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.”


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.

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).

Benghazi Through the Ages | بنغازي عبر التاريخ

The Libyan historian Hadi Bulugma produced a series of books in Arabic on the history of Benghazi entitled بنغازي عبر التاريخ. He also made an abbreviated English version, the first volume of which (I am not sure that the second and third volumes were ever finished) concentrates on the geography and geographical history of the city. Here is a PDF of the book.

Bulugma, Hadi. 1968. Benghazi through the Ages. Volume I. Dar Maktabat al-Fikr, Tripoli.