Among the texts recorded by the French scholar Gilbert Boris in the 1940s is a poem about the Italian occupation of Tripolitania at the beginning of the colonial endeavor. Since Boris died in 1950, the collection of texts in which the present poem appears, Documents linguistiques et ethnographiques sur une région du Sud Tunisien (Nefzaoua) (Paris, 1951), was published posthumously.
The poem, which Boris calls a “chant de guerre” was authored by Muhammad bin Ṣōf, sheikh of the Maḥāmīd tribe. The Maḥāmīd were among the semi-nomadic tribes of Tripolitania (then referring to a larger region than today, including what is now the south of Tunisia) who fought in resistance to Italian troops during the so-called Italo-Turkish war of 1912-1913. His grandfather, moreover, was the famed Ghuma al-Mahmudi, a leader who together with ‘Abd al-Jalil Sayf al-Nasr rebelled against Ottoman rule of Tripolitania in the mid-1800s and became somewhat of a legendary figure associated with revolt against foreign rule.* Muhammad bin Ṣōf, who himself was probably a young man at that time, thus had a great deal of suspicion and dislike for certain figures—such as Hasuna Garamanli, the target of this poem—who were thought to have colluded with the Italian colonizers and to have helped them obtain control of Tripoli.
Bibliographies do not just provide a useful list of references about something, but are a way of assessing the state of research on a subject, and, perhaps more importantly, defining a subject—what it includes, excludes, and what counts as relevant.
The first bibliographies on “Libya” appeared over one hundred years ago and were an important part of the colonial attempt to define and produce knowledge about colonized lands. In fact, it was an Italian colonial bibliographer, Federico Minutilli, who was responsible for resurrecting the ancient Roman designation Libia as a cover term for the three provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and the Fezzan that the Italian colonial project eventually brought under its control. Since then, bibliographies about Libya have been published about every decade, containing updated references to scholarship, journalism, and general literature about the country. (It’s worth noting that studies on Libya compared to its neighbors are still few enough that compiling an all-encompassing bibliography is a relatively feasible project…). Here is a list of the ones I’ve managed to locate so far, with brief comments.
§1. Lambert Playfair, Bibliography of the Barbary States: Part I: Tripoli and the Cyrenaica (London, 1889). The first such bibliography to appear, this work contributes to the European race to colonize the lands that later became Libya. Listed 579 books and articles in chronological order from Herodotus (!) to 1889, with an appendix describing 62 manuscripts obtained by the British Consulate in Tripoli.
§2. Federico Minutilli, Bibliografia della Libia (Turin, 1903). The first work to bring back the old Roman geographical designation Libia, it listed 1,269 titles and purported to contain all published references to Libya from the invention of the printing press until 1902.
§3. Ugo Ceccherini, Bibliografia della Libia (Rome, 1915). A continuation of Minutilli’s work containing 3,041 titles on Libya published between 1903 and 1914; the incredible uptake being due to Italy’s drive to colonize Libya.
§4. R.W. Hill, Bibliography of Libya (Durham, 1959). Conceived of as “a major project of research involving economic and social problems”, simultaneous to the discovery of oil in Libya, and part of a small publication series on Libya produced by the Durham Geography department.
§6. Hans Schlüter, Index Libycus: Bibliography of Libya, 1957–1969, with supplementary material 1915–1956 (Boston, 1972). Contains 4,418 entries covering the years since 1915 but without duplicating references gathered by Hill 1959, emphasizing publications since 1957.
§7. Hans Schlüter, Index Libycus: Bibliography of Libya, 1970–1975. Vol. I: Titles (Boston, 1975). Lists 4,380 entries focusing on the years since 1970 but including references before that which were omitted in the previous volume or in Hill 1959. Note that it is actually the second volume of the Index. See also his article (“Non-Arabic regional bibliographies pertaining to the Libyan Arab Republic,” International Library Review 8/2 (1976), pp. 201–215) overviewing various smaller topical bibliographies.
§9. Muhammad Alawar, A Concise bibliography of northern Chad and Fezzan in southern Libya (Cambridgeshire, 1983). In the introduction to this volume, Alawar reflects on his organizing principles, stating that “among the legacies of Western European colonial occupation in Africa is a pattern of international frontiers that reflects imperial strategies and aspirations. The borders imposed in the African continent have often had only slight reference either to local perceptions and definitions of spatial authority or to indigenous economic realities”. This work lists 2991 titles over a broad range of themes.
§10. Natasha Beschorner, Bibliography of Libya 1970–1990 (London, 1990).
Compiled as part of a SOAS research project on Libya in the 1990s led by J.A. Allan and K.S. McLachlan, who both produced other research on Libya. A total of 528 entries, mostly politics and economics, including a number of newspaper and magazine articles in various languages.
This book contains not only Western research on colonial Libya, but also works in Arabic and/or published in Libya. (The publisher’s blurb, linked above, is a little cringeworthy)
§12. Adam Benkato & Christophe Pereira, “An annotated bibliography of Arabic and Berber in Libya,” Libyan Studies 47 (2016), pp. 149–165. A comprehensive (up to mid-2016) bibliography of studies about the Arabic and Berber (Amazigh) languages in Libya, organized by region. I continue to update this bibliography in a publicly-available Google Doc, now updated to early 2021. See also this post on dissertations on Libyan languages and this one on “non-site” research on Libyan Amazigh varieties.