Empty Spaces

It is interesting to note that propaganda about the Italian colonies was emphasized in terms of space (endless territories) that were to be used to solve the immigrant problem. Part of the failure to study decolonization in Italy was the fact that colonialism was equated to fascism and with the end of fascism, attention was directed towards westernizing in the American model. With the economic boom of the 50’s and 60’s all attention was placed on creating new spaces to be “colonized”, namely rural Italy close to large cities in need of housing.

EUR is a good example of the displacement of a colonial project (a reflection of what Italy planed to achieve in its colonies) which has become a “space” for offices, government  buildings and residential developments. The article by Pinkus describes Antonioni’s film L’eclisse and the character of Vittoria as part of a generation that may have internalized fascist racial ideals. The film is set in the EUR, a “virtually and spiritually empty” space. The transfer of colonial planning to the “new colonies” of the EUR, as Pinkus states, is a process of forgetting and not reflecting on the past.

Aerial view of EUR in 1953                          EUR today



Italians and the invention of race (Lucia Re)


I liked this article very much (it seems like most of us did). The part on race studies  was the most interesting for me. A number of scientists helped shape the way race was represented. Lombroso’s “L’uomo bianco e l’uomo di colore was probably one of the most influential and gave a pseudo-scientific explanation for the superiority of whites. I found this link which is really interesting.  As I glanced through the pages I read a part in which he states that even the blood of blacks is different. He says that it coagulated immediately when drawn. Anthropologists today know that race is a social construct and that it’s impossible to determine a person’s “race” by blood or tissue samples.

I find it paradoxical that northern Europeans viewed Italians with the same prejudice that they used towards the Africans.  Sibilla Aleramo reference to Ferrero’s book in her novel Una donna surprised me.  In Prof. McMenamin’s class we read chapters of this book.  If the southern man who raped her was a different race (quasi orientale – keeping women secluded harem-style) it was her northern father who forced her to marry him. She was very attached to her father and her education was rather liberal for the day, as a matter of fact she was the first Italian woman to leave her husband and her son.

An excellent article that I will save and do research on many of the people she mentioned!

Link to digital copy of Lombroso’s book:


Pickering-Iazzi – Italian pioneer women

The need to recruit Italian women to colonize Africa after the “leggi razziali” required special strategies.  These women were meant to bring to the colonies the idea of settlement and home.  Very different from American pioneer women who had to face the unknown and many hardships, these women knew where they were going and most often the colonizers were treated to a Camelot where women only had to think of how to enjoy a “vibrant social life of pomp and circumstance” (p.209).  The problem of colonial architecture was to design plans for the colonies which separated the whites from the blacks.  Rava called the geographic separation a preventive measure so there would be no intermingling of the races.  Basically, “reverse ghettos” were created with boundaries to make the separation loud and clear.  Beautiful villa with gardens and servants were to give Italian women a lifestyle they could only dream of back home.  It must have sounded wonderful but I wonder why if 100,000 females enrolled in pre-colonial camps, fewer than 10,000 actually went to Italian East Africa.

The need to create colonial residences was meant to show Italian dominance and superiority but it was also a way to protect colonizers from locals.  The lifestyle offered to Italian colonial women appeared to give them power and make them feel responsible for the well being of the community.  With all of the comforts they were to have, the anxiety of moving to a foreign country was probably not reason enough to leave the homeland and start a new life.

Italian villa in Asmara

American pioneer women



Madamismo and fascist women



Early Italian settlers  aside from trying to gain economic benefits were on a mission to “civilize” the backward locals. In Eritrea these settlers were ,as we know, mainly single men.  The “madamas” (as Iyib states), were a colonial adaptation of contractual marriages, concubinage or dual households of preindustrial societies. On a higher level than prostitutes but the relationship was always one of “master – slave”.  These women were caught in the “dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t” syndrome.  After fascism many of these women were active in the resistance either as fighters or mothers and daughters of patriots.  It is discouraging to read that after Eritrean independence women were still treated as second rate citizens with only token women as ministers.  Women have played an important role in the history of Eritrea but continue. I liked the onion image of peeling off the images of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to explain and understand the effects of the past on the present and above all how it continues to shape the present.  Our study of Italian Colonialism has shown again and again, that we need to delve into the past if we are to understand what we did wrong and to rectify those wrong doings for future generations.


Fascist  Women and the rhetoric of virility


This reading was difficult for me.  The fascist intellectual feminist was ridiculed and threatened the whole idea of fascism.  The discussion goes around in circles because it excludes women from being anything other than wife or mother and yet calls them to participate in political life.  A virile woman was a weak woman, needed in the workplace but she should not sacrifice her feminine qualities.  What are feminine qualities?  Labriola wanted fascist women with a maternal heart and a virile mind.  Not masculine but spiritual values were called for.  She also condemns “the characteristics of femininity in intellectual fields”.  What does that mean?  I see a connection between the rhetoric of fascist women and madamismo in that both relegate women to a role of inferior being  and subject to male power and domination.  Wasn’t the idea of a fascist woman very similar to that of a madama in the end?


