Some recent PhD theses

Shaba, Faysal. 2019. Urban expansion, land management and development in Tripoli, Libya. Ph.D. dissertation, Sheffield Hallam University, https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/urban-expansion-land-management-development/docview/2548466438/se-2

Libya is considered to have one of the highest rates of urbanisation in the world; especially, when compared to other regions in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Tripoli witnessed rapid population growth and increasing economic development, this led to a concentration of the population in and around the city. Tripoli has witnessed an extreme expansion of its urban area which now contains a population more than 2 million. At the same time, Tripoli is a region which encompasses an area of high agricultural fertility. The objective of this study was to investigate how agricultural land in the Tripoli region could be protected from land use change brought about by rapid urban expansion. This research adopted a mixed methods approach to collect primary and secondary data. Information was gathered from stakeholders, farmers and official sources and triangulated to understand the processes behind rapid urban expansion and the loss of agricultural land. Research included field observations in Tripoli, interviews with government official, and questionnaires for farmers. Research revealed that government policies have played a significant role in creating and exacerbating the problem of urban expansion by encouraging migration to Tripoli. Furthermore, present legislation has been shown to be an ineffective deterrent. Laws are continually broken by various individuals; therefore, current legislation fails to protect agricultural land as it is not enforced properly. This research has, however, identified the existence of effective schemes, such as the National Physical Perspective Plan – Libya(NPPP) and National Spatial Policy (NSP). These schemes would promote balanced sustainable development across Libya, providing better facilities and opportunities in other regions and therefore combat mass migration to larger cities. They have not, however, been implemented due to the difficulty in persuading relevant authorities to do so. This study demonstrates the need for an efficient land use planning in Libya. It provides information to support research and planning efforts related to land development and conservation, ensuring the protection of agricultural land in the face of rapid urban expansion. This is of particular importance to Libya as the percentage of fertile agricultural land is small, around 2% of the country’s total area. The study emphasised the importance of protecting this small but significant land space for future use. The findings of this study will therefore provide a significant guide for future urban planning and will be of use to urban planners and decision makers determining policies and plans to control urban expansion. This study is essential to understanding the changes witnessed in Libya’s agricultural landscape and the need to protect it to ensure its future. Its findings will be used to provide information on effective land management, environmental conservation, and sustainable development, which will be of interest to policy planners and government officials in Libya. Preliminary findings demonstrate that government policies have played a significant role in creating/exacerbating the problem of rural-urban migration to Tripoli. Research has highlighted that national land use policies require revision to achieve future sustainability. Revising policy would enable the country to re-balance the construction of infrastructure and services, accounting for other areas.

Milod, M. 2019. Vernacular architecture in Libya : A case study of vernacular dwellings in the Nafusa mountain region. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Salford, https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/vernacular-architecture-libya-case-study/docview/2344483142/se-2

This research offers a systematic analysis of the physical features of residential Vernacular Architecture (VA) of Nafusa Mountain Region (NMR) in Libya, linking them to the governance system of heritage conservation in Libya and to the Responsible Institutions (RIs). Libya has experienced different historic stages, such as the Amazigh, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and Italian colonization. It is distinguished by a historic continuity, which has enriched its historic and architectural features. This study investigates and documents the main physical unique features of residential VA in NMR and related factors that influence Conservation Processes (CPs) within the current governance system delivered by the RIs. By clarifying the elements that make residential VA unique and by understanding current issues undermining its effective conservation, this study offers valuable and original insights for informing future conservation policies and for putting in place measures aimed at restoring, preserving, and maintaining this unique architectural and historical heritage. This research also produces new knowledge about VA of the NMR in Libya, a topic on which no studies have been available so far. By filling the gap in current knowledge, this study raises awareness about the value of the VA in the NMR and contributes to support the conservation of such a unique heritage. The research methodology for this study uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches (Mixed Methods). The researcher has selected and justified three examples of Vernacular Dwellings (VDs) in NMR and collected the data through observation, analysis of dwellings maps, photos, interviews and a questionnaire. Visual survey has been conducted by visiting relevant sites and systematically collecting visual evidence, such as photographic and technical survey including structures and technological spatial details. Spatial analysis methods have been adopted to uncover the rationale of the VA development and construction. Semi-structured interviews with relevant parties have been administered at senior, middle, and junior management level of the RIs and complemented with the review of archival documents and relevant government reports. Findings from the research outline the main challenges to VA in NMR that include a lack of appreciation and understanding of heritage among owners, scarcity of local materials and traditional building skills, lack of government support as well as insufficient documentation. All the findings were triangulated prior to the development of the initial recommendations and further decision-makers and expert validation was obtained to establish the final recommendations. Conclusions and recommendations on how to preserve residential VA in NMR context will assist policy makers in Libya, when setting strategic national plans for VA conservation, and will provide a useful point of reference for academics and researchers.

