Tag Archives: history

European Journals and Correspondence from early modern Libya

Previous posts in this series on historical sources for the study of early modern Libya:
i. Early Modern Libyan Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

The present post gives references to journals and correspondence written by English observers, mostly diplomats of some kind, who lived in the region for a period of time. Travel accounts, which are far more numerous, will be dealt with separately. Fortunately, several of the most extensive collections of correspondence have been collected and published—those are the ones detailed here, with a few references thrown in to unpublished material; this post is not necessarily exhaustive.

17th century

Thomas Baker, English consul in Tripoli between 1677 and 1685 (then part of the Ottoman Empire and a key base of the “Barbary pirates”), kept a detailed journal during his time in the city-state. Though English consuls had been in Algiers and Tunis for some time, one was only sent to Tripoli from 1658, primarily for dealing with pirates, rather than trade. Baker’s journal, now preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, is an intriguing early record at a time for which hardly any historical sources exist.

  • Piracy and Diplomacy in Seventeenth-Century North Africa: The Journal of Thomas Baker, English Consul in Tripoli, 1677-1685, edited by C.R. Pennell (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989)

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Research Roundup Summer 2021

Here is my occasional roundup of published research on Libya in the humanities and social sciences which I find interesting or useful. I’ll also slowly be gathering some of the older individual posts on this blog into collective roundup posts.

Ali Ahmida, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History (Routledge, 2020)

This original research on the forgotten Libyan genocide specifically recovers the hidden history of the fascist Italian concentration camps (1929–1934) through the oral testimonies of Libyan survivors. This book links the Libyan genocide through cross-cultural and comparative readings to the colonial roots of the Holocaust and genocide studies.
     Between 1929 and 1934, thousands of Libyans lost their lives, directly murdered and victim to Italian deportations and internments. They were forcibly removed from their homes, marched across vast tracks of deserts and mountains, and confined behind barbed wire in 16 concentration camps. It is a story that Libyans have recorded in their Arabic oral history and narratives while remaining hidden and unexplored in a systematic fashion, and never in the manner that has allowed us to comprehend and begin to understand the extent of their existence.
     Based on the survivors’ testimonies, which took over ten years of fieldwork and research to document, this new and original history of the genocide is a key resource for readers interested in genocide and Holocaust studies, colonial and postcolonial studies, and African and Middle Eastern studies.

There is an illuminating interview with the author on Jadaliyya, in addition to one on the New Books Network. Continue reading

Early Modern Libyan Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

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

Research Roundup Spring 2019

Seasonal (that is, according to my whim and free time) roundup of research on Libya, some published recently, and some older works I’ve only recently come upon.

This series of articles focuses on Libya to investigate how individual and collective identities are imagined, experienced, and narrated in a mobile and interconnected world. Drawing from original and unexplored sources in seven different languages, our case studies illuminate subjects and circuits long neglected from historiography, and yet crucial for the understanding of the transnational and transcultural memory of Libya. Our critical engagement with ways in which histories of Libya have been materialised, colonised, regimented and forgotten reflects a wider shift across the academic discipline of History.

The contents include the following articles:

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Oh hey, the latest issue of Quaderni di archeologia della Libya (#21) is out. It is one of the three academic journals which cover archaeological-related topics in Libya. It hadn’t appeared since 2009, due no doubt to the complications of carrying out work in Libya during the regime and afterwards. But at the totally insane price of €276 for a hard copy or €184 for an ebook, and without online subscription options, it’s basically unobtainable and inaccessible. Too bad. At least the table of contents of the latest issue can be viewed here.

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Two articles about Libyan politics and policy after 2011 have been published in The Journal of North African Studies:

This article compares the actors, institutions and strategies of the first Tunisian Provisional Administration (TPA), which was in place from the departure of authoritarian President Ben Ali until the elections for a National Constituent Assembly, with those of the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC), in place from the start of authoritarian collapse to the first post-uprising elections. The two first provisional administrations exhibited important differences. Key actors in the TPA were ‘soft-liners’ from the old regime and a network of civil society actors, while in the NTC armed groups soon became the most important actors. Functioning state institutions also permitted the TPA to carry out its work more effectively. Finally, the two provisional administrations deployed very different strategies, with the TPA operating on a basis of dialogue and consensus while the NTC often struggled to reach collective decisions. The paper argues that, while many of the differences between the two first provisional administrations can be traced back to different historical and structural influences and these channeled actors’ decisions, the first provisional administrations nonetheless had opportunities to shape later phases of change.

