intervention a principle of international life

* Event co-sponsored by the Middle East Institute (MEI) & Columbia Global Centers



NOVEMBER 30, THURSDAY, 6 pm, Hamilton Hall, Room 516

Alexander Bevilacqua (Williams College)

The Qur’an in the Enlightenment

Respondents: Sarah Rbin Tyeer (Columbia University) & Claire Gallien (Université de Montpellier, and Edward W. Said Fellow at the Heyman Center)

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University)

The Qur'an was an object of scholarly attention in the eighteenth century, when, in the wake of Lodovico Marracci's philological Latin achievement of 1698, a number of writers attempted a literary translation of the holy book of Islam. In the same period, the Qur'an also served as a multivalent symbol--of revealed religion, of literature, and of law. This paper first examines the scholarly achievements of the period's European translators from Arabic, and then compares them to the Qur'an's reception in the Enlightenment to reveal both the connections and the differences between philological and "philosophical" reception in this formative era of Western intellectual culture.

Event co-sponsored by the Middle East Institute (MEI) & Columbia Global Centers


Spring 2018


FEBRUARY 8, THURSDAY, 6.15 pm, The Heyman Center, 2nd floor, Common Room

Lucy Riall (EUI, Florence)

From the Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean: Ideas and Agents of Italian Colonization in South America, c.1840 to c.1880

Respondent: Mark Mazower (Columbia University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

This paper will consider how the ‘turn’ to global history might alter our approach to modern Italy and its colonies.  With its emphasis on transnational trends, and the themes of mobility and connectivity, the approach has much to offer scholars of Italian colonialism but so far has had relatively little impact in reshaping the field and introducing new themes of research. Focusing on Italians overseas in the age of nation and empire, this paper will seek to explain what the study of Italy might contribute to the burgeoning field of global history. Specifically, I take a number of well-known Italian migrants to Latin America and the Pacific (the journalist Giovan Battista Cuneo; the archaeologist Antonio Raimondi; the anthropologist Paolo Mantegazza; and the medical ‘charlatan’ Giulio Bennati), in order to retrace the political, commercial and scientific networks that brought them from the Mediterranean to the Andes and beyond. First, I argue that their lives can tell us much about the experience of empire in the nineteenth century and the extent to which a country without significant colonies could nevertheless participate in, and benefit considerably from, European imperial expansion. Second, I look at attempts to create national ‘colonies’ of settlement in the South American Republics and suggest that these colonies represent an important link between processes of global migration and those of European colonial expansion.

* Event co-sponsored by the Heyman Center, Columbia University. See: 


MARCH 8, THURSDAY, 6.30 pm, Burke Library, Conference Room

Seth Kimmel (Columbia University)

The Disciplines, to Scale: Bibliography between Spain and Italy

ModeratorPier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University)

Respondent: Erin Rowe (John Hopkins University)

When sixteenth-century Iberian humanists such as Juan Páez de Castro, Juan Bautista Cardona, Benito Arias Montano, and Antonio Agustín imaged what King Philip II’s royal library—eventually established during the 1560s and 1570s in San Lorenzo as part of the Escorial monastery complex—ought to look like, they invoked Italian models. Foremost on their minds was the Vatican library, whose decoration, architecture, heating technology, and, especially, bibliographic organization they hoped to imitate. The ceiling frescos of the liberal arts realized in the Escorial’s main reading room by Pellegrino Tibaldi likewise evoked a visual taxonomy of knowledge that was indebted to Italian models. In studying the Escorial’s bibliographic vision across a variety of media and scales, my paper examines the details as well as the limits of this indebtedness.

* Event co-sponsored by the Burke Library, Columbia University


MARCH 29, THURSDAY, 6 pm, The Heyman Center, 2nd floor, Common Room

PANEL: The Mediterranean by Law. Europe and the Maghreb, 16th-19th Centuries

Respondents: Lauren Benton (Vanderbilt University) and Simona Cerutti (EHESS-Italian Academy, Columbia University)

ModeratorsPier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University) and Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Guillaume Calafat (Paris 1, La Sorbonne, IAS, Princeton)

Trials and Jurisdictional Pluralism in the Western Mediterranean (1590-1630). Corsicans at Courts between Ottoman North Africa and Southern Europe

This paper devotes particular attention to Corsican converts to Islam during the Early Modern period: the history of trans-regional and trans-religious families can offer precious information on the ways converts could maintain familial and affective links and relationships with their homeland. To this end, it looks to articulate case studies and to employ micro-analytical techniques of historical investigation around a set of questions related to global history, such as “cross-cultural trade” and commercial exchanges across religious, political, and legal boundaries. Through close study of lawsuits in which Corsican traders and sailors were involved in Algiers, Tunis, Livorno, Marseilles, Genoa and Venice, this presentation will follow commercial and maritime disputes from one tribunal to another in several Mediterranean port cities, giving also information on commercial courts in the Early Modern Mediterranean.

Jessica Marglin (University of Southern California, IEA Paris)

The Extraterritorial Century: Rethinking Nationality and Religion in the Mediterranean, 1815-1915

Nationality has, unsurprisingly, mainly been treated as a national concern, and the histories of nationality largely confine themselves to a single state at a time. More recently, historians have explored nationality in a modern Mediterranean framework, thus breaking the boundaries of the nation-state. Nonetheless, such approaches are dominated by European colonialism; they traverse cultural boundaries, but not political ones. This paper seeks to locate the practice of nationality in the space between “Occident” and “Orient”—and more specifically, in the histories of individuals who were not entirely of one category or the other. I argue that the Mediterranean’s various regimes of national belonging—including, but not limited to, diplomatic protection, colonial subjecthood, nationality, and citizenship—were all essential to the lived experience of nationality, not only in the Middle East but in Europe as well. These competing and often overlapping modes of belonging were not confined to the “Orient”: rather the nature of nationality in Europe was shaped by its manifestations on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and vice versa.  

Event co-sponsored by Columbia Alliance & Columbia Global Centers


APRIL 19, THURSDAY, 6 pm, 501 Hamilton

Gabriele Pedullà (Università di Roma Tre - The Italian Academy, Columbia University)

Studying Italian Literature: a Geographical Approach

Between 2010 and 2012 Einaudi published a three-volume Atlante della letteratura italiana edited by Sergio Luzzatto and Gabriele Pedullà, in which Italian cultural tradition was reinterpreted in the light of geography and through systematic recourse to maps, graphs and digital instruments. One of the two directors of the project will talk about the aims and the results of the Atlante, putting special emphasis on the methodological issues and on the possibility to write a post-national literary history.


Respondent: Nelson Moe (Columbia University)

ModeratorPier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University)