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Conquering Space and Beating Time: Fascism, Aerial Imagery, and the Italian Occupation of Ethiopia, 1935-1941.

Presenters Name: 
Shivani Dimri
Primary Research Mentor: 
Erik Linstrum
Secondary Research Mentor: 
2:00 - 2:15
Time of Presentation: 
2019 - 2:00pm to 2:15pm
Board Room
Presentation Type: 
Presentations Academic Category: 
Grant Program Recipient: 
Harrison Undergraduate Research Grant

Italian ambitions for overseas colonization surged after the Fascist ascent to power, culminating in the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-36 and the occupation of Ethiopia until 1941. Italian Fascists argued that they would rapidly create a benevolent, technologically-advanced form colonialism apt for the future. This research investigates the use of one technology—aerial photography—in the construction of this new Italian Fascist colonialism. During the interwar years, aviation captured the attention of governments and public audiences worldwide. Given air power’s immense contribution to Italian success in the Italo-Ethiopian War, the Italian Fascists also sought to adopt the aerial perspective into propaganda and colonial planning projects like land reclamation and urban planning. To what extent did the Italian state leverage the aerial perspective to justify the occupation of Ethiopia and create a novel, distinctly Fascist form of European colonialism in Africa? Fascist government entities, military personnel, and regime supporters employed the aerial perspective to bolster the credibility of Fascist arguments for Italian imperialism among Italian, Ethiopian, and international audiences. Internally, however, government agencies, the military, academia, and industry fought over who would regulate aerial photography production and applications, using the new Ethiopian territory as their playing field. Italy’s solution to the aerial photography question would address where power would sit within government in the age of air power and how in line with Fascist ideology Italian colonial reality would be. Ultimately, Italy’s struggle to shift aerial photography from military to civil usage undermined the supposed totality of the Italian conquest of Ethiopia.