This case study of Libya’s foreign policy after the regime change in 2011 represents a major analytical challenge, since the country’s massive internal dysfunctions – extreme weakness of the state, the emergence of new elites, proliferation of private actors, power competition and widespread violence – have prevented the normalisation of its political and economic life and, consequently, the normalisation of its foreign policy. However, this does not mean that there is no Libyan ‘foreign policy’, or perhaps a number of intertwined foreign policies, as different Libyan political actors have been proactive in establishing contacts and maintaining alliances – often antagonistic – with external powers. Libya’s recent evolution provides some indication of what its foreign policy might look like in the future, once the situation in the country has normalised. On the one hand, it is possible to determine the external determinants on both the regional and global level, which have and will have the most influence on Libyan foreign policy. On the other hand, with all the caution required to interpret the current unstable and fluid situation, an analysis of the political process and the behaviour of the actors in Libya highlights some key issues that constitute the universe of Libyan interests abroad and, consequently, the top priorities of its foreign policy, which will inevitably focus on hydrocarbons and security in any future scenario. Finally, the article addresses whether discontinuity in domestic politics resulting from regime change might lead to a structural modification of Libya’s external behaviour.

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This article analyses the practices of deportation and transportation of colonial subjects from Libya, Italy’s former possession, to the metropole throughout the entire colonial period (1911–1943). For the most part, the other colonial powers did not transport colonial subjects to Europe. Analysing the history of the punitive relocations of Libyans, this article addresses the ways in which the Italian case may be considered peculiar. It highlights the overlapping of the penal system and military practices and emphasizes the difficult dialogue between “centre” and “periphery” concerning security issues inside the colony. Finally, it focuses on the experience of the Libyans in Italy and shows how the presence there of colonial subjects in some respects overturned the “colonial situation”, undermining the relationship of power between Italians and North Africans.

Research Roundup Winter 2018

This edition of the research roundup includes sources on primarily colonial Libya from various perspectives, as well as some more recent works on topics such as cultural heritage.

For a long time now it has been common understanding that Africa played only a marginal role in the First World War. Its reduced theatre of operations appeared irrelevant to the strategic balance of the major powers. This volume is a contribution to the growing body of historical literature that explores the global and social history of the First World War. It questions the supposedly marginal role of Africa during the Great War with a special focus on Northeast Africa. In fact, between 1911 and 1924 a series of influential political and social upheavals took place in the vast expanse between Tripoli and Addis Ababa. The First World War was to profoundly change the local balance of power.

This volume consists of fifteen chapters divided into three sections. The essays examine the social, political and operational course of the war and assess its consequences in a region straddling Africa and the Middle East. The relationship between local events and global processes is explored, together with the regional protagonists and their agency. Contrary to the myth still prevailing, the First World War did have both immediate and long-term effects on the region. This book highlights some of the significant aspects associated with it.

The entire book is fascinating and opens up new areas of research tying into dynamics of which Libya was ultimately a part. The specific essays concerning Libya are:

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In the spring of 1931, Italian colonial authorities ordered the construction of a fence on the border between Libya and Egypt. By September, 270 kilometres of cement, chain-link fence, and barbwire stretched from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Oasis of Jaghbub. Italian authorities constructed the fence in order to deny Omar al-Mukhtar and his resistance fighters safe-havens and material support in neighbouring Egypt. Thus Cyrenaica, the eastern province of Libya, which was already completely separated from Tripolitania (Libya’s western province) by the desert of Sirtica, had now been also cut off from Egypt to the east of the fence. The peoples of Cyrenaica, particularly those living on the fertile highlands of the Jebel Akhdar, were the major source of support for Omar al-Mukhtar’s anti-colonial insurgency. The year before the fence went up, Italian authorities ordered the deportation and internment of between one-half and two-thirds of the civilian population of Cyrenaica—between 90,000 and 110,000 people

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From the description: “When Italian forces landed on the shores of Libya in 1911, many in Italy hailed it as an opportunity to embrace a Catholic national identity through imperial expansion. After decades of acrimony between an intransigent Church and the Italian state, enthusiasm for the imperial adventure helped incorporate Catholic interests in a new era of mass politics. Others among Italian imperialists-military officers and civil administrators-were more concerned with the challenges of governing a Muslim society, one in which the Sufi brotherhood of the Sanusiyya seemed dominant. Eileen Ryan illustrates what Italian imperialists thought would be the best methods to govern in Muslim North Africa and in turn highlights the contentious connection between religious and political authority in Italy.

Telling this story requires an unraveling of the history of the Sanusiyya. During the fall of Qaddafi, Libyan protestors took up the flag of the Libyan Kingdom of Idris al-Sanusi, signaling an opportunity to reexamine Libya’s colonial past. After decades of historiography discounting the influence of Sanusi elites in Libyan nationalism, the end of this regime opened up the possibility of reinterpreting the importance of religion, resistance, and Sanusi elites in Libya’s colonial history. Religion as Resistance provides new perspectives on the history of collaboration between the Italian state and Idris al-Sanusi and questions the dichotomy between resistance and collaboration in the colonial world.”

