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.

Article: The Tripoli Republic (1918-1922)

Lisa Anderson, “The Tripoli Republic, 1918–1922,” in Social and Economic Development of Libya, ed. E. Joffe & K. McLachlan (London, 1982), pp. 43–65.

 “…although the Sanusiyah played a very important role, it was not alone in organizing resistance to the Italians. The struggle was also undertaken by the Ottoman Imperial government, Ottoman army officers acting on their own, volunteers from elsewhere in the Arab world, as well as by Libyan notables of a variety of religious persuasions and regional attachments. Many of these forces combined in the creation in Libya in 1918 of the first formally republican government in the Arab world, the jumhuriyyah al-ṭarāblusiyyah, or Tripoli Republic.”
A PDF of the article can be found at this link.

Article: Nineteenth-century Reform in Ottoman Libya

Lisa Anderson, “Ninetheenth-century Reform in Ottoman Libya,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 16/4 (1984), pp. 324–348.

“The history of political change in Libya during the nineteenth century has been obscured by subsequent political events in the Middle East and North Africa. A relatively unimportant province of the Ottoman Empire, it went to the least important European colonial power in the region – Italy – and the Italian tenure destroyed much of the legacy of Ottoman reform. Even contemporary observers in the nineteenth century usually viewed the province through a prism whose primary focus was elsewhere, leaving distorted and partial accounts of the changes wrought by the Ottoman administration. This lacuna in the literature has hindered comprehensive assessment of the Ottoman reform period and, perhaps as seriously, distorted interpretation of Libya’s subsequent political history…”

Mercantile Documents from Ghadames | وثائق تجارية من غدامس

ghadames-mss219th-century documents from the collection of the Yusha‘ family—one of the most important merchant families of Ghadames during the 18th and 19th centuries—were published by the Ghadamsi scholar Bashir Qasim Yusha‘ in 1983, shedding light for the first time on the extremely wide extent of the Ghadamsi mercantile network in Africa. Merchants from Ghadames were apparently so well-known in Saharan and western Africa that in Hausa the only North African group other than  Larabawa ‘Arabs’ to have a particular designation were the Adamusawa ‘Ghadamsis’. Yusha‘’s publication is the following:

Yusha‘, Bashir Qasim. Ghadāmis: Wathā’iq tijāriyya tārikhiyya ijtimā‘iyya (1228-1310 hijri). Tripoli: Libyan Studies Center, 1983.

To my knowledge, the only Western scholar to engage with these sources was Ulrich Haarmann, who in 1988 published a lengthy (94 pages with 492 footnotes!) and wide-ranging article based on the documents:

Haarmann, Ulrich, “The Dead Ostrich: Life and Trade in Ghadames (Libya) in the Nineteenth Century“, Der Welt des Islams 38/1 (1998), 9–94.

Before his death in 1999 Haarmann had prepared German translations of many of the documents published by Yusha‘ in 1983, along with commentaries. This material was gathered and published posthumously in 2008 by a colleague of Haarmann’s:

Haarmann, Ulrich, edited by Stephan Connermann. Briefe aus der Wüste: Die private Korrespondenz der in Ġadāmis ansässigen Yūša‘-Familie (Letters from the Desert: the private correspondence of the Yusha‘ family resident in Ghadames). EB-Verlag, 2008.

Publisher’s blurb (German): “Im Jahre 1983 legte der Gadameser Gelehrte Basir Qasim Yusa der interessierten Öffentlichkeit 150 Privatpapiere – Briefe, Rechnungen, Warenlisten, Quittungen oder Geburtsregister – aus dem Besitz seiner Familie vor. Diese Dokumente, die in dem Zeitraum von 1813 bis 1917 entstanden sind, handeln alle in der einen oder anderen Weise von Mitgliedern der berberischen Familie Yusa. Geschrieben sind diese Schriftstücke in einem lokalen Umgangsarabisch, in dem sich verschiedentlich berberische oder hocharabische Einsprengsel finden. Als Verfasser kommen entweder die Absender selbst, deren schriftkundigen Bekannte oder aber bezahlte Briefschreiber in Frage. Kurz nachdem Basir Qasim Yusa seine Edition veröffentlicht hatte, begann Ulrich Haarmann sich mit den Texten zu befassen. Ein Aufenthalt am Berliner Wissenschaftskolleg im Frühjahr 1997 gab ihm Zeit und Gelegenheit, alle Befunde in einen geschlossenen Text zu gießen, der dann 1998 in der Zeitschrift Die Welt des Islams unter dem Titel „The Dead Ostrich: Life and Trade in Ghadames (Libya) in the Nineteenth Century“ publiziert wurde. Die von ihm weitgehend übersetzten Dokumente sollten einer späteren Veröffentlichung vorbehalten sein. Dazu kam es dann aber nicht mehr, denn Ulrich Haarmann verstarb 1999. Stephan Conermann hat die Übertragungen der schwierigen Texte nun zusammen mit einer längeren Einleitung in vorsichtiger Überarbeitung herausgegeben.”