In 1906, Harry Lyman Koopman wrote a lengthy speculative poem about the transfer of the Senussi library from Jaghbub to Kufra some ten years earlier, part of the removal of the entire Senussi headquarters. A librarian at Brown University, Koopman (1860-1937) seemed captivated by the Senussi center of learning deep in the Sahara: the library was supposed to be so vast that, he relates, it required hundreds of camels to transport. Reflecting on this feat as a librarian himself, Koopman’s poem takes the perspective of the hypothetical Senussi librarian at Kufra. This fictitious narrator expounds on the history of Islam, the trajectories of Islamic learning, and finally the removal of the library from one oasis in the Sahara to another even more deep in the desert.
One might characterize the poem as Koopman’s attempt to describe the library job he might have enjoyed having, in an alternate universe. Appropriately, it was first published in The Library Journal, the official organ of American library associations, where it probably enjoyed a favorable reception among other librarians of venerable Anglophone educational institutions. It was then included two years later in a collected volume of Koopman’s poetry, his fifth, entitled The Librarian of the Desert and other poems (Boston, 1908). Since readers at that time may have been rather unfamiliar with the topic and its background, Koopman provided the poem with a “prefatory note”: Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
For a long time now it has been common understanding that Africa played only a marginal role in the First World War. Its reduced theatre of operations appeared irrelevant to the strategic balance of the major powers. This volume is a contribution to the growing body of historical literature that explores the global and social history of the First World War. It questions the supposedly marginal role of Africa during the Great War with a special focus on Northeast Africa. In fact, between 1911 and 1924 a series of influential political and social upheavals took place in the vast expanse between Tripoli and Addis Ababa. The First World War was to profoundly change the local balance of power.
This volume consists of fifteen chapters divided into three sections. The essays examine the social, political and operational course of the war and assess its consequences in a region straddling Africa and the Middle East. The relationship between local events and global processes is explored, together with the regional protagonists and their agency. Contrary to the myth still prevailing, the First World War did have both immediate and long-term effects on the region. This book highlights some of the significant aspects associated with it.
The entire book is fascinating and opens up new areas of research tying into dynamics of which Libya was ultimately a part. The specific essays concerning Libya are:
From the description: “When Italian forces landed on the shores of Libya in 1911, many in Italy hailed it as an opportunity to embrace a Catholic national identity through imperial expansion. After decades of acrimony between an intransigent Church and the Italian state, enthusiasm for the imperial adventure helped incorporate Catholic interests in a new era of mass politics. Others among Italian imperialists-military officers and civil administrators-were more concerned with the challenges of governing a Muslim society, one in which the Sufi brotherhood of the Sanusiyya seemed dominant. Eileen Ryan illustrates what Italian imperialists thought would be the best methods to govern in Muslim North Africa and in turn highlights the contentious connection between religious and political authority in Italy.
Telling this story requires an unraveling of the history of the Sanusiyya. During the fall of Qaddafi, Libyan protestors took up the flag of the Libyan Kingdom of Idris al-Sanusi, signaling an opportunity to reexamine Libya’s colonial past. After decades of historiography discounting the influence of Sanusi elites in Libyan nationalism, the end of this regime opened up the possibility of reinterpreting the importance of religion, resistance, and Sanusi elites in Libya’s colonial history. Religion as Resistance provides new perspectives on the history of collaboration between the Italian state and Idris al-Sanusi and questions the dichotomy between resistance and collaboration in the colonial world.”
A new book, Jewish Libya: Memory and Identity in Text and Image, edited by the Libyan Jewish writers and scholars Jacques Roumani (†), David Meghnaghi, and Judith Roumani, is coming out soon from Syracuse University Press. It includes chapters on Libyan Jewish language, cuisine, history, social change, women, diaspora, and biographical and liturgical literatures. Update: for those who have access, the book is available online at Project Muse.
From the publisher’s description:
“In June 2017, the Jews of Libya commemorated the jubilee of their complete exodus from this North African land in 1967, which began with a mass migration to Israel in 1948–49. Jews had resided in Libya since Phoenician times, seventeen centuries before their encounter with the Arab conquest in AD 644–646. Their disappearance from Libya, like most other Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East, led to their fragmentation across the globe as well as reconstitution in two major centers, Israel and Italy.
Distinctive Libyan Jewish traditions and a broad cultural heritage have survived and prospered in different places in Israel and in Rome, Italy, where Libyan Jews are recognized for their vibrant contribution to Italian Jewry. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, memories fade among the younger generations and multiple identities begin to overshadow those inherited over the centuries. Capturing the essence of Libyan Jewish cultural heritage, this anthology aims to reawaken and preserve the memories of this community. Jewish Libya collects the work of scholars who explore the community’s history, its literature and dialect, topography and cuisine, and the difficult negotiation of trauma and memory. In shedding new light on this now-fragmented culture and society, this collection commemorates and celebrates vital elements of Libyan Jewish heritage and encourages a lively inter-generational exchange among the many Jews of Libyan origin worldwide.”
This post draws your attention to three book-length studies published on Islamic law as preserved in documents from the courts of Ajdābiya and Kufra, two cities that are home to mostly sedentarized Bedouin. The cases preserved in those court archives date from the 1930s to the 1970s—thus the studies reveal the nature of the interaction between law and custom as it was in mostly nomadic but sedentarizing societies, as opposed to how it is now.
Layish, Aharon. 1991. Divorce in the Libyan Family. A study based on the sijills of the sharī‘a courts of Ajdābiyya and Kufra. New York: NYU Press.
Layish, Aharon. 1998. Legal Documents on Libyan Tribal Society in Process of Sedentarization. A selection of decisions from the sijills of the sharī‘a courts of Ajdābiya and Kufra. Part 1: The documents in Arabic with a glossary of Arabic legal terms and phrases, with an anthropological critique by John Davis. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Layish, Aharon. 2005. Sharī‘a and custom in Libyan tribal society. An annotated translation of decisions from the Sharī‘a courts of Ajdābiya and Kufra, with a linguistic essay by Alexander Borg. Leiden: Brill.
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.”
‘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.