The Italian and Mediterranean Colloquia


In recent years scholars have revisited in new and creative ways the Mediterranean as a category of historical, cultural and anthropological analysis. The spatial turn in the humanities has led them to look beyond the narrow lenses of their case studies and to reframe their research within a wider regional and even global perspective. At the same time, new migrations and mobility of people reshaped (and are constantly reshaping) the landscape of the sea, inviting us to rethink the cultural geography of Italy and the Mediterranean, challenging conventional boundaries between East and West, North and South, distant and close seas.

It is these tendencies that the “Italian and Mediterranean Colloquia” aim to grasp and record. In welcoming a series of scholars, artists, journalists and intellectuals working on these themes, the Colloquia intend not only to place Italy and Italian studies within a Mediterranean and global framework, but also to yield the floor to voices studying different aspects of Mediterranean history, culture, literature and anthropology, from the early modern to contemporary times. It aspires thus to be a crossroad of people and ideas and a common space of discussion for scholars and students alike.


Pier Mattia Tommasino

Konstantina Zanou

For the Department of Italian, Columbia University·     



FALL 2021

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

Louis Francois Cassas (1756–1827), “The town and harbour of Trieste seen from the New Mole”, 1802, Victoria & Albert Museum (E.1865-1900)

October 1, Friday, 12-1.30 pm EST

Trieste, A Mediterranean City

A conversation with Salvatore Pappalardo (Towson University) and David Do Paço (Sciences Po, Paris and Columbia). Respondents: Franco Baldasso (Bard College), Konstantina Zanou (Columbia)

Coordinator: Konstantina Zanou

This event puts together the story of a Muslim boy’s disappearance in late 18th century Trieste (David Do Paço) with that of the ideas of some 19th-century Triestine archeologists, antiquarians and historians (Salvatore Pappalardo) in order to explore the emergence of Trieste as a multiethnic imperial port and a carrier of a presumably distinctive Phoenician-Mediterranean heritage.

David Do Paço is the István Deák Visiting Professor in East Central European Studies at Columbia University and a Researcher at Science Po, Paris. He is a historian of the Habsburg Empire in the eighteenth century. His research lies at the intersection of urban history, diaspora studies, and historical anthropology. He is the author of the monograph L’Orient à Vienne au dix-huitième siècle (Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2015). David’s current project concerns the social and political life of Muslims in 18th century Habsburg cities. He is also the co-director of the Franco-German research project “Trieste: city of Empire(s)”.

Salvatore Pappalardo is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Towson University, where he teaches courses that range from the ancient Mediterranean to modern world literature. His research interests include nineteenth- and twentieth-century European literature, Austrian and Italian modernism, and Mediterranean Studies. He is the author of the monograph Modernism in Trieste: The Habsburg Mediterranean and the Literary Invention of Europe, 1870–1945 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021). 

Franco Baldasso is Assistant Professor of Italian and Director of the Italian Program at Bard College. His main research interests are twentieth century literature, art and intellectual history. His courses and publications focus on the complex relations between Fascism and Modernism, the legacy and memory of political violence in Italy, and the idea of the Mediterranean in modern aesthetics. He authored two books: one on Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, Il cerchio di gesso. Primo Levi narratore e testimone (2007), as well as Curzio Malaparte, la letteratura crudele. Kaputt, La pelle e la caduta della civiltà europea (2019). He is currently finalizing a book manuscript titled “Against Redemption: Democracy, Memory and Literature in Post-fascist Italy.”

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October 22, Friday, 12-1.30 pm EST

Race and Citizenship in Italy

A conversation with Silvana Patriarca (Fordham), Pamela Ballinger (University of Michigan) and Giulia Bonazza (Ca Foscari, Venice and Columbia)

Coordinator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia)

This event celebrates the recent publication of three books, which are here presented and discussed in dialogue with each other: Giulia Bonazza’s Abolitionism and the Persistence of Slavery in Italian States, 1750–1850 (2019), Pamela Ballinger’s The World Refugees Made: Decolonization and the Foundation of Postwar Italy (2020) and Silvana Patriarca’s Il colore della Repubblica: «Figli della guerra» e razzismo nell'Italia postfascista (2021, forthcoming in English).

