22nd Jan 2020 5:30pm-7:00pm

G4, Grand Parade

Markus Wurzer (University of Graz)

In May 1936, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was at the zenith of his power: Italian troops had just conquered Addis Ababa, the capital of the Empire of Ethiopia in East Africa. He then declared it defeated, made it a colony and announced that Italy, finally, had its ,Impero’ (empire). For this purpose, the fascist regime had transported unimaginable quantities of men and material to East Africa: About half a million soldiers, equipped with tanks, heavy artillery, airplanes and poison gas bombs.

But who were the thousands of men who won the ,Impero’ for the fascist regime? Surprisingly, historiography has little to say about them. Historians usually narrated the unequal conflict between the African Empire and the European aggressor as one between two homogeneous groups, the ‘black’ Abyssinians on the one hand and the ‘white’ Italians on the other. Unsurprisingly, the reality was different: A fifth of the 500,000 men of the Italian invasion force were Ascaris from the Italian colonies of Eritrea, Somalia and Libya. The majority of the other 400.000, of course, originated from the Italian peninsula and considered itself as ‘Italian’. Among them, however, were the so-called “allogeni” – non-Italian men from the so-called “new” provinces of Italy who had been annexed after the First World War. These men defined themselves rather as Croats, Slovenes,Ladinsor Germans rather than as Italians.

The war effort for Italy brought these men into a complex situation: At home, they were part of an ethnic minority politically oppressed by the fascist regime, which tried to “Italianize” them by a rigorous denationalization policy. However, when they entered African soil as soldiers in Italian uniforms, they were part of the invasion force that felt militarily, materially and ‘racially’ superior.

In his lecture, Markus Wurzer will draw on the visual memory productions of German-speaking soldiers from Italy’s northernmost province of Südtirol/Alto Adige to examine how these veterans and their families remembered the fascist war in Africa in their alpine homes. Furthermore, he will address the question, how they negotiated feelings of belonging via photographs and photo albums.


Markus Wurzer is a PhD candidate at the Department of History at the University of Graz. His PhD thesis focuses on Italy’s colonial Enterprise against Ethiopia (1935-1941) in visual culture and family memory. Drawing on the photographs of Italy’s German-speaking soldiers from the province of Bolzano/Bozen as a case study, it explores private photographic practices, the construction and diffusion of colonial and fascist visual culture, and follows its persisting traces in family memory until today. Furthermore, he is co-founder and co-editor of the ongoing research and public history project “Mapping Colonial Heritage in Italy”, which aims at pursuing the silenced histories and material traces of colonialism in both Italy and its former colonies (Link: http://tiny.cc/6x3d7y). His research interests include visual culture studies, (post-)colonial studies, memory studies, microhistory, Italian colonial history, and World War One.