Racial Hierarchies

This I think is the most interesting essay we have read so far. So many facets of Italian colonialism were discussed in concise and interesting way. It also gives many insights by relating real stories of real people. The defeat at Adwa set the stage for colonization in Eritrea. Italians had to redefine their ambitions. It was crucial for the Italians to avoid rebellion and subsequent war (it meant that Ethiopia would attack). But the catch 22 was that the government was having to deal with the settlers demands also. The “southern problem” of Italy rears its head again. Barrera states that the settlers were aliens in a hostile land (p.87). The Eritreans were not seen as a threat but this didn’t always mean respect and friendship with them. Some exploited a privileged position in a political system much like the government was doing with them. Unqualified and unemployed workers were discouraged from emigrating to the colony and during the same period 9 million Italians emigrated to the USA. I found it amusing (although actually quite sad) that one concessionaire in complaining about not being able to exploit the native labor stated “Why did we sacrifice so many lives and so much money if the Italian has to come here to work? If one wants to work, one goes to America” (p.99). Racial hierarchies in my opinion always evolve when one group is being exploited by another. I think that in the colonies both settlers and locals were being exploited.  Under these circumstances racism comes to signify trying to survive. As always in life, nothing is all black or all white. There was not just one “Italian behavior and the personal accounts in the essay confirm this.

Italo-Eritrean Children

In1940 the “Children of Mixed Race” law went into effect, but ever since 1917, the government had allowed and even encouraged Italian men to acknowledge their children born to African women. Also, in 1933 a law gave mixed-race children the right to gain citizenship even if the father did not recognize them. All of a sudden they were applying the 1- drop- rule that we had here in the USA. This biological racism, coming from the fascists view that mixing of the races led to racial degeneration, contrasted with the idea of assimilating them as part of the Italian population.  It would seem to me that to this assimilation was working pretty well.  Tigrinya women educated their children to identify with the father to the point that even children who had been abandoned by the father they were encouraged to identify with  his culture.  I find it interesting that for the most part, Italian fathers were responsible enough to support these children.  It’s hard to say weather the submissive nature of the local women was cultural or due to the fact that they were in fact under colonial rule (or a combination of both). Regardless, it must have been a fascist male’s dream to have a woman who was so submissive.  I also wonder how children reacted to the mother under these circumstances.  These attitudes negate her value as a person and relegate her status to that of an almost non-entity. It would be interesting to know how Eritrean society reacted to a child born out of wedlock to two locals.

Captain Francesco Carchidio Malvolti


Collaboration & Resistance in Libya

Ahmida’s essay illustrates the various reasons for which different groups either collaborated or resisted Italian colonialism in Libia.  It’s interesting to see how reactions to colonialism differed from  region to region.  Reactions depended mainly upon the distinct makeup of social classes within the regions.  The  urban notable class in Tripolitania and Fezzan  both had tribal confederations with distinct social classes (notable or landowning clans and peasantry or landowning and share cropping peasants). Cyrenaica differed in that it had no peasantry and had one cohesive social force.  In Tripolitania and Fezzan economic and social interests (read POWER here and also revenge) were the main factors for collaboration with Italian colonialists. These two groups were “waiverers” and sought advantage either by collaborating or resisting as the situation required. As Ahmida’s article stresses, collaboration is a complex issue and hard to define. Some chiefs sought to protect their authority and interests and saw collaboration as a means to achieve this. The Italians were not the main enemy – rival chiefs were more of a threat, and many saw collaboration as a way to preserve their interests.

More interesting to me, was the situation in Cyrenaica. The region was divided between the coastal, urban population and the hinterland.  The two areas had weak ties and reacted differently to Italian colonialization. The town notables in the north in the end decided to make peace with the Italians because they became isolated under Italian occupation.  Anti-colonial resistance in the hinterland was another story. The tribes in Cyrenaica refused to collaborate and caused a protracted guerrilla war against Italian fascist armies between 1922 and 1932.  The Sanusi tribes had no elite class and their leaders came from lower-status tribal backgrounds. Typical in chieftainships is that power emanates from the chief rather than being invested in him by those he leads.  A chief is expected to conduct himself in a way befitting his power. Italian armies with all their military might were ill equipped to combat these tribes who knew the land and who above all were willing to die rather than submit to oppression by foreigners.  A tribal system is best expressed by F, Barth: “me against my brother, me and my brothers against my cousins, me and my cousins against the world” (Nomads of South Persia. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1964, p.3).  Colonialism transforms self-sufficient economies or dominates them according to Ahmida.  Italians were looking for a way to solve the “southern problem” (among other things) by colonizing Libia. I find it paradoxical that they were using force in Libia to avoid using force in their own country against possible rebellions by nationalists.




