Contesting Citizenship across the Mediterranean: A Global Legal History of Belonging in the Nineteenth Century
In the winter of 1873, Nissim Shamama, a wealthy Jew from Tunisia, died suddenly in his palazzo in Livorno, Italy. His passing initiated a fierce lawsuit over his large estate. Before Shamama’s riches could be disbursed among his aspiring heirs, Italian courts had to decide which law to apply to his estate—a matter that depended on his nationality. Was he an Italian citizen? A subject of the Bey of Tunis? Had he become stateless? Or was his Jewishness also his nationality? Through a microhistory of the lawsuit, this paper argues against a Eurocentric history of citizenship. Marglin instead suggests that we adopt the framework of “legal belonging,” as an alternative to a centrifugal model of legal modernization originating in Europe and exported (more or less successfully) to the non-West. Drawing on the arguments made by Maghribi interlocutors about the nature of legal belonging in Tunisia, this paper draws on the power of microhistories to offer a global approach to the study of belonging in the nineteenth-century Mediterranean.
Jessica Marglin is Associate Professor of Religion, Law, and History, and the Ruth Ziegler Early Career Chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California. She earned her PhD from Princeton and her BA and MA from Harvard. Her research focuses on the history of Jews and Muslims in North Africa and the Mediterranean, with a particular emphasis on law. Her first book, Across Legal Lines: Jews and Muslims in Modern Morocco, was published by Yale University Press in 2016. Her second book, The Shamama Case: Contesting Citizenship across the Modern Mediterranean is forthcoming with Princeton University Press.
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