Imperializing Channels:Italian Colonization in 19th Century East Africa

Lineberger, Emma, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, University of Virginia
McLaren, Brian, University of Washington

In 1870, Italy acquired its first colonial holding through the purchase of the Port of Assab in today’s
Eritrea. This acquisition was not the purview of the newly formed Italian state, but through the motivations of an Italian citizen to claim land on the African continent before there was “no land left to colonize.” What follows is a decades-long colonization process that slowly occupies Eritrea, Somalia, and for a time Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. This history, an understudied colonial story, is further ignored by pushing the early colonial period of Italy to the margins, as it lacks a unified colonizing mission sponsored by the government or military. Broadly, Italian colonial history is considered to be impactful to narratives of African colonization only during the Fascist era, beginning in 1922. Yet, the Italian Fascist colonial policy emerged from earlier ideas and practices, taking cues from the failures and successes of the Liberal Colonial Era (1870-1922). This thesis attempts to examine the disparate threads of colonial thought and practice of Italian citizens, laborers, elites, and explorers in the 19th century. Three major themes emerge as 19th-century Italian colonization takes shape: the influence of nationalism and Risogamento, the impact of Italy’s involvement in transnational infrastructural projects, and the transformation of the world through modern technologies of the railroad, steamships, and the telegraph. Journal articles from the Society of Italian Africa, and a photography collection taken in 1920 reveal the different strains of arguments around creating a colonial project. This archival documentation highlights what is important to different groups and the motivations towards colonization. Tracing the physical and ideological spaces of the early Italian Colonial Empire from the shores of Italy, to ports around Eastern Africa, and into the interior of the continent, this thesis will bring new light to an understudied era of Italian colonization.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Italian Colonialism, East Africa, 19th Century, Nationalism, Empire and Technology, Railroads, Port Cities, Red Sea
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