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Roberto Cantoni

Roberto Cantoni’s current research focuses on the history of geophysical technologies for oil prospecting, on the history of oil diplomacies and on security issues related thereto. Within the framework of a transnational perspective, he compares the birth and development of French and Italian national oil companies, and especially of their exploratory sectors, in the context of the Cold War.

Such context greatly affected the life of Southern European oil companies, as their growth into larger, world-size enterprises caused repeated clashes with the interests of the Anglo-American oil majors, often supported in matters of foreign policies by their national governments. Besides, France and Italy having the two largest Communist parties in Western Europe during most of the Cold War, the diplomatic relations between these countries and the U.S. were everything but unproblematic: trade agreements between Italy and the U.S.S.R. for Soviet oil imports into Italy in exchange for technologies for oil industry certainly did not help improving those relations.

Oil diplomacy conflicts involving the two Mediterranean countries on one side and Anglo-American companies on the other were not limited to within the borders of France and Italy: instead, most of them took place in areas of the planet such as the Middle East of North Africa, rather politically unstable areas at that time. The involvement of Western secret services in many a coup d’état and wars in those areas needs to be explored, especially in connection with oil affaires.

Technological transfers played a prominent part in shaping the oil map of the two Mediterranean countries: in more than a case, territorial requests were made on the basis of geophysical and geological surveys (Algeria or Libya), and for a company the ability to use more advanced exploration techniques than another was vital to the outcome of oil search. Now, as the most common geophysical techniques for oil search were also those used for military objectives (detection of nuclear explosions, to mention one), they needed to be ‘protected’ and classified: in other words, secret.

In his Master’s dissertation, Cantoni worked on French oil prospecting in Gabon from the end of World War II, throughout the independence of the African country, to the first oil crisis coinciding with the 1973 Yom Kippur war: in his work, he aimed at bringing together the theoretical frameworks of post-colonial studies and history of technology.