colonialism, Mediterranean, Fascism, identity, immigration, emigration, ethnicity, minority, Dante Alighieri Society, remittances, Sicily


This article explores contradictions in Italy’s relationship with the Mediterranean basin, setting Tunisia as a focal point. Tunisia was a paradoxical case at the intersection of Italy’s foreign policy: it was a former Roman imperial colony with a strategic location, but it was also a large and vibrant Italian emigrant settlement, like the Italian “colonies” of Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, New York, and San Francisco. This situation caused much confusion in debates over how Italy should develop its international influence. Faced with a choice of priorities, the Italians of Tunisia called for Italy to concentrate on establishing territorial colonies in the Mediterranean, rather than cultivating Italian emigration worldwide.

France had surprised Italy by seizing control of Tunisia in 1881, skewing Italian policy and fomenting a sense of weakness and insecurity. Italy’s “loss” of Tunisia encouraged the self-justification of Italian imperial motives as more deserving and more sincere, and Nationalists used the wealthy and successful Italian community of Tunisia as a model of what Italians would be able to achieve in neighboring Libya. Fascist representations of Italians in Tunisia, however, finally discredited the Italian expatriates’ claims to rights and representation under French colonial rule. This case study thus illustrates how Mediterranean Europe and North Africa became enmeshed in multiple layers of competition and integration through trends in colonialism, migration, and the formation of transnational communities.

Original Publication Citation

California Italian Studies 1, “Italy in the Mediterranean” (2010): 1-20.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


California Italian Studies




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor

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History Commons