18 Mar 2023 09:30 - 18:30 Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge


A symposium convened by the CIRN Intesa Sanpaolo Fellow 2022-23, Gianmarco Mancosu

The material debris of ancient empires has long shaped ideas of national memory and identity in modern Europe. In particular, the Roman Empire exerted its fascination, providing a reference point for the political, juridical, and cultural elaboration of modern forms of imperialism. In Italy, this discourse intersected with the unification process: the positioning of the country within a history that originates from the Roman Empire, and which led to modern colonialism, went hand in hand with the spatial definition of the legal and racial borders of the national community, as well as with the assertion of its prime role in the Mediterranean Sea. This discourse blatantly pervaded the rhetoric about colonial undertakings in Libya and in the Horn of Africa, especially during the fascist dictatorship (1922-1943). Far from being relegated to Fascist imperial era, the reference to the long-term and allegedly civilizing presence of Italy in Africa since the Roman Empire continued in post-war decades, often obscuring any critical discourse about crimes and violence characterizing the Italian colonial endeavours.

Building on these premises, the symposium aims to establish a dialogue between different disciplinary approaches dealing with the significance of ancient archaeological debris in imperial cultures since the early modern era. Specific attention will be paid to the projection of imperial fantasies as they materialize in public spaces and buildings, in archaeological objects and ruins, in colonial collections, yet also in different literary and visual representations. The symposium thus explores how the imperial discourse was moulded within and through these sites and debris, in which the boundaries separating the past and the present are constantly redefined. Specific attention will be paid to the ways in which contemporary research and art practices are dealing with the material and spatial ruins of the imperial experience, by critically tackling the extent to which they pervade our present-day societies and cultures.

Confirmed speakers

  • Samuel Agbamu (University of Reading)
  • Nicolò Bettegazzi (University of Groningen)
  • Simone Brioni (Stony Brooks University)
  • Beatrice Falcucci (Università dell’Aquila – KNIR, Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome)
  • Bethany Hucks (Universität Heidelberg)
  • Gianmarco Mancosu (University of London – University of Cambridge)
  • Jan Nelis (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
  • Martina Piperno (University of Durham)
  • Simona Troilo (Università dell’Aquila)

Please email any enquiries to fellowships@crassh.cam.ac.uk. For registration please contact Dr Gianmarco Mancosu at gm750@cam.ac.uk




Welcome and registration


Introductory Remarks


Session 1

Imperial materiality: the past in the present

Chair: Melissa Calaresu

Jan Nelis (Université Libre de Bruxelles): Italian Fascist Imperialism and ‘Architectaeology’ in the context of the culto del littorio: From Past to Present, and Future, ‘Roman’ grandeur

Beatrice Falcucci (Università dell’Aquila / KNIR): Between Empires: Exhibiting Archaeology and Displaying Power in Fascist Italy

Simona Troilo (Università dell’Aquila): Materials and Imagery of Romaness of Libya between Fascist and Republican Italy




Session 2

Visions, fantasies, and literary re-mediations

Chair: Robert Gordon

Martina Piperno (University of Durham): Etruscan Spaces in the Literary Imagination of Fascist Italy: The Ghost of Internal Colonialism and the Issue of Primordial Diversity

Nicolò Bettegazzi (University of Groningen): Latin literary tradition as symbolic archaeology? Uses of Latin in Fascist Italy colonial narratives

Samuel Agbamu (Royal Holloway): Materiality and Textuality, Representation and Reality: Remembering and Forgetting Modern Italy’s Roman Empire


Coffee Break


Session 3

Contemporary landscapes of (post)colonial memory

Chair: Charles Burdett

Bet Hucks (Universität Heidelberg): Fascism and Fantasy: Italian National Identity and Colonialism Ancient and Modern

Gianmarco Mancosu (SAS University of London – CIRN-CRASSH University of Cambridge): Lieux de mémoire (coloniale). Landscapes of imperial nostalgia in Contemporary Italy

