#026 – The Making of Orientalism and Turkish Studies in Italy 1861-1911

With Marie Bossaert


Portrait of an old Turk. Photograph by the Italian geographer Lamberto Vannutelli, 1904. (source Società Geografica Italiana)  

In this episode, we discuss the emergence and the development of Oriental and Turkish studies in post-unification Italy. Studying this process requires a reflection on State and nation-building through the construction of the infrastructure necessary for the production and the circulation of a “national” knowledge. A transnational perspective allows to understand the complexity of a discipline in flux, focusing on contacts of Italian scholars with Western European and Ottoman actors. In the framework of a broader Orientalist discourse in 19th and early 20th century Europe, the Italian case shows some peculiarities due to the proximity of pre-unitary Italian and Ottoman history in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Another important factor is Italy’s late but decisive imperialist turn, which resulted into the Italian-Ottoman war of 1911-1912. This event marked the beginning of a decade of conflicts in the region, it mobilized the Orientalists’ competences and irreversibly changed the field of Turkish Studies toward a more general nationalization of the discipline. 


Marie Bossaert is a member of the École Française de Rome. She obtained her Ph.D. in history at the École Pratique des Hautes études (Paris) and the Istituto italiano di Scienze Umane-Scuola normale di Pisa (Florence). She is interested in the political, social and cultural history of the Mediterranean and in Italo-Ottoman/Turkish relationships, which enables her to travel between Rome and Istanbul. She is co-editing a forthcoming issue of the European Journal of Turkish Studies entitled “Transturcology. Towards a transnational history of Turkish Studies (18th c. – 20th c.)”.

To cite this episode: Bossaert, Marie; Guidi, Andreas (2017): The making of Orientalism and Turkish Studies in Italy, 1861-1911 The Southeast Passage #026, 12.10.2017, http://thesoutheastpassage.com/podcast/bossaert-making-orientalism-turkish-studies-italy-1861-1911.


“A Tripoli, bel suol d’amore”

This “patriotic” song became popular during the Italo-Ottoman War in 1911 thanks to the interpretation of the singer Gea della Garisenda. Later on, in became associated with the Fascist musical repertoire.

/// ITA

…Al vento africano che Tripoli assal
già squillan le trombe,
la marcia real.
A Tripoli i turchi non regnano più:
già il nostro vessillo issato è lassù…

Tripoli, bel suol d’amore,
ti giunga dolce questa mia canzon!
Sventoli il tricolore
sulle tue torri al rombo del cannon!
Naviga, o corazzata:
benigno è il vento e dolce la stagion.
Tripoli, terra incantata,
sarai italiana al rombo del cannon!

/// ENG

…the trumpets, the Royal March
ring already in the African wind
that attacks Tripoli
In Tripoli, the Turks reign no more
our flag is already waving down there…

Tripoli, beautiful land of love
may this song of mine sweetly reach you
may the tricolore wave
on your towers, as the cannons rumble!
Sail, oh battleship
the wind is gentle, and sweet is the season.
Tripoli, enchanted land
you will be Italian as the cannons rumble!

Further reading:

Bossaert, Marie (2016): Connaître les Turcs et l’Empire ottoman en Italie. Constructions et usages des savoirs sur l’Orient de l’Unité à la guerre italo-turque. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. EPHE, SUM-SNS, Paris, Florence.

Bossaert, Marie; Szurek, Emmanuel (Eds.) (2017): Transturcology. Towards a transnational history of Turkish Studies (18th c. – 20th c.). European Journal of Turkish Studies 24.

Copeaux, Étienne (1997): Espaces et temps de la nation turque. Analyse d’une historiographie nationaliste, 1931 – 1993. Paris: CNRS éditions (Méditerranée).

Dünyada Türk Tarihçiliği (2010). Türkiye Araştırmaları Literatür Dergisi 8 (15).

Georgeon, François (2015): Turcologie. In François Georgeon, Nicolas Vatin, Gilles Veinstein (Eds.): Dictionnaire de l’empire Ottoman. With assistance of Elisabetta Borromeo. Paris: Fayard, pp. 1176–1177.

Irwin, Robert (2007): For lust of knowing. The orientalists and their enemies. London: Penguin Books.

Kapıcı, Özhan (Ed.) (2014): Osmanlı’ya Komşu Dünyada Dil Okulları ve Oryantalizmin Doğusu. Toplumsal tarihi (247).

Messaoudi, Alain (2015): Les arabisants et la France coloniale. Savants, conseillers, médiateurs (1780 – 1930). Lyon: ENS Éditions (Sociétés, espaces, temps).

Porciani, Ilaria (2001): Università e scienza nazionale. Napoli: Jovene (Biblioteca di Unistoria, 3).

Pouillon, François; Vatin, Jean-Claude (2011): Après l’orientalisme. L’orient crée par l’orient. Paris: IISMM-Karthala.

Stouraiti, Anastasia (2004): Costruendo un luogo della memoria. Lepanto. In Matteo Sbalchiero (Ed.): Meditando sull’evento di Lepanto. Odierne interpretazioni e memorie. Venezia: Corbo e Fiore, pp. 33–52.

Szurek, Emmanuel (2014): Les Langues orientales, Jean Deny, les Turks et la Turquie nouvelle. Une histoire croisée de la turcologie française (XIXe-XXe siècles). In Güneş Işıksel, Emmanuel Szurek (Eds.): Turcs et Français. Une histoire culturelle, 1860 – 1960. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes (Collection Histoire), pp. 327–352.

Valensi, Lucette (2008): Mardochée Naggiar. Enquête sur un inconnu. Paris: Stock (Un ordre d’idées).

Zekiyan, Boghos Levon (Ed.) (1990): Gli Armeni in Italia. Associazione Gaudium et Spes; Gli Armeni in Italia. Roma: De Luca Edizioni d’Arte.

A view of the Island of St. Lazarus of the Armenians, in the Venice Lagoon.  The island hosts the Congregation of the Mekhitarists and is until today an important centre for Armenian intellectual heritage (source Wikimedia commons)

Caricature of the Italian turkologist Luigi Bonelli from the journal Albania, 1921.
“At the café Umberto I in Galleria in Naples, prof. BONELLI looking for the Turk”.
Luigi Bonelli was used to wander around the gallery Umberto I, a public shopping galley located in the center of Naples near the harbour, hoping to meet people from the Ottoman empire in order to make conversation and to keep informed about the Empire

Cover of the 1922 printed edition of “Nu turco napulitano”, a vernacular comedy written by Eduardo Scarpetta  in 1888 (source Wikimedia commons)

Antonio de Curtis “Totò” in the movie based on the same pièce, “Un Turco Napoletano” directed in 1953 by Mario Mattoli (source Wikimedia commons)

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#026 - The Making of Orientalism and Turkish Studies in Italy 1861-1911