Article: “Omar al-Mukhtar and the formation of cultural memory”

Nasser, Hala Khamis & Marco Boggero. 2008. “Omar al-Mukhtar: the formation of cultural memory and the case of the militant group that bears his name.” Journal of North African Studies 13(2), pp. 201–217.


“This paper investigates how the martyr figure of Omar al-Mukhtar (1858–1931) became a popular transnational icon in Africa, Asia and the Arab world. Originally part of the history of Cyrenaica, Omar al-Mukhtar became part of Arab culture during the struggle against colonialism and is now part of a suggested Arab ‘imagined community’. The paper explores how his memory has been shaped in new and multiple ways in contemporary culture and politics of Middle East and North Africa. Al-Mukhtar’s historic character has crossed the Libyan boundaries and the Cyrenaican leader became instrumental not only in the history of modern Libya, but contributed to the formation of different forms of Arab nationalism during their struggle against colonialism. The authors investigate how the construction of martyrdom developed and show that the pattern of collective memory did not proceed unambiguously. Further, they demonstrate how the martyr’s legacy has been and is still utilised for political mobilisation and make the case by studying the activities of transnational insurrection groups – the ‘brigades’ or ‘forces of Omar al-Mukhtar’ from its original inceptions to recent occurrences.”


Article: Five Letters from the Tripoli Archives

Here is an older article for those interested in Libyan archives and the history of Tripoli.

B. G. Martin, “Five Letters from the Tripoli Archives,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 2/3 (1962), 350–372.

“The five Arabic letters which form the basis of this article date from 1846 to 1870. They throw some light, but only on details, of the relations of Bornu with Tripoli during the second Ottoman period (1835-1911), under the reigns of Shaykhs ‘Umar bin Muhammad al-Amīn al-Kānimī and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmān. The interest of these letters is at once historical and indicative, pointing to other discoveries of documents relevant to Nigerian history which will doubtless be made at Tripoli, and further, at the Başvekālet Arşivi in Istanbul, whence the bulk of the Tripoli archives of the late second Ottoman period was doubtless removed soon after the Italian conquest of Libya in 1911. Three of these five letters (Letters One, Two and Three) are internal Tripolitanian Government correspondence about Bornu affairs, while Letter Four is a copy of a diplomatic communication addressed by Mustafa Nūri Pāshā of Tripoli to Shehu (Shaykh) ‘Abd al-Rahmān of Bornu. Letter Five is an example of the Bornu diplomatic correspondence preserved at the Tripoli Archives, and was addressed by Shaykh ‘Umar to the Mushīr ‘Ali Ridā Pāshā of Tripoli.”

Article: Languages in Libya, building blocks of national identity…

Baldinetti, Anna. 2018. “Languages in Libya: building blocks of national identity and soft power tools,” The Journal of North African Studies 23/3 (Special issue: Soft Power in the Maghrib after the Arab Uprisings), pp. 418–439.

Abstract: Tracing the general lines of language policies in Libya since independence, this article discusses how Arabic has been instrumental in forging a national identity, and examines its role as a soft power tool used by Qadhafi’s regime through the World Islamic Call Society (WICS), established in 1972, which prioritised the teaching of the Arabic language. The article seeks to understand whether the 2011 revolution – at least until 2013, before the beginning of the ongoing internal conflict – has challenged the role of Arabic as the only constituent language of national identity.

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: The Origins and Development of Zuwila

raza_a_980126_f0008_bDavid 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.”

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.

Book: History as Resistance

Jakob Krais, Geschichte als Widerstand: Geschichtsschreibung und nation-buildingin Qaḏḏāfis Libyen (Kultur, Recht und Politik in muslimischen Gesellschaften 34). Würzburg: Ergon (2016).

Description (German, see below for English): Libyen wird oft als eine Art „zufällige Nation“ beschrieben. Dennoch gibt es Versuche, eine einheitliche, chronologische Geschichte von der Antike bis in die Gegenwart zu formulieren. 1978 entstand unter Muammar al-Gaddafi ein eigenes Forschungszentrum – das Libyan Studies Centre (LSC) – zur umfassenden Neuschreibung der libyschen Nationalgeschichte als anti-kolonialer „Geschichte von unten“. Die vorliegende Arbeit geht diesem Geschichtsbild nach. Sie fragt nach der Entstehung eines libyschen Selbstbewusstseins im Spannungsfeld von arabischen und berberischen, maghrebinischen und afrikanischen, muslimischen und mediterranen Einflüssen. Sie fragt nach der Bedeutung des Widerstand gegen Fremdherrschaft für das nationale Geschichtsbild der LSC-Historiker – sei es nun gegen die Römer, Kreuzritter oder moderne Kolonialisten. Darüber hinaus geht die Studie der Frage nach, was es heißt, Geschichte zu dekolonisieren –indem man versucht, die Historiographie vom Einfluss der früheren italienischen Kolonialherren zu befreien. Jenseits des konkreten Falls interessiert sie sich dafür, wie es heute gelingen kann, eine postkoloniale, anti-orientalistische und nicht eurozentrische Geschichte zu schreiben.

Description (English): Libya is often described as a type of “accidental nation”. However, there have been attempts to formulate a consistent and chronological history from antiquity until the present. In 1978, under Muammar al-Gaddafi, a research center—the Libyan Studies Centre (LSC)—came into existence with the goal of writing a comprehensive Libyan national history as an anti-colonial “history from below”. The present work traces this history. It inquires about the development of a Libyan self-awareness at the crossroads of Arab, Berber, Maghrebi and African, Muslim, and Mediterranean influences. It inquires about the meaning of resistance against foreign rule for the national history of the LSC historians—be it against the Romans, Crusaders, or modern colonizers. Furthermore, this study traces the question of what it means to decolonize history, as one attempts to liberate historiography from the influence of the previous Italian colonial masters. Beyond the specific Libyan case, this study is interested in how it may be possible today to write a postcolonial, anti-orientalist, and non-eurocentric history.