Book: Desert Borderland

Matthew Ellis, Desert Borderland: The making of modern Egypt and Libya, Stanford University Press (coming 2018).

Publisher’s blurb: “Desert Borderland investigates the historical processes that transformed political identity in the easternmost reaches of the Sahara Desert in the half century before World War I. Adopting a view from the margins—illuminating the little-known history of the Egyptian-Libyan borderland—the book challenges prevailing notions of how Egypt and Libya were constituted as modern territorial nation-states.

Matthew H. Ellis draws on a wide array of archival sources to reconstruct the multiple layers and meanings of territoriality in this desert borderland. Throughout the decades, a heightened awareness of the existence of distinctive Egyptian and Ottoman Libyan territorial spheres began to develop despite any clear-cut boundary markers or cartographic evidence. National territoriality was not simply imposed on Egypt’s western—or Ottoman Libya’s eastern—domains by centralizing state power. Rather, it developed only through a complex and multilayered process of negotiation with local groups motivated by their own local conceptions of space, sovereignty, and political belonging. By the early twentieth century, distinctive “Egyptian” and “Libyan” territorial domains emerged—what would ultimately become the modern nation-states of Egypt and Libya.”


Open Access: The Archaeology of the Fezzan

The Archaeology of the Fezzan series is now available open access from the Society for Libyan Studies. Descriptions and download links are below.

The Archaeology of Fazzan, Volume 1: Synthesis
Edited by D. J. Mattingly (2003)

‘An extraordinary civilisation emerged on the very margins of the Classical world in the remote Libyan desert. This is a vital study of a society at the crossroads between the Mediterranean and continental Africa.’ (Professor Michael Fulford, University of Reading)

‘The Garamantes have emerged from the shadows. This study of the Fazzan from remotest antiquity to the present day is striking for the extent and range of the enquiry, the meticulousness of its documentation, and the clarity of its exposition. The completed volumes will immediately become the standard work on the region, and seem unlikely ever to be superseded.’ (Professor Roger Wilson, University of Nottingham)

This is the second volume detailing the combined results of two Anglo-Libyan projects in Fazzan, Libya’s projects in Fazzan, Libya’s southwest province. The late Charles Daniels led the first expeditions between 1958 and 1977, with David Mattingly directing the subsequent Fazzan Project from 1997-2001.

This second volume presents some of the key archaeological discoveries in detail, including a richly illustrated gazetteer of sites discovered and the first attempt at a full-scale pottery type series from the Sahara. In addition, there are separate reports on the programme of radiocarbon dating carried out, on lithics, metallurgical and non-metallurgical industrial residues and various categories of small finds (including coins, metal artefacts, beads, glass and stone artefacts).

This volume contains reports and analysis on a series of excavations carried out between 1958 and 1977 by the British archaeologist Charles Daniels, lavishly illustrated by site plans and numerous colour photographs – particularly of the rich artefact assemblages recovered. The publication is a high-profile and significant landmark in work seeking to record information about Libya’s long-term Saharan heritage. It is an indispensable reference work to the nature of Libya’s Saharan archaeology.

Article: The Origins and Development of Zuwila

raza_a_980126_f0008_bDavid J. Mattingly, Martin J. Sterry & David N. Edwards. 2015. “The origins and development of Zuwīla, Libyan Sahara: an archaeological and historical overview of an ancient oasis town and caravan centre.” Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 50(1), 27–75

This article is open-access and can be read by everyone for free by clicking on the above link!

Abstract: “Zuwīla in southwestern Libya (Fazzān) was one of the most important early Islamic centres in the Central Sahara, but the archaeological correlates of the written sources for it have been little explored. This paper brings together for the first time a detailed consideration of the relevant historical and archaeological data, together with new AMS radiocarbon dates from several key monuments. The origins of the settlement at Zuwīla were pre-Islamic, but the town gained greater prominence in the early centuries of Arab rule of the Maghrib, culminating with the establishment of an Ibāḍī state ruled by the dynasty of the Banū Khaṭṭāb, with Zuwīla its capital. The historical sources and the accounts of early European travellers are discussed and archaeological work at Zuwīla is described (including the new radiocarbon dates). A short gazetteer of archaeological monuments is provided as an appendix. Comparisons and contrasts are also drawn between Zuwīla and other oases of the ash-Sharqiyāt region of Fazzān. The final section of the paper presents a series of models based on the available evidence, tracing the evolution and decline of this remarkable site.”

Article: Claiming the Libyan Space

Jakob Krais, “Claiming the Libyan Space: Fascist lieux de memoire in North Africa” in Mediterráneos: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Cultures of the Mediterranean Sea, ed. Martin et al., Cambridge (2013), pp. 275–290.

Abstract: During their rather short colonial rule over Libya (1911-1943) the Italians tried to appropriate the territory of the North African country not only militarily administratively, but also symbolically. To achieve this, the government, especially the Fascist regime in the 1920s and 30s, attempted the creation of places of memory (I here use the the term lieux de mémoire, following Nora) on the colony’s soil that was to incorporated into Italy as its so-called Fourth Shore. The means used were archaeology, linking modern colonization to the ancient Roman Empire, architecture that was to immortalize Italian rule for the future, and Mussolini’s 1937 visit as a reference point for a new Mediterranean empire.

The article is available to download at the above link.