Pamela Ballinger holds the Fred Cuny Chair in the History of Human Rights in the Department of History at the University of Michigan and is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies. She is the author of History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans (Princeton University Press, 2003), La Memoria dell’Esilio (Veltro Editrice,  2010), and The World Refugees Made: Decolonization and the Foundation of Postwar Italy (Cornell University Press, 2020). Her areas of expertise include human rights, forced migration, refugees, fascism, seaspace, and modern Mediterranean and Balkan history.

Giulia Bonazza is currently Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global fellow at Columbia University and Ca’ Foscari, Venice with a project titled “The Darker Shades of Black. The Value of Skin Colour in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Slave and Labour Markets, 1750-1886”. She is a former fellow of the German Historical Institute in Rome (2018) and former Max Weber post-doctoral fellow at the European University Institute, Florence (2016-7). She is the author of Abolitionism and the Persistence of Slavery in Italian States (1750-1850) (2019) and of a number of articles in the history of slavery in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. 

Silvana Patriarca has taught at Columbia University and the University of Florida at Gainesville and is currently professor of history at Fordham University. She specializes in the social and cultural history of modern Italy, and in particular in the history of nationalism and the construction of national identity. She is the author of Numbers and Nationhood: Writing Statistics in Nineteenth-Century Italy, and of Italian Vices. Nation and Character from the Risorgimento to the Republic (both published by Cambridge University Press and translated into Italian). She has co-edited with Lucy Riall The Risorgimento Revisited: Nationalism and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Palgrave Macmillan) and is the co-editor with Valeria Deplano of a special issue of the journal Modern Italy devoted to “Nation, ‘Race’, and Racisms in Twentieth-Century Italy”.  Her new book Il colore della Repubblica: “Figli della guerra” e razzismo nell’Italia postfascista has just been published by Einaudi. The English edition - entitled Race in Postfascist Italy: “War Children” and the Color of the Nation - will appear with Cambridge University Press in February of next year.

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Jhumpa Lahiri (credit Elena Seibert) and Amara Lakhous
November 17, Wednesday, 1 pm EST

Jhumpa Lahiri with Amara Lakhous: On Writing in Italian, Migration/Mobility, and Belonging

A dialogue between award-winning authors Jhumpa Lahiri and Amara Lakhous

Moderated by Elizabeth Leake and Konstantina Zanou 

Jhumpa Lahiri received the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Interpreter of Maladies, her debut story collection. She is also the author of The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland, a finalist for both the Man Booker prize and the National Book Award in fiction. In 2014, she was awarded a National Humanities Medal. Lahiri’s fifth book was a collection of essays she wrote in Italian while living in Rome, titled In Altre Parole (In Other Words). Lahiri continues to write and publish in Italian; The Clothing of Books (2016) and Il quaderno di Nerina (2021) were originally published in Italian. She also translates both her own writing and the work of others from Italian to English. She has translated three novels by Domenico Starnone: Ties (2017, named a New York Times Notable Book and Best Foreign Novel by the Times of London; Trick (2018, nominated for the National Book Award and winner of the John Florio Prize for translation from Italian to English); and Trust (November 2021). Dove mi trovo, her first novel written in Italian, was published in Italy in 2018 and self-translated into English under the title Whereabouts in 2021. The Penguin Classics Book of Italian Short Stories, edited and introduced by Lahiri, with selected translations, was published in March 2019. Lahiri is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. A collection of essays entitled Translating Myself and Others will be published in Spring 2022 by Princeton University Press.

Amara Lakhous was born in Algiers in 1970. Currently living in New York, he writes in Arabic and Italian. He has a degree in philosophy from the University of Algiers and obtained a PhD in Humanities from the University of Rome and lived in Italy for 18 years. His first novel in Arabic was titled Bedbugs and the Pirate (1999) and his second, How to Breastfeed from a She-Wolf Without Being Bitten (2003) was rewritten in Italian and published with a different title: Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator a Piazza Vittorio (2006). This novel was translated into eight languages and made into a film in 2010 directed by Isotta Toso. It also won Italy’s Flaiano International Award and the Racalmare – Leonardo Sciascia Prize in 2006 and the Algerian Librarians’ Prize in 2008. He has published other novels in Arabic: Little Cairo (2010) and The Night Bird (2019); and in Italian: Divorce Islamic Style (2010), Dispute over an Very Italian Piglet (2012), The Prank of the Good Little Virgin in Via Ormea (2014), which have been published in multiple languages. 