El Taraboulsi, Sherine Nabil. 2020. State building and state-society relations in Libya (1911-1969): An examination of associations, trade unions and religious actors. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Oxford, https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/state-building-society-relations-libya-1911-1969/docview/2467517897/se-2

This thesis is an examination of state-society relations in Libya during the period preceding the rise of Gaddafi in 1969. It addresses the roots of Libya’s recurring state failure by examining the role played by Libyan social actors in state building during the period between 1911 and 1969. Three key periods in Libya’s history are addressed: the colonial period under the Italians (1911–1943), then the years under the British Military Administration (1943–1951) and then the period as an independent monarchy (1951– 1969). Three social actors are explored: associations or jamʿiyyat, trade unions, and religious groups. Based on Migdal (2004) and Saouli (2012), I approach state formation as a process, not as a finished outcome, and the state as a social field wherein social actors engage with one another as well as with state structures rather than a fixed entity. This approach allows a deeper understanding of the temporal dimensions of Libya’s experience with state building as well as the different processes at play through which states are formed and (un)formed. The thesis makes three key arguments. First, contrary to the majority of Western scholarship on Libya which ascribes Libya’s “statelessness” to a failure to adopt modern state formation following independence, I argue that this linear view oversimplifies a much more complex local power dynamic among social actors, and between social actors and the state (colonial and postcolonial) that manifested itself in modes of cooperation and contestation that shaped Libya’s experience with state building. This view of “statelessness” also suggests that divisions in Libya’s social fabric are endemic which is not the case. Through a social history of the period in question, the thesis shows that while contestation among social actors before and after independence had been stronger than centralizing forces, this should be explained in context and in history. Second, I argue that 8 within non-Western societies where a normative notion of the modern nation-state was imposed but was adopted by local actors and adapted to social, cultural and historical realities that are local, it is within the civic space that society was empowered to shape the state in both constructive and (de)constructive ways, and that there is a pattern to how this shaping happens that is embedded within the history of those societies. Third, the thesis demonstrates that Libya’s civic space has played a twofold role in state formation. On the one hand, it has actively contributed to the strengthening of resistance forces against colonialism, the development of state institutions and the domestication of state power as experienced in the Kingdom of Libya (1951 – 1969). On the other hand, because of societal differences, many of which resulted from aggressive colonialism, a short history of institutionalization and the entrenchment of fragmentation and regional differences, Libya’s civic space manifested processes of localism or bonding and coalescing that occurred within groups which compromised the development of a Libyan state as in the case of the Tripolitanian Republic (1918 – 1922). The thesis demonstrates that state building can be compromised by contested state-society relations and that a state in the making would need to incorporate various forms of its civic space within its bureaucracies and overall model of government to ensure its local legitimacy and geopolitical unity. Using a sociohistorical approach which includes primary data from archives in London, Rome and Tunis, as well as 80 semi-structured interviews, this research makes a contribution to a social history of twentieth-century Libya by exploring its civic space and its engagement with governing structures, colonial and independent.