Simone Brioni (Stony Brooks University): Remediating Family Memories of Italian Colonialism: Beyond the Frame

Speaker Bios

Jan Nelis, PhD, has worked on the reception of antiquity under Nazism, after which he has turned towards Italian fascism. He has done research on pre-fascist and above all fascist romanità, as well as on the relationship between fascism and Catholicism. His other centres of interest (research and publications) are religious life in contemporary Europe, and Jewish history. He has worked at various universities and research centres in Belgium (Ghent, Brussels), France (Toulouse) and Italy (Rome, Bologna). Since 2019 he is a postdoctoral researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Beatrice Falcucci has earned her PhD at the University of Florence, undertaking research about collections from Italy’s former African colonies in Italian museums. She was Fellow at Fondazione Luigi Einaudi in Turin and at the American Academy in Rome. Currently, she is a post-doc at Università dell’Aquila, where she is adjunct professor in Modern History, and Fellow at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR). She has published extensively on the topic of colonial museums in Italy and in Europe in Italian and international journals such as Passato e presente, Italia contemporanea, Modern Italy, and Nuncius.

Simona Troilo is Associate professor of Contemporary History at the University of L’Aquila. Her research topics include the use of antiquities in imperialism and colonialism, the construction of Otherness through the materials of the past, and the relationship between materiality, visuality and narrativity in coloniality. Her publications include: Pietre d’oltremare. Scavare, conservare, immaginare l’Impero (1899-1940), Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2021; Visions of the Empire. The ruins of Roman past in Fascist Lybia, “Nuncius. Journal of the material and visual history of science”, n. 37, 2022, pp. 615–642; Roma in colonia. Resti e reperti della romanità nella Libia fascista, in E. Migliario, G. Santucci (a cura di), «Noi figli di Roma». Fascismo e mito della romanità, Firenze, Le Monnier, pp. 85-110; Casta e bianca. La Venere di Cirene tra Italia e Libia (1913-2008), “Memoria e ricerca”, n.1, 2018, pp. 133-156; “A gust of cleansing wind”: Italian archaeology on Rhodes and in Libya in the early years of occupation (1911-1914), “Journal of Modern Italian Studies”, vol. 17, n. 1, 2012, pp. 45-69.

Martina Piperno is currently Assistant Professor in Italian at Durham University, and, from April 2023, Ricercatrice “Montalcini” in Italian Contemporary Literature at La Sapienza University of Rome (Department of Studi Europei, Americani, Interculturali). She has published extensively about reception of the ancient with particular attention to the reception of the pre-Roman sphere. Her first book, Rebuilding Post-Revolutionary Italy: Leopardi and Vico’s “New Science”, has won the Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies in 2019. Her second book, L’antichità crudele. Etruschi e italici nella letteratura italiana del Novecento, has been published in 2020 by Carocci editore.

Nicolò Bettegazzi is currently employed as lecturer in Latin and Greek at the University of Groningen. His research focuses on the cultural history of Latin during the Fascist ventennio(1922-1943), as well as on the interaction between the classicising aspects of Fascist and Catholic culture. His PhD thesis, Ideologies of Latin in Fascist Italy, is due to be defended in Groningen in April 2023. More broadly, he is interested in the life of Latin after the “classical” period, particularly in the tradition of Neo-Latin poetry in the nineteenth- and twentieth century.

Samuel Agbamu is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow and Lecturer in Classics at the University of Reading. He wrote his PhD on ancient Roman and modern Italian imperialism in Africa, which he competed in 2019, at King’s College London. His Leverhulme project looks at the role of Petrarch’s fourteenth-century Latin epic, the Africa, in transmitting classical constructions of Africa, Africans, and the history of the Punic Wars into early modernity. Prior to beginning his Leverhulme ECF, he taught at state schools in London and Cambridge.

