مجلة البحوث التاريخية | Journal of Historical Research

Libya’s foremost research journal for history, in its broadest conception, is the مجلة البحوث التاريخية (Journal of Historical Research), published by the Libyan Center for Historical Studies.* Since 1979, the journal has consistently published articles by Libyan scholars, as well as several well-known European scholars writing in Arabic, on a very broad array of topics. In many cases, in fact, there is little or no research published outside of Libya on these topics, and the journal therefore offers extremely valuable insight into the range of possibilities for research as well as useful starting points for those who can read Arabic. Unfortunately, it is difficult to come by in European or American libraries (in London, the SOAS library has many of the issues)—a goal for the appropriate authority in Libya would be to make back issues available online. The website of the Center shows issues from 2013 as being the most recent. Although it seems not to have been updated for some time now, later issues are not known to me.

*The Center was previously called مركز جهاد الليبيين ضد الغزو الايطالي للدراسات التاريخية (The Libyan Resistance against the Italian Invader Center for Historical Studies), later shortened to مركز جهاد الليبين للدراسات التاريخية (The Libyan Resistance Center for Historical Studies).

An old article about Tawargha

tawarghan-women
Tawarghan Women (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)

The inhabitants of the small oasis of Tawargha (تورغاء) outside of Misrata have suffered a great deal as a result of recent conflicts in Libya. The majority of Tawarghans are people often referred to in Libyan society as “black Libyans”, in order to draw attention to their sub- Saharan African ancestry (I prefer the term “Libyans”, since they are Libyans like everyone else). Unfort-unately, most people make little effort to understand them or their history.

Tawarghan Man (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)
Tawarghan Man (Photo U. Paradisi, 1950s)

This being the case, I thought it important to share an article written about Tawargha fifty years ago by the linguist Umberto Paradisi, known mainly for his work on Libyan Berber. He also apparently noticed that so many Tawarghans were of sub-Saharan African ancestry (about 4600 of a population of 5100 in 1936), and wrote an article for the popular magazine Le Vie del Mondo about it (he also wrote popular articles for them about Tripoli, Ghadames, and other places in Libya). That this particular social situation was the case fifty years ago, and goes back even long before the colonial period, further shows that the recent forced displacement of Tawarghans by local militias is based on scapegoating and racism—they have been a part of society for as long as the concept of ‘Libya’ has existed. The reason for the unique demographic of Tawargha goes back to an unfortunate, but inescapable, part of Libyan history: the slave trade. This much is implied by the pejorative term shushan (plural shawāshna) used, then as sometimes now, to refer to them and other Libyans ultimately descended from slaves. We need to understand these histories and work to rectify and not repeat them.

Here is a scan of the article (in Italian), entitled “I sudanesi di Tauórga” and published in Le Vie del Mondo (February 1956). It also has several photographs showing various aspects of life in Tawargha such as date cultivation and textile making.

The second Ottoman period in the writing of Libyan history | العهد العثماني الثاني في كتابة التاريخ الليبي

هنا نقدّم مقالةً عربيةً للمرة الاولى و هي مقالة “العهد العثمان الثاني في كتابة التاريخ الليبي” من الباحث الالماني ياكوب كرايس.

في مجال تاريخ الولايات العربية تحت السيطرة العثمانية تحتل ليبيا مكانة خاصة بالماقرنة مع البلدان الاخرى في شمال افريقيا لأنه كان ارتباطاً وثيقاً بين اعادة الاحتلال العثماني لليبيا و اعادة التنظيم للامبراطورية الشاملة. اذا من الممكن، في مشاريع التحديث العثمانية في ليبيا، اكتشاف التناقد بين التطور الاضطهاد. و لذلك يعتبر تيار من البحث التاريخي الدولة العثمانية كقوة استعمارية كغيرها، بينما يشير بعض العلماء الى اهمية التراث العثماني في العالم العربي. اما المؤمرخون الليبيون المعاصرون فلهم ايضاً وجهات نظر مختلفة: هناك باحثون مهتومون بالتأثيرات السلبية للاصلاحات العثمانية، من جهة اخرى ينوه مؤرخون اخرون بنتائجها اليجابية و في نفس الوقت هناك اتفاق بين التيارين بالنسبة الى التضامن الاسلامي ضد الغزو الاستعماري الايطالي.

Abstract: “In the history of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces Libya occupies a special place, compared to the other North African countries, insofar as the Ottoman reoccupation of Libya went hand in hand with the reorganization of the empire as a whole. It is thus possible to trace, in the Ottoman reform projects, an opposition between development and repression. That is why one strand in historical research considers the Ottoman Empire as a regular colonial power, while some scholars, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of the Ottoman heritage in the Arab world. The contemporary Libyan historians, for their part, have also different points of view: there are those researchers who are interested, above all, in the negative influences of Ottoman reforms, whereas others stress the positive outcomes. At the same time, there exists a consensus as far as the Islamic solidarity against the Italian colonial aggression is concerned.”

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.

The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980

Lisa Anderson, The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980. Princeton University Press (1986).

Publisher’s blurb: The book traces growing state intervention in the rural areas of Tunisia and Libya in the middle 1800s and the diverging development of the two countries during the period of European rule. State formation accelerated in Tunisia under the French with the result that, with independence, interest-based policy brokerage became the principal form of political organization. For Libya, where the Italians dismantled the pre-colonial administration, independence brought with it the revival of kinship as the basis for politics.

This is one of the few books (along with this one) about Libyan history to be based on extensive research with primary sources in Libyan, Ottoman, and European archives.

The Origins of the Libyan Nation | اصول الدولة الليبية

Anna Baldinetti, The Origins of the Libyan Nation: Colonial Legacy, Exile and the Emergence of a New Nation-State (Routledge, 2010).

From the book’s abstract:

“Libya is a typical example of a colonial or external creation. This book addresses the emergence and construction of nation and nationalism, particularly among Libyan exiles in the Mediterranean region. It charts the rise of nationalism from the colonial era and shows how it developed through an external Libyan diaspora and the influence of Arab nationalism.

From 1911, following the Italian occupation, the first nucleus of Libyan nationalism formed through the activities of Libyan exiles. Through experiences undergone during periods of exile, new structures of loyalty and solidarity were formed. The new and emerging social groups were largely responsible for creating the associations that ultimately led to the formation of political parties at the eve of independence.

Exploring the influence of colonial rule and external factors on the creation of the state and national identity, this critical study not only provides a clear outline of how Libya was shaped through its borders and boundaries but also underlines the strong influence that Eastern Arab nationalism had on Libyan nationalism. An important contribution to history of Libya and nationalism, this work will be of interest to all scholars of African and Middle Eastern history.”

Les annales tripolitaines

“The Tripolitanian Annals” is a work written by Laurent-Charles Féraud, a French Arabist and statesman, while he was consul general in Tripoli from 1879 to 1884. The work contains extremely important historical information about the region of Tripolitania, pertaining not just to the 19th century, but to the region’s history since the Arab conquest. Originally published posthumously in 1927, then largely forgotten, the manuscript was recently re-edited and published by Nora Lafi (a scholar whose work we’re proud to refer to frequently!), with a useful introduction.

Les annales tripolitaines de Charles Féraud, with an introduction by Nora Lafi, Paris: Bouchène, 2005..