Category Archives: Resources

North African Audio Archives (1)

As libraries, museums, and other institutions catalog and digitize holdings from 19th and 20th century European explorers, scholar, or colonial administrators in the Middle East or north Africa, a number of audio archives have come to light. These include recordings made on the older media of wax cylinders or shellac discs, or the slightly newer media of vinyl records or even magnetic tape. Some recordings were made on site while others were made in Europe. In this post and and a few subsequent posts, my goal is draw to attention to some of these recently-available audio archives.

Berliner Lautarchiv

The Lautarchiv (“sound archive”) at the Humboldt University in Berlin contains several thousand recordings on wax cylinders and shellac discs dating to the early 1900s. Among these are recordings made in a prison camp set up near Berlin during World War 1 for prisoners from the French and British armies who originated in the north African and south Asian colonies. A commission was set up to take advantage of the internment of speakers of many different languages, and hundreds of recordings on shellac discs were made for the purpose of linguistic study. Within this group of recordings from the prison camp are about 120 recordings of northern African speakers of Arabic and Berber varieties. The contents range from improvised narratives, poems, or songs, to the repetition of words and phrases from a dialectological questionnaire. Dating from 1916 to 1918, they are probably the oldest recordings of these languages; certainly the oldest known recordings made for linguistic purposes. Although all the holdings of the Lautarchiv have been digitized, they are not freely available online due to the sensitive circumstances of the internment and recording, but can be consulted in-person in Berlin by appointment.

The Lautarchiv has made available a sample recording of a poem critical of the war from a prisoner originating in Monastir, Tunisia. For a linguistic study of the recordings from a prisoner originating in Medenine, Tunisia, which I recently collaborated on with a colleague, see here. Otherwise, the north African records have not been the subject of much research until now.

Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie

In the Collection Mission Henri Lhote held in the CREM are 511 (!) almost entirely unpublished magnetic tape recordings made during the 1948 expedition of Henri Lhote (1903-1991), a French explorer and hunter of primitive art, in the Hoggar region of Algeria. The recordings made during that trip contain a wide selection of materials, from found sounds to songs, poetry, lullabies, narratives, and conversations, mostly in the local Tuareg variety with some in Arabic as well. All of the recordings are digitized and can be listened to online.

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)

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)

Continue reading

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

Early Modern Libyan Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

A great deal of historical writing on early modern Libya depends on sources written by Westerners, whether colonial archival documents, or travelogues and journals written by travellers, British diplomats’ relatives, and so forth. Only recently are local documentary archives coming to light (e.g. the ones in Ghadames). But there are also Libyan historical texts from before the colonial era scattered in collections in Libya and elsewhere. Here and in some upcoming posts I’ll try to post some brief guides to these resources, many of which still require study and publication.

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris has a few interesting Libyan historical manuscripts (described in William MacGuckin de Slane’s Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, pp. 339-340). Fortunately, several of the manuscripts have been digitized and are freely available to download and read. Here is a brief description of each manuscript. Continue reading

Research Roundup Summer 2019

  • Jens Hoppe, “The Persecution of Jews in Libya Between 1938 and 1945: An Italian Affair?” in The Holocaust and North Africa (Stanford University Press, 2018).

This chapter explores the measures adopted by Italy against Jews in Italian-occupied Libya, particularly those laws passed between 1938 (when the so-called racial laws were also introduced in Libya) and 1943 (when the British Eighth Army occupied the country and ended Italian rule). Paying close heed to the internment of Libyan Jews in special camps and the deportation of foreign Jews to Tunisia or Italy in 1942, the essay includes background history since the 1920s and extends to the period after 1943, especially the pogroms in November 1945, before finally assessing the Libyan situation.

 

This book focuses on the issues of resilience and variability of desert pastoralists, explicitly challenging a set of traditional topics of the discourse around pastoralism in arid lands of the Old World. Based on a field research carried out on the Kel Tadrart Tuareg in Libya, various facets of a surprisingly successful adaptation to an extremely arid environment are investigated. By means of an ethnoarchaeological approach, explored are the Kel Tadrart interactions with natural resources, the settlement patterns, the campsite structures, and the formation of the pastoral archaeological landscape, focusing on variability and its causes. The resilience of the Kel Tadrart is the key to understand the reasons of their choice to stay and live in the almost rainless Acacus Mountains, in spite of strong pressure to sedentarize in the neighboring oases. Through the collection of the interviews, participant observation, mapping of inhabited and abandoned campsites, remote sensing, and archival sources, various and different Kel Tadrart strategies, perceptions, and material cultures are examined. This book fills an important gap in the ethnoarchaeological research in central Sahara and in the study of desert pastoralism.​ Desert lands are likely to increase over the next decades but, our knowledge of human adaptations to these areas of the world is still patchy and generally biased by the idea that extremely arid lands are not suited for human occupation.​