Bethany ‘Bet’ Hucks is in the final year of her PhD in Near Eastern Archaeology and Egyptology at Heidelberg University. She has a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from Marist College and Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, Italy and a Bachelor’s in History from Harvard University. Her research encompasses Roman transport, collecting, and display of Egyptian material culture; Classical reception; and the history of exhibitions. She uses 3D models and databases to recreate visual representations of display contexts and to provide access to students and researchers who would not otherwise be able to view or interact with physical objects. She has also worked on Bronze Age ceramics on excavations in the Mediterranean and Europe. She is a founding board member of Sportula Europe, a non-profit that provides microgrants to struggling and marginalized students and early career researchers in ancient Mediterranean studies.

Gianmarco Mancosu is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, teaching fellow in Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Sassari, and Intesa San Paolo visiting fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities and at the Italian Department of Cambridge University (2023). His research interests deal mostly with Italian colonial and post-colonial histories, the post-colonial presence of Italian communities in Africa, propaganda history and media studies. He has recently published his first monograph, entitled Vedere l’impero. L’Istituto Luce e il colonialismo fascista (Mimesis, 2022).

Simone Brioni is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Stony Brook University. His research focuses on migration studies with a particular emphasis on contemporary Italian culture. His monographs include The Somali Within (2015) and L’italia, l’altrove (2022). He is the author of four films about the colonial, postcolonial and transnational encounters between Italy and Africa: The Fourth Road (2009), Aulò (2009), Maka (2023) and Beyond the Frame (2023).



Jan Nelis (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Italian Fascist Imperialism and ‘Architectaeology’ in the context of the culto del littorio:  From Past to Present, and Future, ‘Roman’ grandeur

 It is well known that the fascist regime made ample use of a supposed heritage from Roman (imperial, but not only) antiquity, summarised in the notion of romanità. It did so through the development of an all-pervasive discourse whose physical incarnation was traced in/imposed upon architecture, the arts, public life (mass meetings etc.) and archaeology, to name but the most manifest outings of this insertion of the past in the regime’s identitarian and imperial drive, in the culto del littorio (E. Gentile). This latter aspect will be central to this presentation, which will provide a general overview of the way in which, during the ventennio fascista, architecture and archaeology in various ways became closely intertwined, whereby archaeological remnants (the Colosseum, the imperial forums,…) were being interpreted as both witnesses and catalysts of imperial greatness, past and future, as well as of Rome’s supposed intent, or, as it was said at the time, its ‘mission’, to ‘civilise’ non-Roman cultures, a process which also influenced various architectural and urbanistic projects (Piazza Augusto Imperatore, Via dell’Impero, the EUR district, the foro Mussolini,…). The physical, cultic role of ancient Rome’s remnants and their archaeological translation will also be analysed within the fascist ‘sacralisation’ of politics (i.e., the development of a ‘political religion’) as well as within the regime’s ‘modernist’, ‘futural’ drive (R. Griffin). Throughout this presentation, it will furthermore also become clear that the legacy of fascism’s recourse to romanità has, to a certain extent, remained physically present up until today.

Beatrice Falcucci (Università dell’Aquila / KNIR)

Between Empires: Exhibiting Archaeology and Displaying power in Fascist Italy

This paper aims to investigate the musealisation of archaeological heritage, especially Roman heritage, in Fascist Italy’s museums. In particular, it will focus on the presence of archaeological finds in colonial collections and museums in Italy, and the structuring of archaeological museums in Italian colonies, namely in Libya. The archaeological museums of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sabratha will therefore be examined. Moving from the “periphery” towards the “epicentre” of the discourse on romanità, my research will then focus on archaeological collections in various museums in Italy, before concluding the analysis by considering the Museo Coloniale in Rome. By taking into account the Museo Coloniale a reflection will be articulated also on the ongoing projects and rethinking of its collections today, and how archaeology and the Roman past are part of such process.

