Emigrant Empire: The Italian Diaspora in the First World War and Beyond

In this talk, I will present an overview of my current monograph project, under contract with Cambridge University Press. It is a study of the 300,000 emigrants who returned to Italy to perform their conscripted military service during the First World War. The mass mobilisation of emigrants was a uniquely Italian phenomenon. The 300,000 Italian emigrants constituted 7% of Italy’s mobilised armed forces during the war. Although this is a higher percentage than that of the Dominion troops of Australia and New Zealand who fought for the British Army and of the colonial subjects who fought for the French Army, these men have never been acknowledged as a central part of Italy’s war effort.

This book sets out to uncover, for the first time, the story of these emigrant soldiers. Adopting a micro-history approach, it follows the trajectories of four men who returned from the United States, Brazil, France and Great Britain to Italy between 1915 and 1918. Interweaving these individual stories with accounts from over twenty countries in Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Australia, I seek to reconstruct the motivations, experiences and diverse fates of these men during the conflict, under Fascism, and in the years of the Second World War, providing a new global history of Italy at war.

Selena Daly is a social and cultural historian of modern Italy, with a focus on Italy in the 19th and 20th centuries. She is particularly interested in the First World War period, the history of Italian migration and avant-garde art movements especially Italian Futurism. She is Lecturer in Italian Studies at University College London.

Family travelling between Dallas and Austin, Texas. On their way to the Arkansas cotton fields. 1936

Presenter: Selena Daly

Wednesday, 17 January 2024 at 5pm