Co-sponsored by the Italian Academy, Columbia University. Register at 


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

March 12, Friday, 12 pm EST

Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University) in conversation with Claudio Fogu (UC Santa Barbara) on the occasion of the publication of his book:

The Fishing Net and the Spider Web. Mediterranean Imaginaries and the Making of Italians (Palgrave, 2020)

The book explores the role of Mediterranean imaginaries in one of the preeminent tropes of Italian history: the formation or ‘making of’ Italians. While previous scholarship on the construction of Italian identity has often focused too narrowly on the territorial notion of the nation-state, and over-identified Italy with its capital, Rome, this book highlights the importance of the Mediterranean Sea to the development of Italian collective imaginaries. From this perspective, this book re-interprets key historical processes and actors in the history of modern Italy, and thereby challenges mainstream interpretations of Italian collective identity as weak or incomplete. Ultimately, it argues that Mediterranean imaginaries acted as counterweights to the solidification of a ‘national’ Italian identity, and still constitute alternative but equally viable modes of collective belonging.

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March 26, Friday, 12 pm EST

Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University) in conversation with Angelo Torre (Università del Piemonte Orientale, Italy & IAS Princeton) on the occasion of the publication of his book: 

Production of Locality in the Early Modern and Modern Age: Places (Routledge, 2020)

The book is a microhistory study of village settlements in early modern Northwest Italy that aims to expand the notion of place to include the process of producing a locality; that is, the production of native local subjects through practices, rituals and other forms of collective action. Undertaking a micro-analytical approach, the book examines the customs and practices associated with typically fragmented and polycentric Italian village settlements to analyze the territorial tensions between various segments of a village and its neighbors. The microspatial analysis reveals how these tensions are the expressions of conflictual relationships between lay, ecclesiastical and charitable bodies culminating in a "culture of fragmentation" that impacts local economic and political practices. The book also traces how the production of locality survived throughout the nineteenth and twentieth-century and is still observed today. In this light, the study of practices and policies of locality over time that this book undertakes is an essential tool to better understand the nature and role of these social bonds in today’s society.

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April 9, Friday, 12 pm EST

Presenter: Elena Bacchin (Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice & Columbia University, Marie Curie Global Fellow)

Discussant: Mark Mazower (Columbia University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Political Convicts: Transnational Actors of the Risorgimento

During the Risorgimento, numerous Italian intellectuals, patriots, and political activists spent parts of their lives in prison and built around this experience an identity based on the concepts of sacrifice and martyrdom. Focusing on the early 1830s, and in particular, on reactions to the Austrian incarceration of the 1831 insurgents, I aim to free political detainees from the shackles of legal and political history and insert them within the context of the questions raised by transnational and humanitarian history. While liberal jurists’ and intellectuals’ perceptions of political crime were being reconfigured over the first decades of the 19th century, political convicts acted as transnational actors of the Italian Risorgimento, with international and popular support, thus challenging the idea that political prisoners emerged as political figures and international actors only in the 20th century.

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Fall 2019

All events of 2019-2020 are co-sponsored by the European Institute, Columbia University

September 26, Thursday, 6:00pm, Hamilton Hall 501

Maria Green Mercado (Rutgers University)


Respondent: Seth Kimmel (Columbia, LAIC)

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia, Italian)