Simona Troilo (Università dell’Aquila)

Materials and Imagery of Romaness of Libya between Fascist and Republican Italy

 The materials of Romaness and the imagery of archaeological ruins represented fundamental themes of the regime’s propaganda machine. Especially in relation to Libya, these were used to celebrate the power of fascism, strengthen the colonial consciousness of Italians, and consolidate the role of “our race” in the Mediterranean. The remains of Romaness in Libya were musealised and patrimonialised with a great investment of means and resources especially in the 1930s, when new excavation campaigns were launched, Leptis Magna, Sabratha and Cirene archaeological sites were created, museums and colonial collections were opened. All this material contributed to shaping an idea of Italianness strongly anchored to the myth of Rome and Romaness, which on the one hand took up topics already expressed in previous centuries, and on the other cast them in the terms of Fascist Mediterraneanism. The paper questions the function of these materials, trying to identify possible continuities with Republican Italy, when the question of decolonising colonial archaeological institutions was posed and the issue of the restitution of cultural property taken from the colony began to be discussed. The aim of the contribution is to suggest new lines of research on a topic that is still full of further developments.

Martina Piperno (University of Durham)

Etruscan Spaces in the Literary Imagination of Fascist Italy: The Ghost of Internal Colonialism and the Issue of Primordial Diversity

 Etruscan Studies were promoted, financed, and fostered by the Fascist regime in search of foundational myths; it is no surprise, then, that the Italian literature of the Fascist era is rich in references to Etruscan spaces, places, names, and pantheon, and that some pages acquire some specific political values. From Curzio Malaparte, who cherished the untouched local roots of his own Tuscan-ness, to Vincenzo Cardarelli, who looked at the twilight of Etruscan civilization as a fatal, necessary sacrifice to let Roman civilization flourish, to Alberto Savinio, who, strolling through the Etruscan tombs of Cerveteri and Tarquinia in 1939 channeled his anxieties about the impending war and the forgotten victims of the pitiless wheel of history, anticipating Giorgio Bassani’s famous Etruscan pilgrimage. Foreign authors, such as D. H. Lawrence (Etruscan places, 1932), also noticed the similarities between ancient and modern Italy, Roman expansion and Fascist (internal) colonialism: the fact that Etruscan places’s first Italian translation (1938) by Elio Vittorini was heavily cut is probably telling of how sensitive the Etruscan matter was during the Ventennio. This paper will revisit selected pages of Italian literature of the Fascist era that are representative of the use of Etruscan archaeology to represent, channel and question contemporary anxieties about Fascism, (internal) colonialism and repression.

Nicolò Bettegazzi (University of Groningen)

Latin literary tradition as symbolic archaeology? Uses of Latin in Fascist Italy colonial narratives

In this paper, I will look at the role of Latin within the colonial narratives in 1930s Italy, arguing that the Latin literary tradition, and in particular the Latin literature of Roman Africa, was subjected to the same ideological process – a “symbolic archaeology” – which ancient Rome’s material remains in Northern Africa also underwent. The very existence of prestigious African-born Latin writers such as Augustine was often taken, next to the traces of ancient buildings, as an “evidence” legitimising the Fascist regime’s colonial expansion in Northern and Eastern Africa. On a more general level, this paper will show that the Latin language was perceived during the 1930s as quintessential symbol of Rome’s “civilizing mission”, both in political and in religious terms (as means to spread Roman culture and political structures, but also Christianity). This paper, therefore, will also touch upon the role of Catholic culture in constructing a classicising colonial discourse, most notably in legitimising the myth of (Romano-Christian) civilization.

