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WHAT IS AN ITALIAN? NATIONALITY ACROSS THE MEDITERRANEAN / Jessica Marglin, USC
When a wealthy Jew from Tunisia died in Italy in 1873, a fierce lawsuit over the estate consumed Jews, Muslims, and Christians on both sides of the Mediterranean. Before Nissim Shamama’s riches could be disbursed among his aspiring heirs, the Italian courts had to decide which law to apply to his estate—a matter that depended on his nationality. A decade-long battle ensued to determine to which state Nissim legally belonged: was he an Italian? Or a subject of the Bey of Tunis? Shamama v. Shamama, as the lawsuit was called, encourages us to think differently about debates over citizenship and state membership as they played out across the Mediterranean. In particular, the dispute over the nationality of a wealthy Jew from Tunis provided an occasion for offering different visions of what it meant to be Italian—just a few years after the modern state of Italy was created.