Article: The Tripoli Trade Fair

Poster from the Tripoli Trade Fair 1930 (Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Collection, The Wolfsonian, see McLaren 2002, p. 178 for details)

Brian L. McLaren, “The Tripoli Trade Fair and the Representation of Italy’s African Colonies“, The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 24, Design, Culture, Identity: The Wolfsonian Collection (2002), pp. 170–197.

Extract: “The most significant exhibition to be organized in the Italian colonies was the Tripoli Trade Fair — an annual display of metropolitan and colonial goods held between 1927 and 1939. This series of exhibitions closely paralleled the representation of Italy’s colonies at similar events held in Italy and elsewhere in Europe during the same period. Indeed, all of these exhibitions were intended to communicate the value of Italy’s colonial possessions to a wider audience, while also establishing stronger economic and commercial ties between Italy and North Africa. However, the Tripoli Trade Fair also was a crucial medium through which an image of Italian society was disseminated to the indigenous populations of North Africa. There was, thus, a relationship between the Tripoli Trade Fair and its potential audiences that was more complex than that at fairs in the metropole. It not only represented Italian industry and culture in the colonial context, it was also the mechanism for a complex process of exchange between Italian and North African culture. Using a wide range of material — from postcards, posters, and publicity photographs to pamphlets and catalogues — this essay examines the Tripoli Trade Fair as a constantly evolving hybrid of metropolitan and colonial identities…”


Book: History as Resistance

Jakob Krais, Geschichte als Widerstand: Geschichtsschreibung und nation-buildingin Qaḏḏāfis Libyen (Kultur, Recht und Politik in muslimischen Gesellschaften 34). Würzburg: Ergon (2016).

Description (German, see below for English): Libyen wird oft als eine Art „zufällige Nation“ beschrieben. Dennoch gibt es Versuche, eine einheitliche, chronologische Geschichte von der Antike bis in die Gegenwart zu formulieren. 1978 entstand unter Muammar al-Gaddafi ein eigenes Forschungszentrum – das Libyan Studies Centre (LSC) – zur umfassenden Neuschreibung der libyschen Nationalgeschichte als anti-kolonialer „Geschichte von unten“. Die vorliegende Arbeit geht diesem Geschichtsbild nach. Sie fragt nach der Entstehung eines libyschen Selbstbewusstseins im Spannungsfeld von arabischen und berberischen, maghrebinischen und afrikanischen, muslimischen und mediterranen Einflüssen. Sie fragt nach der Bedeutung des Widerstand gegen Fremdherrschaft für das nationale Geschichtsbild der LSC-Historiker – sei es nun gegen die Römer, Kreuzritter oder moderne Kolonialisten. Darüber hinaus geht die Studie der Frage nach, was es heißt, Geschichte zu dekolonisieren –indem man versucht, die Historiographie vom Einfluss der früheren italienischen Kolonialherren zu befreien. Jenseits des konkreten Falls interessiert sie sich dafür, wie es heute gelingen kann, eine postkoloniale, anti-orientalistische und nicht eurozentrische Geschichte zu schreiben.

Description (English): Libya is often described as a type of “accidental nation”. However, there have been attempts to formulate a consistent and chronological history from antiquity until the present. In 1978, under Muammar al-Gaddafi, a research center—the Libyan Studies Centre (LSC)—came into existence with the goal of writing a comprehensive Libyan national history as an anti-colonial “history from below”. The present work traces this history. It inquires about the development of a Libyan self-awareness at the crossroads of Arab, Berber, Maghrebi and African, Muslim, and Mediterranean influences. It inquires about the meaning of resistance against foreign rule for the national history of the LSC historians—be it against the Romans, Crusaders, or modern colonizers. Furthermore, this study traces the question of what it means to decolonize history, as one attempts to liberate historiography from the influence of the previous Italian colonial masters. Beyond the specific Libyan case, this study is interested in how it may be possible today to write a postcolonial, anti-orientalist, and non-eurocentric history.

Article: Preserving Cultural Heritage in the Jabal Nafusa

Nebbia, N., Leone, A., Bockmann, R., Hddad, M., Abdouli, H., Masoud, A. M., Elkendi, N., Hamoud, H., Adam, S. & Khatab, M. (2016). Developing a Collaborative Strategy to Manage and Preserve Cultural Heritage During the Libyan Conflict. The Case of the Gebel Nāfusa. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23(4): 971-988.

Abstract: The paper discusses the potential of a collaborative scheme for the development of a protocol for recording and managing the cultural heritage in Libya. The critical political situation in the country urges the development of cultural heritage management policies in order to protect it more thoroughly and consistently. Moving on from the numerous international initiatives and projects dealing with a mostly “remote” approach to the issue, the project here presented to engages with staff members of the Department of Antiquities (DoA) in the development of a joint strategy for the application of remote sensing and geographical information systems (GIS) to the preservation and monitoring of Libyan cultural heritage. A series of training courses resulted in an initial development of new ways of recording and analysing field data for a better awareness of the full range of threats that the archaeology of the country is subject to. Focussing on the case of the Jebel Nafusa, the training involved the assessment of site visibility on satellite imagery, the analysis of high-resolution satellite datasets for archaeological mapping, the creation of a GIS spatial database of field data, and the mapping of risks and threats to archaeology from remote sensing data. This led to the creation of of a risk map showing the areas that are affected by a number of threats, thus giving the DoA a tool to prioritise future fieldwork to keep the assessment of site damage up to date. Only a collaborative approach can lead to a sustainable strategy for the protection of the invaluable cultural heritage of Libya.

Note: the article is behind a paywall, but those with university or library accounts should be able to access it.