Samuel Agbamu (Royal Holloway)

Materiality and Textuality, Representation and Reality: Remembering and Forgetting Modern Italy’s Roman Empire

This contribution will consider the relationship between textuality and monumentality, representation and reality, in modern Italy’s promotion of its imperial endeavours in Africa as a revival of ancient Roman imperialism. I focus on a range of textual monuments drawn from the context of Italian colonialism in Africa, from the last decades of the nineteenth century, until the aftermath of the Second World War. I suggest that, in monumental commemoration, the Battle of Dogali (1887), at which Italy was defeated in Ethiopia, was represented as a combination of the emperor Augustus’ victories over Ptolemaic Egypt, as a foundational moment for Italian nationhood, both ancient and modern, and as a battle drawn from Virgil’s Aeneid. Fascist Italy’s eventual conquest of Ethiopia (1935-36) was positioned as vengeance for Italy’s previous defeats in Ethiopia, and this is a message firmly encoded into textual monuments to this campaign. I take a snapshot of this moment by looking at two textual monuments from Rome. In the aftermath of the invasion, and after Mussolini’s proclamation of the foundation of empire (1936), Fascism began to more forcefully promote itself as the new Roman empire. I consider this phenomenon by re-examining the Arch of the Philaeni (1937).

Bet Hucks (Universität Heidelberg)

Fascism and Fantasy: Italian National Identity and Colonialism Ancient and Modern

Fascism cannot flourish without an emphasis on a narrowly defined group identity, which in Italy’s case involved harkening back to the supposed glory of Rome in all its colonial power. An emphasis on the right(ness) and inevitability of this as part of the natural order was publicly expressed in part through the display of anthropological and archaeological objects from non-European locales, as well as the construction of neoclassical buildings, monuments, and statues in enormous numbers. However, unlike in many other post-war societies, Italy’s monuments to fascism remain on public display without recontextualization. This paper will discuss the influence of these remnants on modern Italian national identity.

Gianmarco Mancosu (SAS University of London – CIRN-CRASSH University of Cambridge)

Lieux de mémoire (coloniale). Landscapes of Imperial nostalgia in Contemporary Italy

 Recent contributions in the field of Italian (post)colonial history are pointing out the active strategies through which political, cultural, and economic forces tried to craft an a-critical discourse about the colonial past during the long and peculiar Italian decolonization. Along with such politics of memory, several associations crafted a recollection of that past aiming to strengthen a biased memorialization of their African experience. That occurred not simply within the rooms of the associations’ spaces, yet also in public sites and commemoration that still happen nowadays. Against this backdrop, my paper will explore some meaningful case studies (e.g. remembrance events held in Rome at the Santuario per i caduti di tutte le guerre and at the Campana l’Africana site) yet also the public debate concerning some sites explicitly dedicated to the colonial past (the Sacrario militare dei caduti d’oltremare in Bari; the Monumento ai caduti d’Africa in Padua; the Monumento ai caduti d’Africa in Siracusa). Drawing on different materials (archival sources; associations bulletins and materials; newspapers; audiovisual records), my presentation will therefore tackle the modalities through the colonial past has been retrieved and revived in the activities of those associations, in relation not simply to the construction of certain collective (and biased) memories, yet also in relation to current issues (incoming refugees’ fluxes; political agreements with the former colonies; racially biased understanding of citizenship).

Simone Brioni (Stony Brooks University)

Remediating Family Memories of Italian Colonialism: Beyond the Frame

This paper discusses Beyond the Frame, a film about colonial photography and the perspective through which it framed Africa. I will reflect upon the process that led to a narrative that interweaves personal reflections and collective history, focusing on how this film-essay observes, interprets, and reflects upon how the colonial legacy shapes our present. Moreover, I will discuss the uncomfortable feelings of dealing with the “uncanny,” ghostly, memory of colonialism. The analysis also presents the theoretical questions about visuality and power that inspired the making of Beyond the Frame and its attempt to reconceptualize biased memories. While Beyond the Frame presents a personal revisitation of the story of an individual, its implications are collective for both the colonizers and the colonized. The paper shows how the film works with as well as against the archive, and it resignifies it, modifying the original meaning of colonial pictures.

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