DOI: 10.1177/02656914231216611 ISSN: 0265-6914

Citizens, Subjects, Enemies: The First World War and Citizenship Policies in the Italian Colonies

Nicola Camilleri
  • History
  • Cultural Studies

There are few research fields in European history that have received as much scholarly attention over the last few years as citizenship and the First World War. While this is also true for the Italian case, there is still a striking absence of research on citizenship laws in the colonial territories under Italian sovereignty. The present article addresses this gap and challenges the long-established assumption – due to an all too narrow focus on the historical military framework – that the First World War did not really affect the colonies of the Kingdom of Italy. An investigation of how the legal status of the colonial population – especially in Eritrea, on the one hand, and in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, on the other – was regulated, but also contested, claimed and negotiated, both during the conflict and in its immediate aftermath, reveals that a global event like the First World War actually had a significant impact on the Italian territories in the Horn of Africa and in North Africa. To illustrate this point, the article adopts an approach based on local players in the colonies rather than on legislators or policymakers in the metropole. Contemporary sources collected from several different archives are used to retrace personal stories and administrative processes which reveal important aspects in the story not only of Italian colonialism but of the Italian state in general. Citizenship in the Italian territories in Africa, as much as in other European colonies, was marked by the prejudicial concept of the backwardness of Africans, who were thus excluded from metropolitan citizenship. Beyond that, the article highlights utilitarianism as a concept that can help us to understand how Italy dealt with the inhabitants of its colonies during the First World War.

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