Khalifa, Asmaa. 2022. Everyday leadership in self-organized groups: Rising to occasions of leadership in Libya. Ph.D. dissertation, Arizona State University, https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/everyday-leadership-self-organized-groups-rising/docview/2671565211/se-2

The simplicity of everyday living creates opportunities for leadership based on individually curated personal networks that have developed overtime through the act of living and personal experience. These networks are unique to individuals; however, when grouped, they share enough similarities with others in their proximal environment, thus, allowing for the formation of spontaneous self-organized groups, based on either a felt need, a shared history, a common goal, or combination of such. These leadership opportunities heed the call for action within their community because the felt need is proximal. This exploratory ethnographic case study investigates the nature of leadership within self-organized groups and how it differs from other forms of collective action. Participant interviews and observations were used to explore how individuals interpreted their roles in the group along with how they assessed and fulfilled a felt need within their community, and the different meanings of leadership in self-organized groups.

Research Roundup June 2022

A variety of recent research on Libyan topics.

Paul Love, Libraries of the Nafusa. A pilot project to document and digitize material heritage in the Jebel Nafusa, Libya, part of the excellent LibMed project focusing on medieval Libya

The Libraries of Nafusa is a pilot project to document and to digitize written material culture in the Jebel Nafusa region of Libya. It is led by the Ibadica Centre for Research and Studies on Ibadism in France and the Fassato Foundation in Libya, with financial support from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung’s “Patrimonies” funding program in Germany. The administrative team reflects the international nature of the project, with members in Morocco, Algeria, France, and the United States.


Igor Cherstich, Martin Holbraad, Nico Tassi, Anthropologies of Revolution: Forging Time, People, and Worlds (University of California Press, 2020). *Open Access*

What can anthropological thinking contribute to the study of revolutions? The first book-length attempt to develop an anthropological approach to revolutions, Anthropologies of Revolution proposes that revolutions should be seen as concerted attempts to radically reconstitute the worlds people inhabit. Viewing revolutions as all-embracing, world-creating projects, the authors ask readers to move beyond the idea of revolutions as acts of violent political rupture, and instead view them as processes of societal transformation that penetrate deeply into the fabric of people’s lives, unfolding and refolding the coordinates of human existence.


Nir Arielli, “Colonial Soldiers in Italian Counter-Insurgency Operations in Libya, 1922-32”, British Journal for Military History 1/2 (2015), 47–66. *Open Access*

The vast majority of the force employed by the Italians to crush local resistance in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica was composed of Libyans, Eritreans and Ethiopians. The article examines why the Italians came to rely so heavily on colonial soldiers. It highlights two key predicaments the Italians faced: how to contend with the social, economic and political repercussions that military recruitment for the counter-insurgency created in East Africa; and the extent to which they could depend on forces raised in Libya itself. Finally, the article offers an initial assessment of how the counter-insurgency exacerbated tensions between Libyans and East Africans.


Klaus Braun & Jacqueline Passon (editors), Across the Desert: Tracks, Trade and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Libya (Springer, 2020). *Open Access*

This open access book provides a multi-perspective approach to the caravan trade in the Sahara during the 19th century. Based on travelogues from European travelers, recently found Arab sources, historical maps and results from several expeditions, the book gives an overview of the historical periods of the caravan trade as well as detailed information about the infrastructure which was necessary to establish those trade networks.
Included are a variety of unique historical and recent maps as well as remote sensing images of the important trade routes and the corresponding historic oases. To give a deeper understanding of how those trading networks work, aspects such as culturally influenced concepts of spatial orientation are discussed.
The book aims to be a useful reference for the caravan trade in the Sahara, that can be recommended both to students and to specialists and researchers in the field of Geography, History and African Studies.


