Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa

Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa

Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa

Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa

Synopsis

The Sahara has long been portrayed as a barrier that divides the Mediterranean world from Africa proper and isolates the countries of the Maghrib from their southern and eastern neighbors. Rather than viewing the desert as an isolating barrier, this volume takes up historian Fernand Braudel's description of the Sahara as "the second face of the Mediterranean." The essays recast the history of the region with the Sahara at its center, uncovering a story of densely interdependent networks that span the desert's vast expanse. They explore the relationship between the desert's "islands" and "shores" and the connections and commonalities that unite the region. Contributors draw on extensive ethnographic and historical research to address topics such as trade and migration; local notions of place, territoriality, and movement; Saharan cities; and the links among ecological, regional, and world-historical approaches to understanding the Sahara.

Excerpt

Judith Scheele and James McDougall

And much I mus’d on legends quaint and old
Which whilome won the hearts of all on Earth
Toward their brightness, ev’n as flame draws air;
But had their being in the heart of Man
As air in th’life of flame: and thou wert then
A centr’d glory-circled Memory,
Divinest Atlantis, whom the waves
Have buried deep, and thou of later name
Imperial Eldorado roof’d with gold:
Shadows to which, despite all shocks of Change,
All on-set of capricious Accident,
Men clung with yearning Hope which would not die.

—TENNYSON, “TIMBUCTOO” (1829)

In the early nineteenth century, when the young Tennyson submitted his poem “Timbuctoo” to a poetry competition launched by the chancellor of Cambridge University, attempts to reach the fabled city of gold in the heart of the Sahara had become a vivid expression of the rivalry between France and England, the two “great nations” that were then vying for commercial supremacy on the African continent (Heffernan 2001; Davoine 2003). The topic chosen by the chancellor clearly reflected political concerns and patriotic enthusiasm as well as a longstanding fascination with the Sahara. Tennyson had first composed the poem with the title “Armageddon,” but found he hardly had to change its content once the title was amended. And indeed, from a European point of view in the Romantic age, the hill of Megiddo and the city of Timbuktu stood for much the same thing: they both mattered not so much for what they were, but for how they were imagined . . .

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