Organization and Social Structure in Libyan Oases

Organization of cultivated land in Ghadames (pull-out chart from Eldblom, Structure foncière, 1968).

In the late 60s, the Swedish scholar Lars Eldblom published an extremely detailed study of the socio-economic life in the three Libyan oases of Ghadames, Ghat, and Mourzouk. Since life in Libya has changed dramatically since then, his work undoubtedly documents pheno-mena of oasis life that hardly or no longer exist. It is also full of detailed maps and figures, based on painstaking research. Because of its high level of detail it certainly deserves to be better known. The book is:

Eldblom, Lars. 1968. Structure foncière. Organisation et structure sociale. Une étude comparative sur la vie socio-économique dans les trois oasis libyennes de Ghat, Mourzouk et particulièrement Ghadamès. Lund.

He also published an English summary of the book, under the following title (available freely online):

Eldblom, Lars. 1971. Land tenure – social organization and structure: a comparative sample study of the socio-economic life in the three Libyan oases of Ghat, Mourzouk and Ghadamès. Uppsala University: Nordic Africa Institute.

And finally, I have also found an earlier study of his focusing especially on irrigation in the oases of Brak, Ghadames, and Mourzouk:

Eldblom, Lars. 1961. Quelques points du vue comparatifs sur les problèmes d’irrigation dans les trois oasis Libyennes de Brâk, Ghadames et particulièrement Mourzouk. Lund (Lund Studies in Geography 22).

Bordercrossing Touareg between Niger, Algeria, and Libya

Ines Kohl. 2009. Beautiful Modern Nomads: Bordercrossing Tuareg between Niger, Algeria and Libya. Berlin.

“The Ishumar, a group of “new modern nomads” are borderliners who move between Niger, Algeria, and Libya, and in doing so not only cross territorial borders, but also social and societal boundaries and barriers. It is characteristic of the Ishumar that their way of life is one beyond traditional systems. They break away from traditional norms and values, select special elements, change them, and place them into a new context. Their ideas, concepts and ideals of beauty and aesthetics, values and morals, can be regarded as an indicator of sociocultural changes in the Sahara.”

You can see a number of pictures from the book and read an extract over at the site of Ines Kohl.

Urbanization and urbanity in the Libyan Fezzan

During this month we will focus on the Fezzan, Libya’s southern region. This region is covered by so little Western journalism that a Twitter account was started simply to produce reliable information from and on it: the Fezzan Libya Media Group. It would be beneficial to focus on the Fezzan from an academic perspective, too. Like other parts of Libya, the Fezzan has interesting people, cultures, and histories. So to start off with, another open-access publication:

Villes du Sahara: Urbanisation et urbanité dans le Fezzan libyen [Cities of the Sahara: Urbanization and urbanity in the Libyan Fezzan]. ed. Olivier Pliez. CNRS Éditions (2003).

The book is divided into three sections, which discuss “the cities of the Fezzan between the State and crossroads”, “local dynamics framed by the State”, and “towards a Saharan urbanity”. An essay by the same author, also on urbanization in the Fezzan (also in French) titled “An urbanity without a city?” , is also available online.

Bridges Across the Sahara | جسور عبر الصحراء

Ahmida, Ali (ed.) 2009. Bridges Across the Sahara: Social, Economic and Cultural Impact of the Trans-Sahara Trade During the 19th and 20th Centuries. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

“The objective of this edited book is to rethink the history of colonial and nationalist categories and analyses of modern Africa through an integration and examination of the African Saharan trade as bridges that link the North, Central, and West regions of Africa. Firstly, it offers a critique of the colonial, postcolonial and nationalist historiographies, and also of current western scholarship on northern and Saharan Africa especially Middle East Studies and African Studies Associations. Secondly, it provides an alternative narrative of the forgotten histories of the Sahara trade as linkages between the North and the South of the Sahara. The Sahara desert was seldom a barrier separating the northern, middle and western parts of the continent….”


“Introduction. Neither a Divide nor an Empty Space: The Sahara as a Bridge” by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida

“Trans Saharan Trade in Arabic Sources until the 16th Century: A Study of Means of Transactions” by Ahmed Elyas

“The Organization of Caravan Trade in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Western Africa” by Ghislaine Lydon

“The Sociocultural and Economic Exchange between the Augila Oasis and the Cyrenaican Bedouin in Libya’s Eastern Sahara: A Centuries-long Symbiotic Relationship” by John P. Mason

“Redeemed Lives in the Trans-Saharan Migrations of the Nineteenth Century” by Terence Walz

“Strategic Aspects of the Shrinking Trans-Saharan Trade in Eastern Libya: Revisiting the Italian Occupation of al-Jaghbub, 1925-26” by Fred H. Lawson

“Weapons and “smugglers” throughout Western Sahara: From the Anti-colonial Resistance to the First World War” by Francesco Correale

“Camels as Trading Goods: The Transition from a Beast of Burden to a Commodity in the Trans-Saharan Trade between Chad and Libya” by Meike Meerpohl

“Ibrahim Al-Koni’s Atlas of the Sahara” by Elliot Colla

Human Geography and Colonial Libya |الجغرافية البشرية، الاستعمارية و ليبيا

We turn to the colonial period to bring to light a series of studies regarding human geography and the fascist project in Libya. The scholar David Atkinson (University of Hull, UK) describes his work as follows:

نرجع الى عصر الاحتلال الايطالي لتسليط الضوء على سلسلة دراسات موضوعها الجغرافية البشرية و المشروع الفاشستي في ليبيا. مؤلّفها الاستاذ داڤيداتكِنسُن بجامعة هُل ببريطانيا يصف بحوثَه كالتالي

“[This] interest revolves around the geographies of Italian colonialism. Work here reflects broader postcolonial initiatives but focuses particularly upon the constitution of colonial space through the spatial practices of exploration, geographical survey and other forms of knowledge production. I also explore the construction of colonial bodies through geographical and anthropological survey and mapping, and the connected demonisation, spatial disciplining and persecution of nomadic subjects by Italian colonial discourse and policies. Finally, this research also explores theoretical attempts to engage desert landscapes, and also critiques the stuttering progress of colonial memory in postcolonial Italy.”

Atkinson, David. 1996. “The Politics of Geography and the Italian Occupation of Libya.” Libyan Studies 27, pp. 71-84.

Atkinson, David. 1999. “Nomadic Strategies and Colonial Governance: domination and resistance in Cyrenaica, 1923-1932.” In The Entanglement of Power: Geographies of Domination / Resistance, eds. J. Sharp et al. London: Routledge, pp. 93-121.

Atkinson, David. 2003. “Geographical knowledge and scientific survey in the construction of Italian Libya.” Modern Italy 8/1, pp. 9-29.

Atkinson, David. 2005. “Myths of the desert of empty space: enduring European imaginaries of North Africa and the challenges of material geographies.” In Libia Oggi, ed. P. Gandolfi. Bologna: Il Ponte, pp. 107-122.

Atkinson, David. 2007. “Embodied resistance, Italian anxieties, and the place of the nomad in colonial Cyrenaica.” In In Corpore: Bodies in Post-Unification Italy, eds. L. Polezzi & C. Ross. Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, pp. 56-79.

Atkinson, David. 2012. “Encountering Bare Life in Italian Libya and colonial amnesia in Agamben.” In  Agamben and Colonialism, eds. M. Svirsky & S. Bignall. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 155-177.