Jérôme Lentin, selections of early modern written Libyan Arabic, in A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic, edited by Esther-Miriam Wagner (Open Book Publishers, 2021). *Open Access*

Libya 1: Ḥasan al-Faqīh Ḥasan’s Chronicle Al-Yawmiyyāt al-Lībiyya (early 19th century)

Libya 2: Letter from Ġūma al-Maḥmūdī (1795–1858) to ʿAzmī Bēk, Daftardār of the ʾIyāla (Province) of Tripoli (undated)

A Call for Independence from Tripoli and Benghazi, 1917

I recently stumbled upon an extremely interesting pamphlet from 1917 entitled “Aspirations and National Ideals of the Population of Tripoli of Africa and Benghazi” (“Aspirations et idéal national de la population de Tripoli d’Afrique et de Benghazie”). Written by Youssouf Chetvan and Mouhammed Salih Chérif, it was published in French, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is the earliest text I know of that was written by Libyans calling for independence in a European venue. More generally, the text connects the aspirations of people in Tripoli and Benghazi with the struggle of colonized Muslims the world over, framing itself as an “appeal in the name of the oppressed Muslims populations”. I wonder how widely it circulated…

I do not know anything about the authors, except that Youssouf Chetvan (يوسف بن شتوان؟) was likely a Benghazi notable, as that family has been prominent there for a long time. The other author, Mouhammed Salih Chérif (محمد صالح الشريف؟), credited as “one of the Senussi sheikhs”, could plausibly have been a member of the Senussi family or a ranking member of the Senussi order.

Online archive of al-Inqadh

A number of old issues of the well-known Libyan opposition magazine Al-Inqadh (الانقاذ) are now available online. The main publication of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (الجبهة الوطنية لانقاذ ليبيا), one of the main opposition groups to the regime of Muammar Qaddafi especially in the 1980s and early 90s, Al-Inqadh circulated widely among the Libyan diaspora in the US, UK, and Europe. It is now archived on the website of the National Front Party, which seems to view itself as the successor to the NFSL.

Collage of six different covers of the opposition magazine Al-Inqadh

The back issues are well worth browsing—they are a monument to the opposition movements of the 1980s and contain some very interesting political art and poetry.

Research Roundup December 2021

This research roundup includes some exciting recent work in fields that have been previously unexplored, as well as work from the past few years which I wasn’t previously aware of.

Elfeituri, Nada. 2020. Tribalism as urban planning: The role of non-state actors in governing Benghazi’s peripheries. DPU Working Paper 204. (online)

The persistence of tribalism in countries of the Middle East and North Africa has posed a challenge to researchers and practitioners seeking to understand the political and social drivers of change in the region, particularly after the 2011 revolutions which saw the collapse of many governments and a resurgence in the prominence of tribal networks. The presence and role of tribal structures in cities – one of many non-state actors attempting to fill the governance gap – has increasingly become a key element in how they function today, particularly in planning, service delivery and security.

The accepted binary that places tribalism as a nomadic or rural practice – one which diminishes in settled and urban populations – is no longer adequate to understand developments occurring in the social, political and spatial arenas of these cities. Tribal networks have evolved and adapted over the years, both influencing and being affected by state policies and laws. Studies that attempt to understand tribal phenomena outside of anthropology tend to look at the relationship between tribe and state without examining how this relationship plays out in urban areas.

This research aims to reconceptualise the notion of tribalism in the MENA region in order to understand contemporary urban tribal practices, by looking at the tribe and the urban rather than the tribe and state alone. It will first establish a framework of understanding tribalism that builds on Ibn Khaldun’s conception of the Arab tribe as a form of social solidary, placing this within the notion of precarious urbanism. It will then look at the case of urban tribalism in Libya, analysing the relationship between tribalism, the state and the city, in order to understand why tribalism persists and what impact it has on city planning today. This will be explored in depth by analysing the current role of tribalism in Benghazi’s peripheral areas.


Elfeituri, Nada. 2021. The “Solidere” Effect and the Localisation of Heritage Reconstruction in Post-war Transitions, Libya. In Historic Cities in the Face of Disasters: Reconstruction, Recovery and Resilience of Societies (The Urban Book Series), 301–316. (paywalled)

