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The Perennial Periphery: Insularity, Identity, and Politics in the Ionian Islands during the Long Nineteenth Century.


This dissertation takes a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses the field of geography to re-examine broader socio-political events in the nineteenth-century Mediterranean. Borderland studies, islands studies, and more recently, ecotones have inspired interest in the mediating role of islands in the transmission of goods, people, and ideas. By re-examining the history of the Ionian Islands through an island studies lens, this project introduces a new analytical model for studying the Ionian Islands, which I refer to as “island borderlands.” This model reappraises the islands’ role in the history of the Mediterranean and identifies them as nodes for cultural hybridity and diverse geo-cultural landscapes. Island borderlands also emphasize the contradictory attributes of islandness (connectivity and disconnect, durity and hybridity) and highlight island dynamism, adaptability, and resilience. It hopes to create a framework for studying a shared history for islands across the Mediterranean and provides insight into the historical incentives that fostered relationships between liminal communities with their imperial rulers and nation-states centers.

This project focuses on the relationships between islandness and national identity, culture, and politics on the Ionian Islands during the long nineteenth century and argues that the unique circumstances from which Ionian mentalities and political awareness developed resulted from their islandness. Island experience was central to the Ionian islanders’ interactions with the broader world, manifested in socio-political attitudes and language during the unionist movement. The Ionian Islands mastered their peripherality and took advantage of their connections to various mainlands and multiple environments.

This dissertation provides a local history of how the Ionian Islands responded to hostile socio-political environments to advance local needs and survival strategies. Island transnationalism and liminality traditionally allowed islands to navigate the borders and wars brought to the Eastern Mediterranean by foreign powers. However, the rise of nationalism and the hardening of borders heightened the islands’ peripherality, and new strategies were adapted to ensure survival. By expressing a collective Greek identity with the peasant societies of Greece, Ionian intellectuals and politicians formed a Greek identity, historical narrative, and political voice that placed the islands at the center of the Greek state.

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