Mussolini and the Sword of Islam

Mussolini & the Sword of Islam


Mussolini’s visit to Libya in 1937 was a masterpiece of propaganda.  He inaugurated the “Litoranea” (an impressive highway completed in less than 18 months), deprived Italo Balbo of the glory and set himself up as a protector of Islam.  Very ironic since Italian colonialism in Cyrenaica had been very brutal.  An entire population of 100,000 had been marched to Cyrenaican concentration camps and an estimated 40,000 died. Only in 1931 after the capture and hanging of Omar al-Mukhtar did the situation end. In this region of Libya the “Sanusi order had become deeply rooted as a state and as a religion” (p.63). Even after years of fascist propaganda the tribes in Cyrenaica resisted Italian colonialism.

I can’t help but remember Gaddafi’s visit to Italy in 2009.  He arrived wearing a picture of al-Mukhtar pinned to his jacket. Berlusconi stated “A long painful chapter with Libya has been closed”, and Gaddafi  “praised this generation of Italians for having resolved the issues of the past with great courage”. But as is usually the case, economic  concerns and prestige were the main factors involved here. I just think it’s ironic that after over 70 years this “long painful chapter” as Berlusconi called it, is long from being over.  This course on Italian Colonialism should be taught in Italian schools at all levels and it is not. The censorship of documents or films relating to the colonial experience by Italian authorities creates a barrier to the truth. Italians need to know what happened during their colonial experience and to be able to judge using all information available.

Arch of the Fileni (Litoranea)

Mussolini’s visit to Libya in 1937:


Geddafi & Berlusconi 2009



This is a very good article explaining the relationship between Italy and Libya during the past 100 years:



A Place in the Sun

I wonder what it would have been like to live in Italy during the fascist regime.  From previous governments that were divided and indecisive to one that tried to control and organize every aspect of the lives of its citizens.  Mussolini wanted to rid Italians of the stereotype of “sensual, fun loving idlers” (p. 491), but to quiet the masses he resorted to all kinds of leisure activities. The promotion of many of these activities that were meant to nationalize citizens often ended up creating rivalries between regions and cities. The same problem occurs again and again in Italian history.  The first loyalty seems to be local or regional and a sense of “fatherland” (and patriotism) was, and is still, hard to create in a country that is so variegated.

Duggan is great at describing historical facts.  He is always able to interpret and analyze the human beings who with their actions wrote history.  I feel he is especially good at describing Mussolini with all of his idiosyncrasies. The cult of ancient Rome was an obsession for him and “pervaded the cultural life of Italy during the 1930s” (p. 500).  His attempt at colonialism is I feel is a direct consequence of his grandiose ideas.  As Duggan states on p. 503 he mobilized the largest army ever seen for a colonial war. He wanted to create an empire to distract the country from the economic problems it was facing. He stopped at nothing (breaching international law and using any kind of gas on a massive scale are the proof of this).  It is interesting to read that “the adulation that surrounded him in Italy after the declaration of empire encouraged a growing detachment from reality and a tendency, as many of his close collaborators noticed, to believe in his own myth” (p. 507).

Capture of Omar el Mukhtar

Hanging of Omar el Mukhtar


Saracen Joust in Arezzo 1931

Calcio in costume



Moulding Fascist Minds



Mussolini may have found it relatively easy to form his dictatorship (we must remember that he was legally elected), but it was definitely not easy to “make Italians”!   By 1926 Italy was basically a police state, “but alongside force there had to be a measure of propaganda and indoctrination, for the fascist state aimed to be ethical in character and rectify through education many of the nation’s historic vices” (p455). In Sicily for example, the state had historically been weak.  It’s ironic to think that Mussolini’s rhetoric praised  peasant virtues like ‘discipline’, ‘work’ and ‘sacrifice’ but Sicilians had more trust in local mafiosi than state representatives and old patterns were hard to eradicate. Education was critical but peasant societies were typically uneducated.The need to renovate the educational system was of utmost importance.  Fascist bureaucracy only succeeded in using education as a platform “on the celebration of Mussolini, militarism and empire” (p.461).

Emphasis on “moulding fascist bodies” created many paramilitary organzations for children (Balilla, Piccole italiane, Avanguardisti,Giovani italiane, and Figli della lupa). Boys were prepared for the military and girls for maternity to supply soldiers.

The fascist dislike of “feminism” I found particularly irritating.The idea of the “authentic woman”, who had a duty to obey her husband,and focus on child bearing is comparable to slavery!  That the Catholic church welcomed some of the guidelines regarding female sexuality is equally disturbing.  Catholicism was the strongest national institution and not surprisingly Mussolini used the church as a model by using “the language, iconography and practices of the Church” (p. 476).

School book:

Large fascist family:

School book – Ethopian war:

School book:

“Piccolo Balilla”:


School book:

Cult of the Duce: