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Image: Prasso, Alberto. Collection of writings and documents relating to Alberto Prasso and his discovery of mineral deposits in western Ethiopia [Raccolta Dd scritti e documenti relativi ad Alberto Prasso e alle sue scoperte di giacamenti minerari nell'ovest Eeiopico]. Rome: Pei Tipi delle Industrie Grafiche Abete, 1939. “A view of the Prasso concession in the vicinity of Nekemti,” p. 290, undated, but likely from 1920s.
The Unscrupulous Prospector, the Ethiopian Elite, and Italy's Frustrated Imperialists:
Alberto Prasso and the Evolution of Italian Colonial Strategy in Ethiopia, 1905-35
Recording of CERS webinar with Noelle Turtur, Eugen and Jacqueline Weber Postdoctoral Scholar in European History, UCLA
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Analyzing Prasso's rapport with Ethiopian elites and workers, European financiers, and the Italian government, Noelle Turtur examines the evolution of Italian colonial strategy from the liberal government to the fascist regime.
You can watch the recording of The Unscrupulous Prospector, the Ethiopian Elite, and Italy’s Frustrated Imperialists: Alberto Prasso and the Evolution of Italian Colonial Strategy in Ethiopia, 1905-35 here on our website and on our YouTube Channel. The webinar took place on Tuesday, February 14, 2023.
On March 8th, 1905, the Italian Consul in Addis Ababa, Count Colli di Felizzano, informed his superiors in Rome about a large mining concession that Emperor Menelik had just granted to a feckless Italian adventurer, Alberto Prasso. Colli doubted the concession territories contained any potential mineral wealth, let alone the ability of Prasso – a seemingly ignorant man who frequently took off on his prospections with only a few African guides – to realize its potential. Nevertheless, Colli cautioned that it would be a pity if wealthy foreign investors snatched the concession from Italian hands. For Colli, the estimated 70,000km2 concession in the contested southwestern border region was tantamount to obtaining a small slice of Ethiopia for la grande patria, just less than a decade after Italy’s defeat at Adwa in 1896. From 1905 to 1935, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its representatives hungrily eyed Prasso’s concession and his company. Analyzing Prasso’s rapport with Ethiopian elites and workers, European financiers, and the Italian government, Noelle Turtur examines the evolution of Italian colonial strategy from the liberal government to the fascist regime. Both liberal Italy and fascist Italy sought to control Italian concessions such as Prasso’s as a means of extending their commercial and political influence, with the expectation that one day it could be leveraged into imperial power. Italian imperialists shared the belief that Italian enterprises in Ethiopia, financed through a combination of state and private capital, could be used to secure Italian interests and engage the Italian population in colonial projects. While these ideas remained consistent, the fascist regime was willing to act much more decisively than the liberal regime.
Noelle Turtur is currently the Eugen and Jacqueline Weber Postdoctoral Scholar in European History at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is broadly interested in the relationship between migration, business, and imperial power. Her manuscript, Making Fascist Empire Work: Italian Enterprises, Labor, and Organized Community in Occupied Ethiopia, 1896-1943, analyzes the role of Italian enterprises in the Italian colonial project in the Horn of Africa. She received her doctorate in History from Columbia University in 2022.
Hollian Wint is Assistant Professor at UCLA History. Her work spans the Indian Ocean from East Africa to the Indian subcontinent. Her first project took her into archives in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, Gujarat and Bombay, as well as London and Washington DC. Her teaching interests are similarly broad. She has taught classes on Africa and the Indian Ocean, the history and anthropology of money and debt, global history, and the history of Islam. In both her teaching and research, she explores the intersections of gender, political economy, and material culture, as well as innovative historical methods.
Published: Friday, March 3, 2023