The apocalyptic texts, known as jofores, circulated among Moriscos, Muslims who were forcibly converted to Catholicism in the early sixteenth century. They were attributed to Islamic and Christian sources, and they predicted the loss of Muslim Iberia to Christians, the forced conversion of Muslims, and their persecution by the Inquisition. These texts also presented a future in which Muslims would once again have political control over the Iberian Peninsula. As such, Morisco apocalyptic texts have been previously analyzed within an Iberian framework as reflections of the immediate concerns of Moriscos. In this paper I will argue that the jofores of the Moriscos are best understood within the broader context of the early modern Mediterranean. I will do this by analyzing the presence of Italy in the Morisco apocalyptic imaginary through an analysis of these jofores, as well as Inquisition records against Moriscos where they express their ideas about the End Times. There is no doubt that Italy featured prominently in Christian and Islamic early modern apocalyptic texts in the Mediterranean, not in small measure due to the Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry for the control of the Mediterranean. This paper will analyze the presence of Italy in Morisco jofores to argue that this presence sheds light on Morisco self-conceptions of their role in the political life of the Mediterranean. Through the production and deployment of prophecies Moriscos placed themselves at the center of the Ottoman-Habsburg struggle for the control of Italy and the Mediterranean, which they viewed as the cosmic struggle of the End Times.  

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (LAIC, Columbia)


October 24, Thursday, 6:00pm, Hamilton Hall 501

Emily Wilbourne (The Graduate Center, CUNY)


Respondent: Özden Mercan (Italian Academy, Columbia University)

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia, Italian)

It has become a truism of music history that early modern Europeans had no interest in replicating, imitating, or invoking the sounds of non-European music. In 2013 Owen Wright, for example, discussing early modern turqueries, emphasized that, “however realistic the costumes may have been, there is nothing authentically Turkish in the music.” Many other scholars make a similar point. In this paper I argue otherwise, by tracing musical performances by enslaved labourers at the Medici court. I argue not only that the sounds of foreign musics were known and recognized by educated Italian audiences, but that  the prevalence of musical performance among the work of enslaved court entertainers served to justify certain types of enslavement and to objectify certain registers of musical sound.


November 21, Thursday, 6:00pm, Casa Hispánica

Claire Gilbert (Saint Louis University)


Respondent: Ardeta Gjikola (The Society of Fellows, Columbia University)

Moderators: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia Italian) and Seth Kimmel (Columbia, LAIC)

This paper studies how scholars and politicians of the Ilustración relied on medieval precedents in Spanish Arabism for philological and political projects. Those precedents were related to the politics of belonging and exclusion which shaped early modern Spanish society. Their memory and use into the eighteenth century affected the new attitudes of Spanish foreign policy with Arabic speakers across the Mediterranean. Departing from the example of the Hieronymite friar, Escorial Arabic professor, and administrator in Spanish Tangier, Patricio de la Torre (1760–1814), I explore policies of memory and adaptation of the linguistic technologies and ideologies of the late “Reconquista” in Spain’s colonial agenda in Morocco, particularly through Torres’s adaptation of the works of Pedro de Alcalá (1505-1506). Indeed, the drive to “reduce” the common language of the ally or enemy was just as vital in the 1790s for Spanish ministers looking to Morocco as those in the 1490s looking to Granada. In each of these contexts, and throughout the period between, translators and philologists provided the linguistic knowledge with which to rule across boundaries and conduct international relations.

This event is co-sponsored by the department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (LAIC, Columbia)


Spring 2020-Canceled

March, 26, Thursday, 6:00pm, Hamilton Hall 501

Shirin Ramzanali Fazel (Writer) and Simone Brioni (Stony Brook University)


Respondent: Graziella Parati (Dartmouth College)

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia, Italian)

Through its dialogic form, this paper presents key issues in Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’s career as representative of her cohort of Somali-Italian authors’ struggles to be heard and read, including the processes of translation and self-translation in Lontano da Mogadiscio and Nuvole sull’Equatore, the challenges surrounding publication both at home and abroad, and the conflict created by her works’ assertion of an alternative view of history that disrupts settled Italian cultural memory.

April 16, Thursday, 6:00pm, Hamilton Hall 501

Nicola di Cosmo (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton)


Respondent: TBA

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia Italian)


Fall 2018

All events of 2018-2019 are co-sponsored by the European Institute, Columbia University


November 1, Thursday, 6pm, Hamilton 501

Valerie McGuire (University of California, Davis)


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, 6pm, Hamilton 501

Antonio Morone (Università degli studi di Pavia, Italy)


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. 


December 6, Thursday, 6pm, Hamilton 501

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


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.