In the wake of mass urban conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the most pressing question has been how reconstruction can be achieved on a large scale. Cities such as Benghazi, Aleppo and Mosul have witnessed widespread destruction that will take billions of dollars and decades to repair. With such a momentous task, many governments in the region appear to be looking towards the “Solidere” model of reconstruction that was applied in downtown Beirut after the Lebanese civil war, a model built around “disaster capitalism” in which new laws facilitate the role of private companies to lead the process. While there have been countless criticisms of the effect that this process had in Beirut, the region offers few other examples of successful reconstruction projects. Indeed, with the current climate of authoritarian rule, it is the central governments rather than residents themselves who have decision-making power to shape the reconstructed city. These decisions are driven not only by economic opportunities but by socio-political strategy, namely what should be forgotten and what will remain in the post-war city. Within this process, the efforts of citizens and local actors—often the first to initiate reconstruction of their neighbourhoods—are often overlooked or ignored. There have been increasing calls for more locally led reconstruction processes that are driven by people rather than profit, within the wider shift towards more participatory processes in urban development. These processes can be seen as more inclusive and sustainable than the “Solidere” model of reconstruction, but there is limited literature regarding how these local mechanisms operate in reconstruction contexts in the MENA region, and how they can fit into wider political processes. The aim of this chapter is to investigate local reconstruction efforts and how they play out in heritage centres. It focuses specifically on the case of downtown Benghazi’s reconstruction in Libya after the 2014 civil war. It will conclude by attempting to answer the question of what place local reconstruction should have in national visions of urban redevelopment in cities affected by conflict.


Musbahi, Moad. 2018. The Sahara Is Not a Desert: Re-Mapping Libya, Unravelling the State. The Funambulist No. 18 (Cartography & Power). (online)

This map shows Libya in the moment prior to the 1935 Franco-Italian agreement that decided the demarcation of the southern border. / Istituto Geografico Militare (1926), photo by Moad Musbahi.


Bertazzini, Mattia Cosma. 2019. The economic impact of Italian colonial investments in Libya and in the Horn of Africa, 1920-2000. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science. (online)

This dissertation examines the micro-level effects of Italian colonial investments in Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, and sheds light on both their short and long-term impact. It focuses on two flagship projects, launched by the dictator Benito Mussolini during the 1930s, namely the construction of a modern road network in the Horn of Africa and the settlement of Italian farmers in Libya. The contributions are twofold. First, this thesis focuses on types of colonial investment that have not been studied before, while looking at a group of colonies that have previously been neglected by the cliometrics revolution in African economic history. Thus, it enhances our understanding of the effect of colonialism in general and, on Africa, in particular. Second, by exploiting a set of quasi-natural experiments from the history of Italian colonialism to explore the micro-effect of specific policies, this thesis also contributes to the economic geography and development literatures that have looked at the determinants of agglomeration and productivity in developing countries. It is structured around three substantive chapters. The first one studies the effect of Italian road construction in the Horn of Africa on economic development and shows how locations that enjoyed a first-mover advantage in transportation thanks to the Italian road network are significantly wealthier today. The second substantive chapter assesses the effect of Italian agricultural settlement on indigenous agriculture in Libya at the end of the colonial period and pinpoints an adverse effect of Italian presence on Libyan productivity. Finally, the third substantive chapter studies the effect of the expulsion of Italian farmers from Libya after World War II and finds a reduction in agricultural commercialization in affected districts following the shock.


Simona Berhe and Olindo de Napoli, editors. 2022. Citizens and Subjects of the Italian Colonies Legal Constructions and Social Practices, 1882–1943. Routledge.

This forthcoming book features several chapters concerning Libya: “Subjecthood, Citizenship, Autonomy, Independence? Legal Status and National Claims in the First Decade of Italian Occupation in Libya (1911–1920)” by Federico Cresti, “The System of Differences: Justice and Citizenship in Libya (1911–1922)” by Alessia Di Stefano, and finally “Rights, Mobility and Identity: Colonial Citizenship in Libya in the Twenties”, by Simona Berhe.

19th-century Letters between Bornu and Tripoli

Previous posts on early modern sources for Libyan history include: i) Early Modern Libyan Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and ii) European Journals and Correspondence from early modern Libya.

