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The Barren Mediterranean: Rural Imaginary in Italian Colonial Libya


The article considers the development of Italy’s Mediterranean identity from the country’s Unification to the Turco-Italian War (1911-1912). I show how Italy’s political ambition to restore Roman control over the Mediterranean Sea (Mare Nostrum) generated two alternative representations of the Roman myth: a sea-based and a land-based one. After the initial success of the maritime version of this myth, I argue that the years leading up to the war in Libya represented a shifting moment toward a reconsideration of the Romans’ agrarian legacy. Therefore, I maintain that an analysis of the Italian aesthetic of “Mediterraneism” should include representations of the natural environment. I show how Italians considered the idea of a uniform Mediterranean landscape as a natural historical landmark to testify the historical presence of the ancient Romans in North Africa and to legitimize the link between the Italian colonies and their supposedly glorious ancestors. Ultimately, by insisting on the botanical similarities between Italy and the North African shore, I demonstrate how the Libyan territory came to be represented as a landscape of the ‘self,’ while manifesting the presence of the Muslim’ other’ in the form of its most arid regions.


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