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Interactions between North Africa and Spain: Medieval and Early Modern  

Camilo Gómez-Rivas

Arabic-speaking Muslim polities existed in medieval Spain and Portugal where they were superseded by Christian empires that gradually disavowed cultural connections to this past. Hebrew and Arabic were largely expurgated from homes and libraries. Jews and Muslims who refused to convert were expelled. And while an incipient study of that past existed, echoed even in popular literary forms, the need to disavow kinship prevailed, at least publicly and officially. The Maghrib, for its part, separated by a mere fourteen kilometers of sea from the southern tip of Spain, experienced Portuguese and Spanish imperial expansion firsthand, receiving the bulk of the displaced and interacting with fortified settlements and encroachments along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Later European colonization of North Africa completed the galvanization of a Maghribi culture of resistance to and disavowal of European, Latin, and Christian cultural forms and connections. Spain and North Africa came to be conceived as separate worlds; domains of inimical faiths; divided by culture, language, religion, and a history of mutual hostility. This sense of separateness is deceptive, however, as the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa are bound by deep and extensive commercial, material, and cultural contacts. They share inextricable histories in which alternating movements of commerce, conflict, and migration have played fundamental roles in shaping recognizably Western Mediterranean societies. They should be thought of as areas of a unified region with a common culture, or at the very least, as areas sharing a common region, in which they interact regularly, creating extensive ties and parallel forms of cultural and social organization.

Article

Italian Colonial Architecture and City Planning in North and East Africa  

Mia Fuller

Italian colonial architecture began with styles directly transplanted from Italy to Eritrea—Italy’s first African colonial territory—in the 1890s. By the late 1920s, when Italy also held Libya and Italian Somalia, it had already created a substantial set of buildings (cathedrals and banks, for instance) in any number of unmodified Italian styles ranging from the classical to the neo-medieval and neo-Renaissance. Moorish (or “Oriental”) effects were also abundant, in another transplant from Europe, where they were extremely popular. Following the rise of design innovations after World War I, though, at the end of the 1920s, Italian Modernist architects—particularly the theoretically inclined Rationalists—began to protest. In conjunction with the fascist regime’s heavy investment in farming settlements, prestigious city centers, and new housing, architecture proliferated further, increasingly incorporating Rationalist design, which was the most thoughtfully syncretistic, aiming as it did to reflect particular sites while remaining Modernist. After Ethiopia was occupied in 1936, designers’ emphasis gravitated from the particulars of design theory to the wider canvas of city planning, which was driven by new ideas of racial segregation for colonial prestige and control.

Article

Italy and the Ḥafṣids in the Medieval Period  

Joel Pattison

The Ḥafṣids were an Amazigh (Berber) Muslim dynasty who ruled in the territory of Ifrīqiya (including all of Tunisia and parts of Algeria and Libya) for over 300 years, from 1229 to 1574. They transformed the city of Tunis from a small port into a major Mediterranean metropolis and an important node in trade networks connecting the trans-Saharan trade with the central Mediterranean. However, as noted by historians, the family’s authority waxed and waned significantly over that period. Strong rulers were able to assert Tunis’s supremacy over the other cities of Ifrīqiya, appointing and dismissing local officials, and exacting obedience or at least passive acceptance from powerful Arab and Berber tribes in the hinterland. Weak or contested rule from Tunis led to the rise of semi-autonomous dynasties by rival family members in major cities, like Bijāya, Constantine, and Mahdia, and tribal rebellions. Despite the political vicissitudes facing the dynasty, its rulers benefited from and strongly encouraged trade across the Mediterranean, including tight links between Ifrīqiyan ports and Italy, especially with the “maritime republics” of Pisa, Genoa, and Venice but also with the nearby kingdom of Sicily. Such links, particularly with the northern Italian communes, were mostly free of attempts at political coercion or the imposition of tributary status on the local rulers, in contrast to attempts by the Crown of Aragon. By the end of the Ḥafṣid period, Italian merchants and sailors were a common presence across the coast of Ifrīqiya, despite the endemic threat of piracy and violence motivated by religious difference.

Article

Women and Gender in French North Africa, 1830–1962  

Julia Clancy-Smith

The workings of modern empire can better be viewed through the lens of gender because gendered hierarchies illuminate broad, intersecting aspects of the colonial project. Community, kinship, household economies, religion, education, sexuality, social engineering, nationalism, and transnational reform movements were all inflected by imperial patriarchy in various guises. This perspective is especially rich for “French” North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) from 1830 until 1962 since the region and its peoples were subjected to intense forms of “European” settler colonialism. From the start, the “woman question” assumed particularly fraught and contentious dimensions whose repercussions can be detected even today. Nevertheless, colonial North Africa did not represent a self-enclosed container. Transimperial and global processes shaped the sociopolitical terrain, and in turn. Policies, practices, and resistance in the Maghrib exerted a powerful torque far beyond its limits. Key to understanding women, gender, and settler colonialism is the state of the “archive,” the sprawling corpus of records, writings, words, things, and images left in an empire’s wake. The voices of women, children, and “ordinary” people, those labeled “the colonized,” have until recently been missing in conventional narratives. As Antoinette Burton observed, the archives themselves structure “the conceptual frameworks of women’s and gender history.” In the imperial historical context, the task of recuperating and restoring lost voices is all the more problematic, yet urgent. One might also add that the fundamental question is “whether ‘women’ is a category at all.”