Document Actions

Dr Joseph John Viscomi

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

Contact details

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



  • I joined the department in 2018, after holding a faculty fellowship at NYU's Center for European and Mediterranean Studies. I am also an affiliated researcher with the ERC project 'Crosslocations: Rethinking relative location in the Mediterranean' based at the University of Helsinki.

Research and teaching

  • Research interests
  • My primary research interests are in migration and displacement, geopolitics, decolonization, and historical consciousness in the modern Mediterranean. I am also interested in questions of historical methodology, approaches to understanding the past, and the philosophy of history.
  • My first manuscript, 'The Migrant Mediterranean: Imperial Afterlives between Italy and Egypt,' explores how the community of Italian residents in 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 in relation to contemporary historical events. The manuscript demonstrates the connections between social, legal, and geopolitical histories in the 20th-century Mediterranean, tracing in this way the rise and collapse of Italian fascist imperialism and Egypt's long decolonization. My research and writing builds on archival, oral-historical, and ethnographic research that 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.
  • Currently, I am working on several publications related to this research. In one such publication, I explore how the aftermaths of imperialism and the emerging Cold War shaped iterations of personal suffering in the Eastern Mediterranean. I do this through a microhistorical study of an Italian Sephardic Jew, Moise Pontremoli, displaced from Izmir to Alexandria and finally to Rome between the 1920s and the 1960s.
  • I am also developing a new project which studies the social, political, and environmental conditions of depopulation in Calabria, Italy. Whereas the scale of my first project was determined by communities displaced across the Mediterranean, in this project local environs shape my analysis. In other words, I look towards the stories and places passed over or left behind in the history of migration with a particular concentration on the changing relationships between people and material landscapes in depopulating towns. In this new research, I focus primarily on Petrizzi (provincia di Catanzaro), in an analysis that extends from the earthquake that rattled parts of Calabria in 1783 to destructive floods which followed the Second World War. I take the small place of Petrizzi as a prism through which I examine broader transformations in the relations between people and land in Southern Italy and in the Mediterranean.
  • Teaching
  • 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. I would be happy to supervise PhD students on any of the above topics and I would welcome research proposals concerning social, political, and legal histories of modern Italian and Mediterranean worlds; displacement and migration in 19th and 20th century Mediterranean; geopolitics connecting Europe and North Africa and the Middle East; Italian fascism at home and abroad; historical consciousness in Southern Europe; agricultural change in the Mediterranean since the late 18th century; among others.
  • Courses scheduled:
  • European Crises in the Mediterranean, 1880s to present
  • Other modules I plan to offer include:
  • Italy's Southern Question;
  • Democracy and Dictatorship in Southern Europe since 1919;
  • Migration in Mediterranean History;
  • Europe's Age of Decolonization;
  • History of Anthropological Thought.


  • Selected publications
  • Under review, 'Pontremoli’s Cry: Writing History and Scale into Personhood,' special issue of History & Anthropology, eds. Naor Ben-Yehoyada & Paul Silverstein.
  • Forthcoming, 'Mediterranean Futures: Historical Time and the Departure of Italians from Egypt, 1919-1937,' The Journal of Modern History (accepted December 2017).
  • 2018    'Un’integrazione fallita? La partenza degli italiani dall’Egitto nel secondo dopoguerra,' Archivio storico dell’emigrazione italiana, 14: 83-95.
  • 2018    'From immigrants to emigrants: Salesian education and the failed integration of Italians in Egypt, 1937-1960' co-authored with Annalaura Turiano, Modern Italy, 23, 1: 1-17. []
  • 2017    Review of Odile Moreau & Stuart Schaar, Subversives and Mavericks in the Muslim Mediterranean: A Subaltern History (Austin, 2016). Mediterranean Review, 10, 1.

Professional membership

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