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)
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
Back for your seasonal research roundup, containing sources on several totally un/under-researched areas.
After the Tunisian popular revolution of 2011, and during the civil war in Libya that followed, roadside stands near the Tunisian–Libyan bor- der near Remada, Tunisia sold nationalist souvenirs of the revolution with the reinstated Libyan flag (first flown from 1951 to 1969) as well as the Tunisian flag1. Post–independence governments in North Africa have been deeply invested in enforcing the borders they inherited from colonial regimes. Even when borders «were originally “artificial” creations, they have long since become an integral part of the lives of borderlanders. . . borders have an impact on social identities and have come to “demarcate mental space”» (Nugent and Asiwaju 1996, p. 10 in Lentz 2003, p. 274). International borders, for many people, are deeply meaningful and naturalized through socialization in school lessons, bureaucratic administrative procedures, economic systems, and even children’s play. In refugee camps and shelters on the Tunisian side of the border, Libyan children made homemade flags to decorate their temporary dwelling spaces. While «borders and borderlands define ourselves and others» (Lloyd et al 2010, p. 703 and Paasi 2003), a border in and of itself means nothing without human mediation, notably in the dual forms of policing and narration. As I explain in this article, during the first years of the Libyan civil war, the selves and others people were mediating were not only national — Tunisian and Libyan — but also ethnic: minority Amazigh (Berber) and majority Arab.
Historically, connections between southern Libya and northern Chad have always been close, if only due to the fundamental need for connectivity that characterises most Saharan economies. Drawing on so far mostly inaccessible archival records and oral history, this article outlines the implications of this proximity, arguing that it led to intimate entanglements within families and an ongoing confusion of property rights. This in turn resulted in increased rather than diminished hostility during the years of war that opposed the two countries, as people attempted to define uncertain boundaries, and were – and still are – competing for access to similar resources, moral, symbolic, social, and economic.
This article will challenge the currently accepted notions of weak British consular presence, influence and activity in the southern Mediterranean during the period 1795–1832 through a case study of the careers of three successive consuls in the Regency of Tripoli: Simon Lucas, William Wass Langford and Hanmer Warrington. Utilising the official cor- respondence of these agents, the extent of the consular bridgehead in the capital, Tripoli, will be investigated, and how, through these consular and diplomatic agents, it served to define imperial interests and activity at the frontiers of empire. Moreover, the overlapping personal and professional networks within which the consuls embedded themselves, the role of enterprising missions and the development of an intelligence-gathering network will be of central significance in understanding the consequent ruptures in the social and political fabric of the Regency of Tripoli. British imperial interest in North Africa during and immediately post the Napoleonic era remains under-studied and misunder- stood within both British diplomatic and imperial history. This article challenges the exist- ing literature that underestimates the diplomatic as well as consular power exercised by the British consuls to Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, as well as the importance of these three Barbary regencies to wider strategic interests in the Mediterranean.
Zarrugh, Amina. ‘You Exile them in their Own Countries’: The Everyday Politics of Reclaiming the Disappeared in Libya. Middle East Critique 27(3), pp. 247–259.
Located in Libya’s capital city of Tripoli, Abū Salīm Prison has become suspended in Libya’s national collective memory as the site of a contested prison killing in 1996. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the prison hosted many prisoners of conscience, namely individuals who forcibly had been disappeared because security personnel suspected them of opposing the regime of Mu’amar Qadhdhafi. Drawing on interviews with their family members, I trace how Libyan families contested the state’s violence and forced disappearance through everyday behaviors, such as inquiring about their relatives’ whereabouts and visiting Abū Salīm Prison. The article contributes to an ongoing discussion within sociology, anthropology, and area studies about the significance of small-scale acts of resistance as forms of political action. Disappearance not only pulled people apart, but also brought them together, often around the same spaces that were intended to disenfranchise them.
