Article: Nineteenth-century Reform in Ottoman Libya

“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…”

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

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, 1983.

To my knowledge, the only Western scholar to engage with these sources was Ulrich Haarmann. His lengthy (94 pages, 492 footnotes!) and wide-ranging article based on the documents, “The Dead Ostrich: Life and Trade in Ghadames (Libya) in the Nineteenth Century“, was published in 1998 in Der Welt des Islams. Before his death in 1999 Haarmann had prepared translations and commentaries of many of the documents published by Yusha‘. This material was gathered and published posthumously in German:

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.”

The Ottoman Scramble for Africa

Minawi, Mostafa. 2016. The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz. Stanford University Press.

The Ottoman Scramble for Africa is the first book to tell the story of the Ottoman Empire’s expansionist efforts during the age of high imperialism. Following key representatives of the sultan on their travels across Europe, Africa, and Arabia at the close of the nineteenth century, it takes the reader from Istanbul to Berlin, from Benghazi to Lake Chad Basin to the Hijaz, and then back to Istanbul. It turns the spotlight on the Ottoman Empire’s expansionist strategies in Africa and its increasingly vulnerable African and Arabian frontiers.

Drawing on previously untapped Ottoman archival evidence, Mostafa Minawi examines how the Ottoman participation in the Conference of Berlin and involvement in an aggressive competition for colonial possessions in Africa were part of a self-reimagining of this once powerful global empire. In so doing, Minawi redefines the parameters of agency in late-nineteenth-century colonialism to include the Ottoman Empire and turns the typical framework of a European colonizer and a non-European colonized on its head. Most importantly, Minawi offers a radical revision of nineteenth-century Middle East history by providing a counternarrative to the “Sick Man of Europe” trope, challenging the idea that the Ottomans were passive observers of the great European powers’ negotiations over solutions to the so-called Eastern Question.”

An episode of the Ottoman History Podcast with Minawi was also dedicated to this topic and is well worth a listen.

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 (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.