Kyle Liston

  • Fellowship year:2012-2013
  • University: Indiana University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Africa
  • Dissertation Title: Colonialism Asunder: Being, Belonging and Hybridity in the Italo-Tunisian Communities of Tunis, 1911-1937.
  •  In 1911 Italy sought its place among the European colonial powers by invading Ottoman-controlled Libya.  While championed by Italian nationalist, such hubris stoked public outrage in North African ports home to large communities of Italian immigrants- from Algiers to Alexandria.  Tunis, however, was unique among its peers.  Despite being a French holding, it had been called "an Italian colony occupied by France" as early as 1887 for its prodigious number of Italian settlers-100,000 by 1914.  Moreover, unlike the skilled Italian craftsman found in Alexandria or Algiers, the Italians of Tunis were poor, unskilled laborers who competed directly with local Tunisians for meager earnings in mining, construction, fishing and even prostitution.  Consequently, while political skirmishes largely ended elsewhere with Ottoman capitulation in 1912, in Tunis such clashes merely prefaced heightened socio-economic tensions between Italians and Tunisians throughout the 1920 and 1930s.

    A cultural history of local interaction situated within a larger system of competing French, Italian and Tunisian state powers, my dissertation investigates this process of collective identity formulation articulated by Tunisian and Italian laborers vis-à-vis the other in Tunis from 1911 until 1937.  I consider how nationalism, syndicalism and fascism, as well as demographic change influenced the extent of coordination or opposition between the two communities.  Yet, my primary focus will examine how the local labor dynamic between Tunisians and Italians- their beleaguered status as unskilled workers placing them at once parallel in their subordination to the Bourgeois French colonizers and in competition with one another in local markets- itself contributed to growing nationalist sentiment, political awareness and, ultimately, to the breaking of the colonial system from below.  For moving beyond traditional binary models of colonial power that have heretofore narrated Tunisian history, my project seeks to uncover all the messiness of the urban colonial palimpsest that would help develop both communities' social consciousness and political mobilization during the French Protectorate.  In doing so, a revised, post-colonial history of Tunisia under the Protectorate will be created that privileges the multiplicity of collective identities and the local experience of shared space there that would eventually become "Tunisia."