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
The French colonial scholar and administrator Constantin Louis Sonneck (1849-1904) isn’t that well known. Having spent his entire youth in colonial Algeria, Sonneck became an asset to the French administration and was employed in numerous roles in the colonial administration before eventually going on to teach at the École coloniale in Paris. Although his career consisted mostly of translation, teaching, and administering, Sonneck found time later in life to publish a few text editions like a proper Orientalist.
Title Page of Sonneck’s Chants arabe du Maghreb
The more well-known of these is his collection of songs and poems entitled Chants arabes du Maghreb: Étude sur le dialecte et la poésie populaire de l’Afrique du nord / الديوان المُغرب في أقوال عرب إفريقية والمغرب (Arabic Songs of the Maghrib: A Study of the Dialect and Popular Poetry of North Africa) published in 3 volumes totalling almost 700 pages between 1902 and 1906. This work has proven valuable to later scholars for its documentation of songs in the classical Andalusi repertoire as passed down in cities of northern Africa. Sonneck’s only other published academic work was a (shorter) collection in three parts entitled “Six chansons arabes en dialecte maghrébin” (Six Arabic Songs in Maghribi Dialect) and published in that venerable organ of French Orientalism, the Journal Asiatique, in 1899. It provides the text of six poems from differents parts of northern Africa in Arabic script with French translation and a few notes. Though Sonneck doesn’t say exactly where he obtained each poem, and who recited them for him, he does record some basic information for each:
- An ode from the Maḥāmīd of Tripolitania, poet unnamed.
- A poem composed in praise of Lalla Aisha al-Manoubiya, a saint in Manouba, Tunisia, who died in 1267 and is buried in Tunis. The unnamed author apparently lived in the mid-1700s in Manouba.
- The famous qasida by Muhammad bin Gitoun about the love story of Sa‘id and Ḥiziya in Sidi Khaled near Biskra, Algeria, composed in 1878 and later set to music.
- A poem composed by Qaddur bin Omar bin Benina, a scholar from Algiers who died around 1898 and was known as Qaddur al-Hadby, on the occasion of a trip to the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris of a musical troupe led by Francisco Salvador-Daniel, a Spanish music teacher in Algiers.
- An ode by Muhammad bin Sahla, a famous sheikh in Tlemcen, Algeria, who lived in the 1800s.
- A poem from a nobleman of Tafilalt, Morocco named Sidi Muhammad bin Ali U Rezin (1742-1822).
Among the texts recorded by the French scholar Gilbert Boris in the 1940s is a poem about the Italian occupation of Tripolitania at the beginning of the colonial endeavor. Since Boris died in 1950, the collection of texts in which the present poem appears, Documents linguistiques et ethnographiques sur une région du Sud Tunisien (Nefzaoua) (Paris, 1951), was published posthumously.
The poem, which Boris calls a “chant de guerre” was authored by Muhammad bin Ṣōf, sheikh of the Maḥāmīd tribe. The Maḥāmīd were among the semi-nomadic tribes of Tripolitania (then referring to a larger region than today, including what is now the south of Tunisia) who fought in resistance to Italian troops during the so-called Italo-Turkish war of 1912-1913. His grandfather, moreover, was the famed Ghuma al-Mahmudi, a leader who together with ‘Abd al-Jalil Sayf al-Nasr rebelled against Ottoman rule of Tripolitania in the mid-1800s and became somewhat of a legendary figure associated with revolt against foreign rule.* Muhammad bin Ṣōf, who himself was probably a young man at that time, thus had a great deal of suspicion and dislike for certain figures—such as Hasuna Garamanli, the target of this poem—who were thought to have colluded with the Italian colonizers and to have helped them obtain control of Tripoli.
A relatively recent article examines the British consular presence in early modern (Garamanli) Tripoli:
This article will challenge the currently accepted notions of weak British consular presence, influence and activity in the southern Mediterranean during the period 1795–1832 through a case study of the careers of three successive consuls in the Regency of Tripoli: Simon Lucas, William Wass Langford and Hanmer Warrington. Utilising the official cor- respondence of these agents, the extent of the consular bridgehead in the capital, Tripoli, will be investigated, and how, through these consular and diplomatic agents, it served to define imperial interests and activity at the frontiers of empire. Moreover, the overlapping personal and professional networks within which the consuls embedded themselves, the role of enterprising missions and the development of an intelligence-gathering network will be of central significance in understanding the consequent ruptures in the social and political fabric of the Regency of Tripoli. British imperial interest in North Africa during and immediately post the Napoleonic era remains under-studied and misunder- stood within both British diplomatic and imperial history. This article challenges the exist- ing literature that underestimates the diplomatic as well as consular power exercised by the British consuls to Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, as well as the importance of these three Barbary regencies to wider strategic interests in the Mediterranean.
