Uncovering the Afterlife of the Italian Empire

Lead Research Organisation: University of London
Department Name: School of Advanced Study


In a world in which we see mounting nostalgia for fascism and increasing cases of state-sponsored xenophobia, it is more important than ever to develop our understanding of the workings of past authoritarian regimes and how the processes of thought and imagination that they promoted continue to exercise a powerful, though concealed, agency in the present. The focus of this 18-month fellowship is the Italian empire which, intrinsically linked to the development of fascism (1922-45), stretched across large parts of north and east Africa, encompassing Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, and Somalia.

More specifically, the fellowship is concerned with the afterlife of the Italian empire. It will enhance understanding of how ideas, attitudes, and images that belonged to the matrix of colonialism have continued within mainstream Italian culture in the decades since the war. It will communicate for multiple audiences and stakeholders how they are apparent in debates concerning migration, multiculturalism, and the presence of Islam in contemporary Italy.

Pursuing an integrated programme of research and interaction with a range of creative producers, the fellowship investigates how different media allow us to understand the ongoing legacies of Italian imperialism. It examines the extent to which the expansionist phase of the fascist regime is acknowledged within contemporary discourse in Italy. It looks at the architectural remnants of imperialism in Italy and at how sites like the EUR district in Rome (intended as a model of the ideal colonial city) have been the subject of representation, contestation, and remediation. Using the collections of colonial artefacts held by the Museum of Civilizations in Rome and the expertise of the curatorial staff of the museum, together with contemporary artists, it will explore the meanings of these collections. It asks how the extensive literary corpus, produced for the most part by writers of African and Italian origin, provides a crucial means of developing awareness for community groups, for researchers, for policy makers and for the public of the surreptitious continuation of thought processes associated with colonialism.

The fellowship's integration of research with inquiry into different areas of creative practice will give rise to a series of closely connected activities and outputs that are designed to develop public consciousness of the legacies of empire. These include: a single-authored study of creative remediations of the history and consequences of Italian expansionism in the interwar period; a video projection on the themes of the project and ways of integrating research with curatorial and creative practice to be shown at the Italian Cultural Institute in London, the Goethe Institute in London, and the British School at Rome; a series of seminars with writers who have addressed colonial themes in their work to be hosted by the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies; an online resource, intended for use by secondary school students, on the link between the legacies of fascism and colonialism; a series of policy recommendations on how knowledge of the legacies of colonialism can be disseminated across the museum and educational sectors and how the work of individual research initiatives can be facilitated and amplified.


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