Youth between Empires. Generational dynamics from Ottoman to Italian fascist rule in Rhodes

Ph.D. project: Dr. des. Andreas Guidi

My doctoral research discussed a change in sovereignty observable in Rhodes in the first half of the 20th century. I investigated how Italy’s rule – first as a military occupation (1912-1923) and then as a civil administration of a Possedimento (1923-1945) – transformed a former Ottoman Mediterranean province by asking how the socialization of the local population changed in this period.

I argued for connecting the historiographies of the Ottoman Empire with that of Italian colonialism by stressing the legacy of a dynamic Ottoman province as a challenge, but also a resource, for Italian rule.  I inserted political institutions in flux in broader domains of socialization. These included the family, education, work and leisure, mobility, and political activism, each discussed in a separate chapter but connected to each other.

The focus on generational dynamics is useful to embed individual actors in their family socialization and to analyze the circulation of resources within the family. Furthermore, generational bonds were negotiated and thematized outside the domestic sphere: a new concept of education stressed the demarcation between parents and children, normative stances on productivity and idleness stigmatized youth behavior, the socialization of mobile people revolved autonomy from distant relatives and new bonds with peers at the destination setting, political activism increasingly attracted youth, which became a target for diverse ideologies.

My research addresses the transformation of the society in Rhodes through the interactions between families, communal institutions, and government authorities while discussing the balance of power holding them together. These interactions help bypass a dichotomy separating narratives “from above” and “from below”, and allow to highlight the confessional diversity of Rhodes (Orthodox, Muslims, Jews, Catholics). I discussed community structures, citizenship regimes, and – especially in the 1930s – race as categories of power affecting the whole population beyond confessional boundaries, through similar challenges but also different responses. The use of archival sources in Italian, Ottoman Turkish, Greek, Ladino, and French is therefore not only a methodological advantage point, but the very prerogative of this endeavor.

Managing a post-Ottoman setting implied three challenges for Italian rule. Firstly, preserving and reinforcing politics of difference based on confession by domesticating communal institutions. Secondly, severing the bonds between Rhodes and a foreign Mediterranean context itself undergoing profound changes after World War One. Lastly, increasing the interference on the everyday socialization of the local population of all confessions through the colonial police. These challenges were often translated in generational terms. Authorities propagated the idea of a “new generation” of loyal Italian colonial subjects, communities denounced generational discontinuity as a danger for their coherence, families struggled in managing generational bonds through a widespread scarcity of resources in a socio-political world in flux.

The research also led me to some conceptual theses on generations and youth in settings marked by rapid political and social transformations. For government, communities, and families in Rhodes, “generations” and “youth” were situational, correlative, and projective notions. The collectivity they targeted could vary depending on the contingency of the situation; they were always related to values and norms, sometimes to praise and sometimes to stigmatize behaviors; they legitimized present actions by projecting them in normative ideas of the past and the future, either as a rupture or as a continuity.

I completed my Ph.D. (summa cum laude) in July 2018 under the supervision of Hannes Grandits (HU Berlin) and Nathalie Clayer (EHESS Paris). I am currently preparing a manuscript based on the dissertation.