The historiography of the Sahara and trans-Saharan trade provides an explanatory key as to how premodern Saharan slavery has been understood since the nineteenth century. Part 1 of McDougall’s article deconstructs that historiography in terms of the intersecting influences of the Atlantic model (slavery, slave trading, and the black diaspora), the Atlantic trade (commodities, including slaves out of West Africa), and Orientalism (Islam and Eastern visions of slavery). Part 2 develops a case study of a medieval Saharan commercial center, Awdaghust, to explore how these influences have been articulated in a concrete history. By first engaging with a recently published book on race, slavery, and Islam—all key factors in that articulation—and then revisiting largely overlooked 1970s and 1980s research, she suggests that there is much still to be learned about Saharan slavery that cannot be seen from within either the Atlantic or the Oriental worldview.
Visions of the Sahara: Negotiating the History and Historiography of Premodern Saharan Slavery
E. Ann McDougall is a professor of history in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Recent publications include “Three Women of the Sahara: Fatma, Odette and Sophie,” in Dorothy Hodgson and Judith A. By-field’s Global Africa: Into the Twenty-First Century (University of California Press, 2017); “Colonial Labour, Tawdenni and ‘L’enfer du sel’: The Struggle from Slave to Free Labour in a Saharan Salt Mine” (Labor History, 2017); and “‘Hidden in Plain Sight’: Haratin in Nouakchott’s Niche Settlements” (International Journal of African Historical Studies, 2015).
E. Ann McDougall; Visions of the Sahara: Negotiating the History and Historiography of Premodern Saharan Slavery. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 August 2018; 38 (2): 211–229. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-6982007
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