For a change, an article which looks, at least in part, at the Libyan south (and is open-access!):
Tabib, Rafaa. 2015. Mobilized publics in Post-Qadhafi Libya: the emergence of new modes of popular protest in Tripoli and Ubari. Mediterranean Politics 21(1), pp. 86–106
As the formal transformation process in Libya faltered and political and local elites were locked in contestation over shares of power and resources, spaces opened for non-formal movements of citizens pushing to exert influence on the political sphere, and to pursue their interests vis-à-vis state institutions with hitherto unknown forms of contentious action. This article investigates two distinctively different examples of such initiatives: on the one hand, the movement against militia rule and the extension of the mandate of the General National Congress (GNC) that emerged in Tripoli in the fall of 2013 and organized demonstrations for new elections throughout the spring of 2014. On the other, a movement for more equitable access to resources and citizenship rights that emerged in the provincial town of Ubari in the Fezzan region and gained momentum in late 2013 through the (largely peaceful) disruption of oil production. The chapter argues that through their mobilization capacities and innovative forms of contentious action, both movements compelled political and institutional actors to recognize mobilized publics as a force to reckon with, and modify the ways they interact with citizens and the general public.
The Archaeology of the Fezzan series is now available open access from the Society for Libyan Studies. Descriptions and download links are below.
‘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.
David 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.”
One of the most active fields of research with regard to the Fezzan is archaeology. A British team (The Fezzan Project) has been leading work there for several decades, culminating in the publication of a number of volumes.
Mattingly, D. J., Daniels, C. M., Dore, J. N., Edwards, D. and Hawthorne, J. The Archaeology of Fazzān. Volume 1, Synthesis. The Society for Libyan Studies/Department of Antiquities, London (published 2003).
Mattingly, D. J., Daniels, C. M., Dore, J. N., Edwards, D. and Hawthorne, J. The Archaeology of Fazzān. Volume 2, Gazetteer, Pottery and Other Finds. The Society for Libyan Studies/Department of Antiquities, London (published 2007).
Mattingly, D. J., Daniels, C. M., Dore, J. N., Edwards, D. and Hawthorne, J. The Archaeology of Fazzān. Volume 3, Excavations of C.M. Daniels. The Society for Libyan Studies/Department of Antiquities, London (published 2010).
Mattingly, D. J., Daniels, C. M., Dore, J. N., Edwards, D. and Hawthorne, J. The Archaeology of Fazzān. Volume 4, Survey and Excavations at Old Jarma (Ancient Garama) carried out by C. M. Daniels (1962–69) and the Fazzān Project (1997–2001). The Society for Libyan Studies/Department of Antiquities, London (published 2013).
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.
We continue our look at the Fezzan with the following work, a study of the Arabic spoken in different parts of the Fezzan by noted Arabist Philippe Marçais. Both he and his father, William Marçais, were participants in the French scientific missions to the Fezzan in the 1940s; they collected linguistic information in places in and around Sebha and Brak. In colonial French prisons in Algeria, he also met many people from the Fezzan and was able to interview them. Yet Philip Marçais’ work on these materials from the Fezzan was not completed in time to be published with other research from the French scientific mission, and ended up never being published. Only recently were his remaining papers edited and his work on Arabic in the Fezzan published posthumously.
Marçais, Philippe. 2001. Parlers arabes du Fezzân. Textes, traductions et éléments de morphologie, rassemblés et présentés par Dominique Caubet, Aubert Martin et Laurence Denooz. Geneva: Librairie Droz.
The texts gathered in the volume include i) prose recordings from everyday life, ii) poetry pertaining to special occasions, iii) epic poetry, and iv) songs. Much of this folk literature is no doubt hard to find these days. Then a second section gives a brief grammatical sketch of the dialects represented in the material and a lexicon. The material is exceedingly rich and full of interesting themes and words. Here is my dire attempt at translating an example of a camel-herders song (the ‘her’ refers to the camel):
طبّي المسارب و اشربي الرياحة و ان شاء الله بعد الشقا ترتحي
انا اللي انورّدها و انا اللي ما علَي انا اللي انورّدها في الفجّ اللي خالي
Follow the tracks and drink the winds, God-willing you’ll find rest after tribulations
I’m the one who waters her without worry, the one who waters her in the empty desert
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.