Abstract: This chapter discusses the human condition in extremely arid lands, namely the interaction of people and environment, and the relevance of the study of the present for the comprehension of the past. This entire area falls under the prescriptive understandings of western climatology and geography, as well as established stereotypes regarding the world’s largest desert. Our challenge to move beyond ‘aridity’ is straightforward: if contemporary pastoralists inhabiting what is technically speaking a hyper-arid area neither perceive nor imagine it as such, then it is unlikely that their historic and prehistoric predecessors perceived it any differently. The study area is located in the southwest corner of Libya, bordering Algeria, in the region of the Fezzan. The main physiographic element in the area is the Tadrart Acacus massif, comprising a dissected mountain range mainly composed of sandstone. Most importantly, the longitudinal orientation of the Acacus massif lends its eastern and western sides very different characteristics.

This article analyzes the labor relations the US government and American oil companies introduced in Libya between the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the rise of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 1969. It argues that labor policies played a crucial role in American Cold War efforts to place Libya in the Western bloc and assure access to its oil resources. Like in other contexts, the American government relied on anti-Communist trade unions, in particular the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), to oppose radical forms of labor organizing. Bini examines the ways in which Libyan oil workers resisted the forms of segregation and discrimination introduced in oil camps and company towns, by demanding the right to redefine labor relations through trade unions, and establishing ties with other trade unions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria. This article shows that despite American efforts to repress Libyan trade unions, in the second half of the 1960s oil workers were a crucial force in redefining international oil politics. During the Six Day War of 1967, they constituted one of the main forces behind Libya’s support of oil nationalism and set the stage for the emergence of Qaddafi’s regime in 1969.

The following article, the first to do so, examines the phenomenon of Libyan patients seeking medical care outside of Libya, in this case in Tunisia in the years after the revolution:

This paper analyses the emergence of transnational care through the case study of Libyan patients seeking care in the Tunisian city of Sfax as a result of changes triggered by the 2011 Arab uprisings. Deconstructing categories of ‘medical tourist’ and ‘medical traveller’, we examine how the evolving geopolitical context produced specific migratory profiles (diasporic, traveller, cross-border, war-wounded and transnational patients) and spaces (cross-border, (intra)regional and transnational spaces of care) between Libya and Tunisia. Given a lack of data on the topic in North Africa, we developed a study on health mobilities and circulations from a South-South perspective. Based on a survey amongst Libyan patients (n = 205) in four private clinics and nine semi-structured interviews with health professionals in Sfax, we identified, how four key geopolitical periods shaped medical travel to this city: (1) initial diasporic exchanges facilitated by bilateral agreements; (2) an emerging medical tourism industry within private health services arising from the UN embargo on Libya; (3) the 2011 political crisis and arrival of war-wounded; and (4) therapeutic circulations and emerging transnational spaces of care resulting from the context of war.

This volume is a contribution to the growing literature of documentary source publications from northeastern Africa. Its primary purpose is to help restore African voices to an historiography too often dominated by the perception of Europeans, and to allow authentically African definitions of historical experience to emerge. … The subject of this book is the defense, by devoutly Islamic leaders, of one of the last parts of the African continent to be overrun by the imperial European “Scramble for Africa” during the decade that culminated in the First World War, a region which extended south from the Mediterranean coast of Cyrenaica for more than two thousand miles to embrace parts of northern Chad, and the sultanate of Dār Fūr in the western portion of the modern Republic of Sudan. … These surviving pieces of diplomatic correspondence concentrate on the alliance between ‘Alī Dīnār, prince of the sultanate of Dār Fūr in the western Sudan, and the leaders of the Sanusi brotherhood then based in southern Libya. In contrast to the European view of the alliance as ephemeral, the documents indicate a sincere, passionate attempt to join–despite immense physical difficulties–an ancient monarchist tradition to a more modern, trade-based sociopolitical organization. The first part of the study is an extended interpretive essay, organized chronologically, that attempts to place the documents themselves and the information they contain in a wider historical context. The second part presents the documents themselves.

Abstract: During the 1920s and 1930s, French Algeria and Italian Libya witnessed spectacular motor-sports events: desert rallies as well as car races on closed circuits. Speed sports events, in this context, served three main purposes: they integrated or reconquered the colonial territory symbolically; they demonstrated the advancement and technological superiority of the conquerors vis-à-vis the “backward” indigenous population; and beyond that, they established the colonies as laboratories of modernity and experimentation grounds of progress. In this sense, this essay employs the Foucauldian term heterotopia to designate the sites of motor sports competitions in Libya and Algeria. The colonies now were even more modern than France or Italy itself, or, put differently, they served as showcases for a possible future. Motor sports were especially apt to serve the outlined purposes. Road races and new circuits constantly referred to colonial claims about the progress of infrastructure. “Automobilism” was perceived as the very epitome of modernity and progress, set to take over the colonies, which were imagined as a tabula rasa. Finally, mastery of a car at a “devilish speed” was metonymically extended to represent the taming of the wheel of contingency in an uncertain situation and staying in control of the colonies.

