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Dr Joseph John Viscomi

  • Overview



    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 (2017-18) 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 on the executive committee for the Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI), and on the convening committee for the Institute for Historical Research’s Modern Italian History seminar.


    • "Let's talk Mediterranean" podcast interview organised by Brian Aivars Catlos (University of Colorado Boulder) and Sharon Kinoshita (University of California Santa Cruz) about my article "Pontremoli's Cry: Personhood, Scale, and History in the Eastern Mediterranean" (History and Anthropology, 2020), which was chosen as the Mediterranean Seminar Article of the Month for March 2021. Recorded on 27 April 2021. 

    • Ernesto de Martino, Decolonisation, and Translation: A conversation with Dorothy Louise Zinn (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano) and Roberto Dainotto (Duke University) about the Italian anthropologist Ernesto de Martino and his wider historical and intellectual connections since the mid-twentieth century. Chaired by Joseph John Viscomi (Birkbeck, University of London). Recorded on 1 March 2021 as part of the Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI) 2020-21 conference series, Italian Mediterraneans, 1800-Present.


    • FHEA, 2021
    • PhD , University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, USA), 2016
    • MA, The American University in Cairo, 2008

    Web profiles

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Programme Director MA European History
  • Research


    Research overview

    My primary research interests are in the history and anthropology of migration, regional politics, environment, materiality, and historical time. Geographically, I focus on Southern Italian, European, and Mediterranean worlds. 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, temporality, approaches to understanding the past, and the philosophy and anthropology of history.

    My current book project, Leaving Egypt, 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 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 land 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 microhistorical prism through which I can examine broader transformations in the relations between people and land in Southern Italy and comparatively across Mediterranean Europe.

    Research clusters and groups

    • Mobility, migration
    • Environment: urban, rural, global
    • Conflict and violence
    • Difference, race and inequality
    • Materialities and material cultures
    • Global history and internationalism
  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    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.


    My courses address political, social, and environmental histories 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:

    Decolonising History/Histories of Decolonisation (with Hilary Sapire) (MA, spring 2022)

    The Modern Mediterranean: From colonial sea to environmental crisis? (MA, summer 2022)


    Courses taught:
    Italy and the World: Conflict and the Incomplete Nation, 1815-present (BA)
    Italy and the “New” European Right, 1945-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:
    Italy's Southern Question
    Democracy and Dictatorship in Southern Europe since 1919
    Mediterranean Landscapes: Beyond the Sea
    Histories of Southern European Ethnography
    Futures: Horizons of Historical Time

    Teaching modules

    • Mastering Historical Research: Birkbeck Approaches (SSHC247S7)
    • The Contemporary World (SSHC412S4)
    • Italy and the World: Conflict and the Incomplete Nation, 1815-present (SSHC509S5)
    • Italy and the "New" European Right, 1945-present (SSHC510S7)
  • Publications



    Book Section

  • Business and community

    Business and community


    Ernesto de Martino, Decolonisation, and Translation

    A conversation with Dorothy Louise Zinn (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano) and Roberto Dainotto (Duke University). Chaired by Joseph John Viscomi (Birkbeck, University of London).

    Recorded on 1 March 2021 as part of the Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI) 2020-21 conference series, Italian Mediterraneans.