Colonial Education in Fascist Italy’s Empire: Ideologies, Policy, Lived Experiences (1922-1943)
Caterina Scalvedi

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Illinois-Chicago

Primary Discipline

Education was key to fascism’s political project. Under Benito Mussolini’s Italy (1922-1943), public school curricula were to turn children into fascists and thus generate a new fascist civilization in Europe. As colonial expansion proceeded, a dilemma arose: was the new fascist civilization to include youth in Africa and the Mediterranean as well? Drawing from archival and printed sources, my dissertation explores the intellectual and social history of education in fascist Italy’s colonies of Eritrea, Somalia, Libya, and the Greek Dodecanese Islands. I argue that, while fascist authorities experimented with different education policies across the empire, lawyers, pedagogues, missionaries, and schoolteachers became increasingly engaged in the global, lively discussion around “native education.” Only in 1936, I show, did the Italian state embrace a centralized education policy, grounded in eugenic theories to claim scientific legitimacy, self-fashion a modern identity, and impose Italy’s national and imperial sovereignty. Three case studies zoom in on local actors’ experiences at colonial schools—the negotiations on curricula between Catholic missionary teachers and Muslim students in Somalia (1); the schooling of African-Italian children in Somalia and Eritrea (2) and of Jews in Libya and the Dodecanese Islands (3)—suggesting that top-down definitions of Italian nation, race, and citizenship collided with localized and long-lasting practices of education. This first colonial history of fascist education questions univocal understandings of “fascist” vis-à-vis “liberal” education and enriches the study of colonial education by uncovering its local agencies and connections to nationalizing school projects in Europe.
About Caterina Scalvedi
Caterina Scalvedi is a doctoral student in History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Born and raised in Rome, Italy, she earned both her B.A. and M.A. in Early Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Rome La Sapienza. Her research bridges the global history of education with the history of fascism, colonialism, nation-state and empire formation. She is also interested in historians’ freedom of expression, teaching, and research world-wide. In 2018, she was awarded the Association for the Study of Modern Italy Postgraduate Prize for an essay on the history of Catholic missionary schools in Italian Somalia, a section of which became a book chapter on education and labor policies in colonial context. In 2020, she was an invited doctoral student at the University of Paris Descartes. She is currently publishing an essay on the production of teaching materials for colonial subjects in Northeastern Africa in the 1930s.

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