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Dr Joseph John Viscomi

MA (American University in Cairo, 2008), PhD (University of Michigan, 2016)
Lecturer in Modern European History

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room 315
27 Russell Square



  • I am a historian of the modern Mediterranean. I joined the department in 2018, after holding a faculty fellowship at NYU's Center for European and Mediterranean Studies (2017-19) and completing my PhD in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2016. At present, I am also a researcher with the ERC project 'Crosslocations: Rethinking relative location in the Mediterranean' based at the University of Helsinki. I am a book review editor for Modern Italy, on the executive committee for the Association for the Study of Modern Italy, and on the convening committee for the Institute for Historical Research’s Modern Italian History seminar.

Research and teaching

  • Research interests
  • My primary research interests are in migration, regional politics, environment, materiality, and historical time in and beyond the Mediterranean. Although I am trained and specialized in modern history, I have a growing interest in exploring topics that cross temporal periods (especially from the mid-18th century to the present). I am also interested in historical consciousness, approaches to understanding the past, and the philosophy and anthropology of history.
  • My current book project, Out of Time, examines how Italian subjects in and from Egypt (a population that numbered roughly 55,000 on the eve of the Second World War) and the political actors around them anticipated, experienced, and remembered their departures from Egypt and arrivals in Italy. It traces the rise, collapse, and afterlives of Italian fascist imperialism and Egypt's slow decolonization by examining the formation of a political community constituted by ‘Italians of Egypt (italiani d’Egitto)’ in the twentieth-century Mediterranean. On the conceptual level, my book explores how temporal regimes shaped, and continue to shape, geopolitical constellations and experiences of them. My scholarship builds on archival, oral-historical, and ethnographic research and writing which has been supported, at different stages, by a CES-Mellon Dissertation Fellowship, the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, the Rome Prize in Modern Italian Studies, a Fulbright, and by the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan.
  • Since 2018, I have begun research on the social, political, and environmental conditions of depopulation in Southern Italy. Whereas the scale of my first book was determined by communities displaced across the Mediterranean, in this project local environs shape my analysis. In other words, I look towards the material places passed over or left behind in the history of migration, concentrating on the relationships between people and landscapes in emptying towns and villages in Mediterranean Europe (i.e. from the landscape of la España vacía to Italy’s aree interne). In this new research, I focus on Petrizzi (provincia di Catanzaro), embracing an analytical perspective that traces from the earthquake that rattled parts of Calabria in 1783 to destructive floods which followed the Second World War. I take the small town of Petrizzi as a prism through which I can examine broader transformations in the relations between people and land in Southern Italy and comparatively across Mediterranean Europe.
  • PhD supervision
  • I am interested in the problems and possibilities raised by abandoned archives, neo-materialism, and environmental history. I especially welcome doctoral and postdoctoral applications on migration, depopulation, historical consciousness / historicity, agricultural change, environment and materiality in Italy and the Mediterranean.
  • Teaching interests
  • My courses address themes of encounter, exchange, migration and displacement, as well as methodological approaches to studying the past. Generally, I teach BA and MA modules on modern Italy, Europe, and the Mediterranean, but I do also run thematic courses.
  • Courses scheduled or taught:
  • Italy and the World: Conflict and the Incomplete Nation, 1815-present (BA)
  • Italy and the “New” European Right, 1945-present (MA)
  • European Crises in the Mediterranean, 1880s to present (MA)
  • Crossing Borders: Passports, Bodies and the State since 1600 (BA, taught with Kat Hill and Jessica Reinisch).
  • Other modules I plan to offer include:
  • History in/of the Anthropocene
  • Italy's Southern Question
  • Democracy and Dictatorship in Southern Europe since 1919
  • The Age of Decolonization
  • History of Anthropological Thought


Professional membership

  • Royal Historical Society
  • American Historical Association
  • Association for the Study of Modern Italy
  • Society for Historical Italian Studies
  • Council for European Studies
  • European Association of Social Anthropologists