*Event co-sponsored by ISERP and the Anthropology Department, Columbia University


Spring 2019


February 7, Thursday, 6pm, The Heyman Center

Pamela Ballinger (University of Michigan)


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, cross-referencing, 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.

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



March 28, Thursday, 6pm, Hamilton 501

Blaise Wilfert-Portal (École Normale Superieure, Paris)


The mid-19th century saw the difficult and controversial invention of the international intellectual property law and the creation of the Bureau international de la propriété intellectuelle (or Bureau de Berne). Unlike what the conventional story says, the establishment of institutions, national laws and international agreements concerning the circulation of texts and the system of (inter)national copyright was not at all an inherent development of the Atlantic industrial society, nor the result of the ‘cosmopolitan spirit’ of a transnational sphere; on the contrary, it was the result of a three-decades-long fight (from the International Congress of Brussels in 1858 to the Bureau de Berne in 1886). Italian scholars, academics, publishers, lawyers, diplomats and writers alike took part in this complex campaign, as marginal players in the beginning, but by gradually conquering more significant posts in the debates and negotiations. By studying this slow emergence of a European literary arena, my research shows how it deployed in complete synchronicity and tight articulation with the invention of an Italian book market and national literature. The political economy of literature, seen through the lenses of international copyright, leads to the conclusion that the Italian national culture system was a transnational product of the ‘First Globalization’.

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

*Event made possible by a PSL-Columbia Collaboration Grant


April 4, Thursday, 6pm, Hamilton 501

Dominique Kirchner Reill (University of Miami)


Respondent: Molly Greene  (Princeton University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Gabriele D’Annunzio, his legionnaires, and all the extremes of drugs, sex, nudism, and libertinism has put the port-city town of Fiume (today’s Rijeka in the Republic of Croatia) on the historiographical map. Often characterized as the site of proto-fascism or the “festival of the revolution,” Fiume has been marked by the histories of the occupying Italians who came after World War One and before Mussolini came to power. But the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual port-town of Fiume continued along, beside and amongst it all. This talk discusses the city’s struggle, one informed less by pre-fascist partying and more by the traumas and opportunities of the fall of empire when the guns of August stopped.


April 25, Thursday, 6pm, Hamilton 501

Diana Moore (The Graduate Center, City University of New York)


Respondent: tbc

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.

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

Fall 2017

SEPTEMBER 28, THURSDAY, 6pm, 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, 6pm, 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, 6pm, 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, 6pm, Hamilton Hall, Room 516

Alexander Bevilacqua (Williams College)

The Qur’an in the Enlightenment

Respondents: Sarah R. bin 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, 6.15pm, 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, 6.30pm, Burke Library, Conference Room

Seth Kimmel (Columbia University)

The Disciplines, to Scale: Bibliography between Spain and Italy

Moderator: Pier 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)

Moderators: Pier 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, 6pm, 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)

Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University)


East of Venice

* All events of 2016-2017 are co-sponsored by the European Institute, the History Department, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, and the Program in Hellenic Studies.


  • Monday, November 21, 6.30pm, 411 Fayerweather, Columbia University

 Francesca Trivellato  (Frederick W. Hilles Prof of History, Yale University)

Renaissance Florence and the Origins of Capitalism: New Answers to an Old Question

Respondent: Giovanni Ceccarelli (Università di Parma-Princeton University) 

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Was Renaissance Florence the cradle of Western capitalism and individualism? This talk revisits this old question in historiographical perspective and suggests new ways of bringing legal, economic, and cultural history to bear on one another. To do so, it discusses the preliminary results of an ongoing analysis of nearly 5,000 business contracts registered in Florence between 1445 and 1808. It also situates this project in relation to various Digital Humanities initiatives concerning Renaissance Florence.


  • Monday, February 13, 5:30 pm, The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan

EAST OF VENICE: La Serenissima as Seen from its Eastern Frontiers

Konstantina Zanou, Moderator


Larry Wolff | Molly Greene | Patricia Fortini Brown | Daphne Lappa

Viewing the history of the Venetian Republic through the lens of its neighbors in the Balkans and its Mediterranean frontiers, this international panel of specialists examines the various exchanges—cultural, linguistic, religious, among others—between the Ottoman and the Venetian worlds, East and West. 