  • Massimo Zaccaria. 2012. Anch’io per la tua bandiera. Il V Battaglione Ascari in missione sul fronte libico (1912). Giorgio Pozza Editore, Ravenna.

This book traces the history of the first Eritrean “ascari” battalion employed by the Italians in their conquest of Libya in 1912. For the colonizing forces, this battalion served two purposes besides military: the Italians aimed to show in Libya and other colonies that there were “Muslim” forces on their side, and enabled them to show other European colonial powers that they had a successful “civilizing” mission. The book is in Italian, but has been reviewed in English by Francesca Di Pasquale here.

Research Roundup Spring 2019

Seasonal (that is, according to my whim and free time) roundup of research on Libya, some published recently, and some older works I’ve only recently come upon.

This series of articles focuses on Libya to investigate how individual and collective identities are imagined, experienced, and narrated in a mobile and interconnected world. Drawing from original and unexplored sources in seven different languages, our case studies illuminate subjects and circuits long neglected from historiography, and yet crucial for the understanding of the transnational and transcultural memory of Libya. Our critical engagement with ways in which histories of Libya have been materialised, colonised, regimented and forgotten reflects a wider shift across the academic discipline of History.

The contents include the following articles:

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Oh hey, the latest issue of Quaderni di archeologia della Libya (#21) is out. It is one of the three academic journals which cover archaeological-related topics in Libya. It hadn’t appeared since 2009, due no doubt to the complications of carrying out work in Libya during the regime and afterwards. But at the totally insane price of €276 for a hard copy or €184 for an ebook, and without online subscription options, it’s basically unobtainable and inaccessible. Too bad. At least the table of contents of the latest issue can be viewed here.

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Two articles about Libyan politics and policy after 2011 have been published in The Journal of North African Studies:

This article compares the actors, institutions and strategies of the first Tunisian Provisional Administration (TPA), which was in place from the departure of authoritarian President Ben Ali until the elections for a National Constituent Assembly, with those of the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC), in place from the start of authoritarian collapse to the first post-uprising elections. The two first provisional administrations exhibited important differences. Key actors in the TPA were ‘soft-liners’ from the old regime and a network of civil society actors, while in the NTC armed groups soon became the most important actors. Functioning state institutions also permitted the TPA to carry out its work more effectively. Finally, the two provisional administrations deployed very different strategies, with the TPA operating on a basis of dialogue and consensus while the NTC often struggled to reach collective decisions. The paper argues that, while many of the differences between the two first provisional administrations can be traced back to different historical and structural influences and these channeled actors’ decisions, the first provisional administrations nonetheless had opportunities to shape later phases of change.

This case study of Libya’s foreign policy after the regime change in 2011 represents a major analytical challenge, since the country’s massive internal dysfunctions – extreme weakness of the state, the emergence of new elites, proliferation of private actors, power competition and widespread violence – have prevented the normalisation of its political and economic life and, consequently, the normalisation of its foreign policy. However, this does not mean that there is no Libyan ‘foreign policy’, or perhaps a number of intertwined foreign policies, as different Libyan political actors have been proactive in establishing contacts and maintaining alliances – often antagonistic – with external powers. Libya’s recent evolution provides some indication of what its foreign policy might look like in the future, once the situation in the country has normalised. On the one hand, it is possible to determine the external determinants on both the regional and global level, which have and will have the most influence on Libyan foreign policy. On the other hand, with all the caution required to interpret the current unstable and fluid situation, an analysis of the political process and the behaviour of the actors in Libya highlights some key issues that constitute the universe of Libyan interests abroad and, consequently, the top priorities of its foreign policy, which will inevitably focus on hydrocarbons and security in any future scenario. Finally, the article addresses whether discontinuity in domestic politics resulting from regime change might lead to a structural modification of Libya’s external behaviour.

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This article analyses the practices of deportation and transportation of colonial subjects from Libya, Italy’s former possession, to the metropole throughout the entire colonial period (1911–1943). For the most part, the other colonial powers did not transport colonial subjects to Europe. Analysing the history of the punitive relocations of Libyans, this article addresses the ways in which the Italian case may be considered peculiar. It highlights the overlapping of the penal system and military practices and emphasizes the difficult dialogue between “centre” and “periphery” concerning security issues inside the colony. Finally, it focuses on the experience of the Libyans in Italy and shows how the presence there of colonial subjects in some respects overturned the “colonial situation”, undermining the relationship of power between Italians and North Africans.