The Libyan National Archives (دار المحفوظات التاريخية) held in the Red Castle (السرايا الحمراء) of Tripoli contain, or used to contain, a number of letters sent between rulers of Bornu and officials in Tripoli dating to around the mid-1800s. Two editions of these letters appeared in the 1960s, but the archives became less accessible to outside scholars after 1969 because of the regime and little has been published on or about these primary sources since. I haven’t even been able to find if a more extensive Arabic edition exists, although I imagine that there is at least one such publication in Libya.

Letter from Abu Bakr ibn Umar al-Kanami to Nazif Basha, Wali of Tripoli, dated 12 Dec. 1881 (Gwarzo Letter #5)

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A note on varieties of Arabic in eastern Libya

Though very little research has been done on the varieties of Arabic in eastern Libya, recent work which cites the existing studies continue to get some basic and important facts wrong. In particular, the two main and most frequently cited sources for Arabic in eastern Libya do not discuss one and the same variety.

T. F. Mitchell, carrying out fieldwork in eastern Libya in the late 1940s, worked primarily in Benghazi and Shahhat. His two published pieces on Arabic in eastern Libya, which have been frequently referenced in subsequent linguistic literature of various kinds, are “The active participle in an Arabic dialect of Cyrenaica” (1952) and “The language of buying and selling in Cyrenaica” (1957). Both of these are based on data from Shahhat, which Mitchell, following the colonial nomenclature of the time, calls Cyrene. A later work (Mitchell 1960) includes data from the same dialect in a comparative study. As he notes:

Material for the present article was obtained before and during a recent period of study-leave in Cyrenaica. My particular informant, who also accompanied me during the tour, was Mr. Idris ‘Abdallah, from Cyrene, a member of the Hasa tribe. The dialect illustrated may be termed the Bedouin dialect of the Jebel. (1952:11)

During a period of seven months spent in Cyrenaica in 1949 with the special purpose of investigating the Bedouin Arabic of the Jebel, I selected for particular attention the language of buying and selling. Accompanied by my research assistant [fn: in the Jebel village of Cyrene]… (1957:31)

Jonathan Owens, carrying out fieldwork in the late 1970s, worked in Benghazi. Although he published some later studies which re-analyzed the data Mitchell published in the above two articles (Owens 1980, 1993), his book-length grammar, somewhat broadly titled A Short Reference Grammar of Eastern Libyan Arabic (1984) is actually a description of (one type of) Benghazi Arabic. He notes:

Our analysis differs on some points of detail from Mitchell’s (some due to dialectical differences, cf. 1.2), though it does not necessarily supersede his (p. 1).

This study is based for the most part on the dialect of Mr. Salah Busafha, translator at Garyounis University in Benghazi, a 25-year resident of Benghazi who comes from Sulug, a small town about 50 kilometers south of Benghazi. It has been supplemented in places by work with various students (from Benghazi) in the English Department at Garyounis University, where I taught between September 1977-July, 1979. The title of the book is in fact broader than the data warrants for two reasons. First, it does not take into account dialect differences within Eastern Libyan Arabic. In comparing my data with Mitchell’s, which was collected mainly in the rural areas (I will call it rural/Bedouin) east of Benghazi (particularly, around El-Bedha) in the late 1940’s, three major differences are apparent. [My summary: 1) Diphthongs, 2) Imala, 3) raising of the ending -a(h) to -i(h)]. Secondly, the study tries to be representative of colloquial dialects and I have tended to ignore Modern Standard Arabic usage, the Arabic of journalism for instance. In doing this I ignore an important aspect of modern Libyan dialects, for the speech of many Libyans, particularly the literate, has incorporated aspects of Modern Standard Arabic. (p. 2-3)

Based only on these two groups of studies, there are a number of phonological differences between the two varieties—that of Benghazi and close environs, and that of rural eastern Libya—which one can note, if one reads the introductions and footnotes carefully. Owens, coming later, takes care to explain that his data is different than Mitchell’s. So in our studies now, we should obviously not mix the two under the same label, or else we will introduce problems, such as unexplainable phonological variation, where there aren’t any.

