Book: Ethnoarchaeology of the Kel Tadrart Tuareg in Libya

Stefano Biagetti, Ethnoarchaeology of the Kel Tadrart Tuareg: Pastoralism and Resilience in Central Sahara (Springer Publishing, 2014).

This book focuses on the issues of resilience and variability of desert pastoralists, explicitly challenging a set of traditional topics of the discourse around pastoralism in arid lands of the Old World. Based on a field research carried out on the Kel Tadrart Tuareg in Libya, various facets of a surprisingly successful adaptation to an extremely arid environment are investigated. By means of an ethnoarchaeological approach, explored are the Kel Tadrart interactions with natural resources, the settlement patterns, the campsite structures, and the formation of the pastoral archaeological landscape, focusing on variability and its causes. The resilience of the Kel Tadrart is the key to understand the reasons of their choice to stay and live in the almost rainless Acacus Mountains, in spite of strong pressure to sedentarize in the neighboring oases. Through the collection of the interviews, participant observation, mapping of inhabited and abandoned campsites, remote sensing, and archival sources, various and different Kel Tadrart strategies, perceptions, and material cultures are examined. This book fills an important gap in the ethnoarchaeological research in central Sahara and in the study of desert pastoralism.​ Desert lands are likely to increase over the next decades but, our knowledge of human adaptations to these areas of the world is still patchy and generally biased by the idea that extremely arid lands are not suited for human occupation.​

Article: Imagining Aridity in southwest Libya

Stefano Biagetti & Jasper Chalcraft, “Imagining Aridity: Human–Environment Interactions in the Acacus Mountains, South-West Libya”, in Imagining Landscapes Past, Present and Future, ed. Monica Janowski & Tim Ingold (Ashgate, London, 2012), pp. 77-96.

Abstract: This chapter discusses the human condition in extremely arid lands, namely the interaction of people and environment, and the relevance of the study of the present for the comprehension of the past. This entire area falls under the prescriptive understandings of western climatology and geography, as well as established stereotypes regarding the world’s largest desert. Our challenge to move beyond ‘aridity’ is straightforward: if contemporary pastoralists inhabiting what is technically speaking a hyper-arid area neither perceive nor imagine it as such, then it is unlikely that their historic and prehistoric predecessors perceived it any differently. The study area is located in the southwest corner of Libya, bordering Algeria, in the region of the Fezzan. The main physiographic element in the area is the Tadrart Acacus massif, comprising a dissected mountain range mainly composed of sandstone. Most importantly, the longitudinal orientation of the Acacus massif lends its eastern and western sides very different characteristics.

Article: Fascist Violence and the ‘Ethnic Reconstruction’ of Cyrenaica

Michael R. Ebner, “Fascist Violence and the ‘Ethnic Reconstruction’ of Cyrenaica (Libya), 1922–1934” in Violence, Colonialism and Empire in the Modern World, eds. Dwyer, Philip, Nettelbeck, Amanda, pp. 197-218 (Palgrave, 2017).

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

Misurata: a market town in Tripolitania

misrata-market-picA small booklet published by the Durham Dept. of Geography in 1968, Misurata: a market town in Tripolitania by G. H. Blake is one of the few (=2 or 3) studies available on Misrata (مصراتة‎) in a western language. The brief introduction is below, and a PDF of the entire booklet is available by clicking here.

“The small towns of the Middle East and North Africa have received so little attention from geographers hitherto that there is a need for case-studies of this kind if only as prologomena for intensive future investigations. Several factors combined to permit little more than a superficial study of Misurata in the summer of 1966; the paucity of statistics, the lack of large scale maps and air photographs while fieldwork was being carried out, and above all the limited time available. In spite of these difficulties an attempt was made to examine the functions and morphology of a market town which is still strongly traditional in character, with a high proportion of the population deriving their living from the sale of goods and services in the market. Some of the results of this work are presented in the following pages. While there may not be much that is methodologically exciting, it is hoped that its publication will be fully justified by its timing, for in 1966 it was already clear that the cultural ethos and economic functions of Misurata are on the threshold of great changes.

Libya’s immense oil revenues have touched every aspect of national life and in Misurata have resulted in a spate of public and private building which is beginning to transform the ancient skyline of minarets, palm trees and low, flat-roofed houses, bringing into being an essentially European-type architecture and ground plan. In the next few years the town will develop from being a regional market to a genuine regional centre with significant functions in serving through traffic. The projected North African highway will pass nearby; Casr Ahmed is to be revived as a naval and military base; and there are plans to develop and settle the vast ex-Italian estates to the south and west. The people of Misurata are famous for their commercial enterprise and will not be slow to make good use of the opportunities thus presented, just as they have been quick to establish light industries in response to the building boom.

The promise of rapid modernisation makes Misurata a town of particular interest since it epitomises the problems of renewal and development in larger cities of cultures. It remains to be seen whether the Master Plan of the town, now being prepared in Rome, will succeed in preserving what is good in the old while creating a town capable of discharging its ever-growing social and economic responsibilities to the surrounding region.” (p. 1)

Human Geography and Colonial Libya |الجغرافية البشرية، الاستعمارية و ليبيا

We turn to the colonial period to bring to light a series of studies regarding human geography and the fascist project in Libya. The scholar David Atkinson (University of Hull, UK) describes his work as follows:

نرجع الى عصر الاحتلال الايطالي لتسليط الضوء على سلسلة دراسات موضوعها الجغرافية البشرية و المشروع الفاشستي في ليبيا. مؤلّفها الاستاذ داڤيداتكِنسُن بجامعة هُل ببريطانيا يصف بحوثَه كالتالي

“[This] interest revolves around the geographies of Italian colonialism. Work here reflects broader postcolonial initiatives but focuses particularly upon the constitution of colonial space through the spatial practices of exploration, geographical survey and other forms of knowledge production. I also explore the construction of colonial bodies through geographical and anthropological survey and mapping, and the connected demonisation, spatial disciplining and persecution of nomadic subjects by Italian colonial discourse and policies. Finally, this research also explores theoretical attempts to engage desert landscapes, and also critiques the stuttering progress of colonial memory in postcolonial Italy.”

Atkinson, David. 1996. “The Politics of Geography and the Italian Occupation of Libya.” Libyan Studies 27, pp. 71-84.

Atkinson, David. 1999. “Nomadic Strategies and Colonial Governance: domination and resistance in Cyrenaica, 1923-1932.” In The Entanglement of Power: Geographies of Domination / Resistance, eds. J. Sharp et al. London: Routledge, pp. 93-121.

Atkinson, David. 2003. “Geographical knowledge and scientific survey in the construction of Italian Libya.” Modern Italy 8/1, pp. 9-29.

Atkinson, David. 2005. “Myths of the desert of empty space: enduring European imaginaries of North Africa and the challenges of material geographies.” In Libia Oggi, ed. P. Gandolfi. Bologna: Il Ponte, pp. 107-122.

Atkinson, David. 2007. “Embodied resistance, Italian anxieties, and the place of the nomad in colonial Cyrenaica.” In In Corpore: Bodies in Post-Unification Italy, eds. L. Polezzi & C. Ross. Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, pp. 56-79.

Atkinson, David. 2012. “Encountering Bare Life in Italian Libya and colonial amnesia in Agamben.” In  Agamben and Colonialism, eds. M. Svirsky & S. Bignall. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 155-177.