For a change, an article which looks, at least in part, at the Libyan south (and is open-access!):
Tabib, Rafaa. 2015. Mobilized publics in Post-Qadhafi Libya: the emergence of new modes of popular protest in Tripoli and Ubari. Mediterranean Politics 21(1), pp. 86–106
As the formal transformation process in Libya faltered and political and local elites were locked in contestation over shares of power and resources, spaces opened for non-formal movements of citizens pushing to exert influence on the political sphere, and to pursue their interests vis-à-vis state institutions with hitherto unknown forms of contentious action. This article investigates two distinctively different examples of such initiatives: on the one hand, the movement against militia rule and the extension of the mandate of the General National Congress (GNC) that emerged in Tripoli in the fall of 2013 and organized demonstrations for new elections throughout the spring of 2014. On the other, a movement for more equitable access to resources and citizenship rights that emerged in the provincial town of Ubari in the Fezzan region and gained momentum in late 2013 through the (largely peaceful) disruption of oil production. The chapter argues that through their mobilization capacities and innovative forms of contentious action, both movements compelled political and institutional actors to recognize mobilized publics as a force to reckon with, and modify the ways they interact with citizens and the general public.
Here is an older article for those interested in Libyan archives and the history of Tripoli.
B. G. Martin, “Five Letters from the Tripoli Archives,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 2/3 (1962), 350–372.
“The five Arabic letters which form the basis of this article date from 1846 to 1870. They throw some light, but only on details, of the relations of Bornu with Tripoli during the second Ottoman period (1835-1911), under the reigns of Shaykhs ‘Umar bin Muhammad al-Amīn al-Kānimī and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahmān. The interest of these letters is at once historical and indicative, pointing to other discoveries of documents relevant to Nigerian history which will doubtless be made at Tripoli, and further, at the Başvekālet Arşivi in Istanbul, whence the bulk of the Tripoli archives of the late second Ottoman period was doubtless removed soon after the Italian conquest of Libya in 1911. Three of these five letters (Letters One, Two and Three) are internal Tripolitanian Government correspondence about Bornu affairs, while Letter Four is a copy of a diplomatic communication addressed by Mustafa Nūri Pāshā of Tripoli to Shehu (Shaykh) ‘Abd al-Rahmān of Bornu. Letter Five is an example of the Bornu diplomatic correspondence preserved at the Tripoli Archives, and was addressed by Shaykh ‘Umar to the Mushīr ‘Ali Ridā Pāshā of Tripoli.”
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.”
Islamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania is the translation of a work by the Libyan religious scholar ‘Abd as-Salām al-‘Ālam al-Tajouri.* It gives details about the many shrines and mosques in Tripolitania (western Libya), as they were known in the 17th-century. The Italian translation of the work, shown here, is the only scholarly work on the text that I know of. Antonio Cesàro, an Arabist who also wrote a grammar of the Tripoli dialect of Arabic, teamed up with the human geographer Enrico de Agostini to also track down the sites mentioned by al-Tajouri and document them in photos and with maps.
An interesting, though probably discouraging, project would be to go to these sites today, in and around Tripoli, Tajoura, Tarhuna, Zliten, and Misrata, and document as many as possible—both those that have survived the past five years of turmoil and those that have not.
*The full reference is Tajouri, A. Santuari Islamica nel secolo XVII in Tripolitania, tr. by Antonio Cesàro. Tripoli: Maggi, 1933.
Berhe, Simona. 2015. Notabili libici e Funzionari italiani: l’amministrazione coloniale in Tripolitania (1912-1919) [Libyan notables and Italian functionaries: the colonial administration in Tripolitania 1912-1919]. Rubbettino.
See the table of contents here.
An article on the Italian period and its impact on the old city of Tripoli, available online:
Mia Fuller (2000), “Preservation and self-absorption: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli, Libya,” The Journal of North African Studies 5/4, pp. 121-154.
“Scholars periodically return to the study of how French administrators and architects handled the urban settings of North Africa – the ones they found and the ones they founded – beginning with the occupation of Algiers in 1830. Italian occupation of Libya began much later, in 1911, but in the 32 years of their effective rule, Italians had sufficient time to be both destructive and constructive in significant ways. Nonetheless, only a handful of scholarly efforts have been devoted to Italian architectural and urban policies in Tripoli;
and very few of those have been concerned with the walled city at all…”