* Co-presented by Carnegie Hall and The Italian Academy within the framework of the festival La Serenissima: Music and Arts from the Venetian Republic

More info: East of Venice


  • Wednesday, February 22, 6.30 pm, Hamilton 501, Columbia University

Maurizio Isabella (Associate Professor of History, Queen Mary University of London)

A Southern Revolutionary Script? Army and Revolution in the Mediterranean in the age of liberalism

Respondent: Mark Mazower (Columbia University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Was there anything peculiar about the age of revolutions in the Mediterranean?  The talk addresses this question by looking at revolutions as scripts, that is as a set of practices, narratives and principles that justify them in relationship to other (earlier or contemporary) revolutionary events.  A striking feature of revolutionary attempts in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece in the 19th century was their military origin. Admittedly revolutions were the products of military uprisings in other parts of the world in the period, from the Ottoman to the Spanish, Portuguese Empires, including the Asian dependencies.  However the talk argues that in the 1820s, when rebellions simultaneously broke out across the Mediterranean, a specific shared script emerged to define these events as the peaceful and moderate regeneration of the South, led by army officers acting in the name of the nation, against an oppressive North. This script contributed to the re-writing of the geography of the region in relationship to Europe.


  • Monday, March 20, 6.30 pm, Hamilton 501, Columbia University

Daniel Hershenzon (Assistant Professor of History, University of Connecticut)

Captivated by the Mediterranean: Early Modern Spain and the Political Economy of Ransom

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

This presentation analyzes the political economy of ransom—understood as the interaction between political regulation, market exchange, social obligation, and religious mechanisms—in the Mediterranean between 1575 and 1650. On the basis of the reconstruction of the entangled histories of Christian and Muslim captives, I argue that Spanish, Algerian, and Moroccan actors—captives, merchants, friars, and rulers—transformed the political economy of ransom by collaborating and competing with one another over ransom procedures, the construction of captives’ value and the regulation of human traffic across the sea. 


  •  Monday, March 27, 6.30 pm, Hamilton 501, Columbia University

Gilles Bertrand (Professor of Early Modern History, Université de Grenoble Alpes, France). 

Traveling in the Mediterranean in the Early modern period: the Grand Tour and beyond

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Travels in the Mediterranean in the early modern period were not really or not only the Grand Tour. We will try to articulate the practice of travels in the Mediterranean area and the experience of the European Grand Tour which developed between the middle of the 16th and the end of the 18th century, when European elites visited France, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Netherlands and England with educational and pastime purposes. By considering travelers from West or Central Europe towards the Levant, Egypt, Greece and North African coasts from the end of Middle Ages to the Romantic period, we can better understand the complexity of the successive phases of European travel from pilgrimage to the peregrinatio academica, and from scientific missions to the quest of exoticism.


  • Monday, April 3, 6.30 pm, Hamilton 501, Columbia University


Andrew Arsan (University Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History, 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. 


  • Monday, April 17, 6.30 pm, 754 Schermerhorn, Columbia University

Yannis Hamilakis (Joukowsky Family Professor of Archaeology and Professor of Modern Greek Studies, Brown University)

A sensorial archaeology of undocumented migration in the Mediterranean

Respondent: Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

How can we record, explore, and understand the materiality of the experience of forced and undocumented migration today? How can we communicate such work to scholars and to various publics? What kind of theoretical and methodological stances can we deploy, avoiding the instrumentalisation of the phenomenon for purely academic purposes, and the aestheticisation of an often painful and tragic experience? I will explore these questions taking the Mediterranean, and especially its eastern shores as my main focus. I will propose a politically engaged scholarly practice which can combine solidarity and activist actions (including clandestine/“guerrilla” tactics) with academic research. I will claim that the purpose of such archaeology is primarily to focus sensorial and affective attention on the violence of forced migration, as well as on the active agency of the migrants themselves and of the things, places, landscapes and atmospheric features that compose the sensorial assemblage of migration. Furthermore, the engagement with the condensed, transient, and fluid materiality of migration does not relate simply to the archaeology of the contemporary. It also poses a huge challenge for archaeology in general, its entanglement with the colonial and national apparatus, and its epistemic and ethical/political assumptions.