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Abstract: Libya’s cultural heritage is facing significant threats and damage, not only from unregulated development, but also increasing acts of civil disorder. With two de facto governments claiming authority in the country, no clearly operating constitution, contesting militias, and rising religious extremism, more damage is being done to the country’s cultural heritage than was caused by the events of the 2011 Revolution. During the Gaddafi regime, Libya’s cultural heritage from the pre-Arab period was seen as a reminder of Libya’s colonial past and therefore neglected for political reasons. And given the many challenges facing the new Libya, it is not surprising that cultural heritage struggles for recognition and protection. Working within this challenging environment, the Libyan Department of Antiquities continues to negotiate the protection of cultural sites in contested areas and to draw up plans for emergency inventory, crisis planning, and protection work. Despite their best efforts, it remains unclear what the future will hold for the cultural heritage of Libya.

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The Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912), now remembered primarily as Italy’s war for what is now Libya, swelled from a localized colonial invasion into a significant Mediterranean conflict and a global cause célèbre that attracted support and aid for the embattled Ottoman regime from diverse locations both inside and outside the borders of the empire. This dissertation examines the means by which the Ottoman Empire erected an asymmetric defense of its last North African provinces to preserve its territory and empire from Italian occupation and annexation. Drawing on sources in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Greek, and Judeo-Spanish, this study demonstrates how the Sublime Porte and the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) initially deployed a rhetoric of unity, constitutionalism, and international law to protect the empire from the Italian invasion. Due to the efficacy of Italian diplomacy, the Ottomans, unable to enlist Great Power support for the preservation of imperial territory, developed a defensive strategy for its North African territories that relied primarily on humanitarianism and volunteerism. This dissertation, therefore, investigates the vital contribution of pan-Islamism and the broad appeal of a loose ideology of Muslim anticolonialism in the empire’s attempts to bolster its forces with international aid and volunteers. While many studies tend to brush aside the importance of early twentieth-century pan-Islamism as either a pipe dream of Wilhelmine champions of German imperialism and their Ottoman collaborators or as merely a rhetorical movement devoid of substantial consequence, this dissertation reveals how global appeals to Islamic unity to combat European expansionism translated into material benefits for Ottomans on the battlefield. Through an examination of documents from the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish General Staff archives, it highlights the crucial assistance of global Islamic humanitarian aid to the Ottoman war effort in the form of sizeable financial contributions to the Ottoman Red Crescent from Muslims over the duration of the conflict. The Red Crescent organization provided a means to funnel aid to the battlefield collected in mosques, mass meetings, newspaper subscriptions, and Islamic associations within and without the Ottoman Empire. This charitable aid facilitated the deployment to North Africa of multiple Red Crescent teams which assumed, in most cases, sole responsibility for the medical care of both soldiers and civilians of the Ottoman provinces. Simultaneously, the Ottoman ranks in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica swelled as calls for coreligionist volunteers to take up arms were heeded throughout Africa and Asia. Ultimately, the empire’s anticolonial ideology proved an effective unifier for the many Muslims around the world who shouldered a great deal of the cost of the conflict. While Italy’s expenses for its war for colonial expansion ballooned, the defense of North Africa cost the Ottoman treasury very little.

Journal issue: Tripoli, port de mer, port de désert

Available freely online is a special journal issue from 2013, based on a workshop which took place in 2011, on the theme “Tripoli, port to the sea, port to the desert” in Paris. The special issue contains 7 articles, all in French, about different aspects of pre-modern to early-modern Tripoli. All articles can be read online as well as downloaded.

Tripoli, port de mer, port de désert: Table ronde du 25-26 novembre 2011 Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne coordonnée par Rémi Dewière et Güneş Işıksel, special issue of Hypothèses (1/16), 2013:

Rémi Dewière, Güneş Işıksel, Introduction, pp. 343–352

Dominique Valérian, Tripoli dans les réseaux d’échanges intercontinentaux à la fin du Moyen Âge, pp. 353–363

Nicola Melis, Tripoli vu par les Ottomans, pp. 365–373

Güneş Işıksel, Le statut de la Tripolitaine dans l’espace politique ottoman au xvie siècle, pp. 375–382

Rémi Dewière, «Regards croisés entre deux ports de désert»: L’enjeu des sources pour l’étude des relations entre Tripoli et le sultanat de Borno, pp. 383–393

Nora Lafi, Violence factieuse, enjeux internationaux et régulation ottomane de la conflictualité urbaine à Tripoli d’Occident entre xviiie et xixe siècles, pp. 395–403

Salvatore Bono, Tripoli 1510-1911: Historiographie et sources occidentales, pp. 405–412

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.

Abstract:

“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: 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.”