For more on rural eastern Libyan Arabic, see Laria 1993, 1996, which are also based on a variety from near Shahhat. For more on Benghazi Arabic proper, see Benkato 2014, 2017. Unpublished PhD theses with data from various places in eastern Libya include Abdunnabi 2000 (Jabal Akhdar region), Aurayieth 1982 (Derna), and Bobaker 2019 (Tobruk). For complete references, see the bibliography of Libyan languages.

European Journals and Correspondence from early modern Libya

Previous posts in this series on historical sources for the study of early modern Libya:
i. Early Modern Libyan Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

The present post gives references to journals and correspondence written by English observers, mostly diplomats of some kind, who lived in the region for a period of time. Travel accounts, which are far more numerous, will be dealt with separately. Fortunately, several of the most extensive collections of correspondence have been collected and published—those are the ones detailed here, with a few references thrown in to unpublished material; this post is not necessarily exhaustive.

17th century

Thomas Baker, English consul in Tripoli between 1677 and 1685 (then part of the Ottoman Empire and a key base of the “Barbary pirates”), kept a detailed journal during his time in the city-state. Though English consuls had been in Algiers and Tunis for some time, one was only sent to Tripoli from 1658, primarily for dealing with pirates, rather than trade. Baker’s journal, now preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, is an intriguing early record at a time for which hardly any historical sources exist.

  • Piracy and Diplomacy in Seventeenth-Century North Africa: The Journal of Thomas Baker, English Consul in Tripoli, 1677-1685, edited by C.R. Pennell (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989)

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Research Roundup Summer 2021

Here is my occasional roundup of published research on Libya in the humanities and social sciences which I find interesting or useful. I’ll also slowly be gathering some of the older individual posts on this blog into collective roundup posts.

Ali Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History (Routledge, 2020)

This original research on the forgotten Libyan genocide specifically recovers the hidden history of the fascist Italian concentration camps (1929–1934) through the oral testimonies of Libyan survivors. This book links the Libyan genocide through cross-cultural and comparative readings to the colonial roots of the Holocaust and genocide studies.
     Between 1929 and 1934, thousands of Libyans lost their lives, directly murdered and victim to Italian deportations and internments. They were forcibly removed from their homes, marched across vast tracks of deserts and mountains, and confined behind barbed wire in 16 concentration camps. It is a story that Libyans have recorded in their Arabic oral history and narratives while remaining hidden and unexplored in a systematic fashion, and never in the manner that has allowed us to comprehend and begin to understand the extent of their existence.
     Based on the survivors’ testimonies, which took over ten years of fieldwork and research to document, this new and original history of the genocide is a key resource for readers interested in genocide and Holocaust studies, colonial and postcolonial studies, and African and Middle Eastern studies.

There is an illuminating interview with the author on Jadaliyya, in addition to one on the New Books Network. Continue reading

ياللي حررت البشمرقة / You who freed the Peshmergeh

Sent around privately or posted on diaspora websites in the early 2000s, a poem entitled ياللي حررت البشمرقة / You who freed the Peshmergeh used the American invasion of Iraq and subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein to mockingly call for the same to happen in Libya. It addresses the American forces who overthrew Saddam’s regime in Iraq, thereby freeing the autonomous Kurdish army, the Peshmergeh, and requests they come and do the same in Libya. Of course, calling for regime change in Libya at that time was punished harshly, and if it were known who had composed such a poem, that person would no doubt have been imprisoned, or worse. So the poem circulated anonymously then, and apparently remained anonymous even within the poet’s own family, until Suleyman al-Sahli publicly revealed in 2012 that it was actually composed by Abdelsalam al-Hurr. Though usually known as a master of shitawa in eastern Libya, al-Hurr also composed a few qasa’id. And indeed, after the 2011 revolution and subsequent regime change, the public recitation of the poem and its attribution to a well-known eastern Libyan poet finally became possible.

Above, you can listen to Suleyman al-Sahli, then Minister of Education and son of the great Libyan folklorist and diwanist Ali al-Sahli, recite the poem. Below, I’ve provided the Arabic text and my own English translation and some notes. Continue reading