Yannis Hamilakis is Joukowsky Family Professor of Archaeology and Professor of Modern Greek Studies at Brown University. He works on the archaeology of the senses, on the politics of the past, on archaeological ethnography, on colonial and national archaeology, and on the links between the photographic and the archaeological. He also co-directs the Koutroulou Magoula Archaeology and Archaeological Ethnography Project in Greece

Lecture co-sponsored by the Heyman Center for the Humanities


  • Monday, April 24, 6.30 pm, Hamilton 501, Columbia University

Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University)

The Mediterranean Incarnate: Region Formation between Tunisia and Sicily since WWII

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Embarking on a five-week voyage aboard the Naumachos, a Sicilian motorized fishing trawler, in the fishing grounds between Sicily and Tunisia, the talk intertwines the view from the deck with a historical exploration of the recent turbulent history of the Naumachos’s homeport. Mazara del Vallo is located on the southwestern tip of Sicily some ninety nautical miles northeast of the African shore. Since WWII, the town has seen conflicts over Sicilian poaching in North African territory, the construction of the TransMediterranean gas pipeline, and how the Mediterranean should figure in Italian politics at large. The Mediterranean Incarnate examines the transformation of political action, imaginaries, and relations, to show how the Mediterranean has reemerged as a transnational regional constellation in modern times. 


Naor Ben-Yehoyada is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University and Associated Researcher at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche–Iamc, Sicily. He received his PhD in social anthropology from Harvard University in 2011.


Fall 2015

  • October 8, 2015: Cammy Brothers (University of Virginia, Italian Academy)

Granada-Genova-Seville-Rome: Sixteenth-Century Palaces in Andalusia through a Mediterranean Lens


  • October 15, 2015: Peter Miller (Bard Graduate Center)

Marseille and Genoa, again: Thinking about the Seventeenth-Century Western Mediterranean


  • November 20, 2015: Nathalie Hester (University of Oregon)

Columbus Conquers the Moors: Baroque Italian Epic from Granada to the New World


  • December 4, 2015: Roberta Morosini (Wake Forest University) 

Tales of “the Salt Sea”: the Mediterranean as a structural space of Medieval Romance


Spring 2016

  • January 28, 2016: Elizabeth Horodowich (New Mexico State University)

The World Seen from Venice: Representing America in Early Modern Printed Maps


  • February 25, 2016: Franco Baldasso (Bard College)

A Mirror for Italy: Intellectuals in Trieste Facing the Collapse of Yugoslavia


  • April 14, 2016: Amara Lakhous (Writer) 

Being a minority in the Mediterranean


Fall 2014

·      October 10, 2014: Francesca Bregoli (Queens College, CUNY) 

Sociability and Cosmopolitanism: Jews and Coffeehouses in Livorno


·      November 14, 2014: Fabien Montcher (Saint Louis University) 

A Mediterranean Restauração (c. 1640): Politics, Libraries and Book Hunting in the Roman Exile of Vicente Nogueira


·      November 24, 2014: Katharina N. Piechocki (Harvard University) 

Cartographic Imagery and Continental Poetics from Petrarch to Ramusio


​Spring 2015

·      March 10, 2015: Eric Dursteler (Brigham Young University)

Can Women Speak Languages? Gender and Multilingualismin the Early Modern Mediterranean


·      April 10, 2015: Elisabetta Benigni (Italian Academy) and Andrea Celli (University of Connecticut)

“L’aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci”. The debate on Islamic influences on Dante and the Arabic Translations of the Divine Comedy


·      April 16, 2015: Claudio Fogu (University of California, Santa Barbara) 

A Southern or Mediterranean Question? The Geography of Repression in Making Italians


·      May 1, 2015: James Amelang (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

Discovering the Mediterranean: Carlo Levi, Fernand Braudel, Ernesto De Martino


The Fishing Net and the Spider Web: Mediterranean Imaginaries and the Making of Italians
Trieste: A Mediterranean City
Race and Citizenship in Italy