Tripolitania, un via de Tripoli

Commemorative Postcard, Italy or Libya, ca. 1915, DR.

In the midst of the last developments of liberated Libya, we’ve ‘forgotten’ to remember October 5th 1911*: the day the Italian army invaded Libya and started its colonisation. What’s the (political) meaning of commemorating history in Libya? This short article examines the political role of rewriting history in the context of Qaddafi’s regime and questions its future in the reconstruction of Libya.

On October 5 1911, Italian troops invaded Tripoli of Libya. After months of rising tensions between Italian and Turkish (Ottoman) governments, the Italian Navy had started to bomb the port of Tripoli leading to the invasion of Tripoli and Tripolitania. It took few years to the Italian Republican and Fascist troops to conquer what was to become Libya in 1934 after Cyrenaica was conquered and united with Fezzan and Tripolitania. Ironically, the centennial coincides with the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. 1861, 1911, 2011: history seems to defy common sense in mixing dates. One wonders how the former regime would have orchestrated commemorations… No doubt it would have been a great post-colonial show as the resistance of Libyans to the Italian colonisation had been erected as a fundament of the ideology of Qaddafi’s ‘revolutionary’ regime. This short article – these are personal notes and reflections- examines the political role of rewriting history in the Libyan context and its future in the reconstruction of Libya.

Rewriting History

Historical studies were leaded and controlled by the Markaz al-Jihad (Research and Documentation Centre on the Historical Jihad [in this case resistance]). Created in 1978, that research center have been for more than 30 years a pillar of  Qaddafism. As explained by Clémence Weulersse (click here to read the article), its first role was to “liberate” the history of Libya that had been written by imperialist hands; in this pseudo-Marxist doxa, liberating history aimed at liberating minds. Second, the Markaz al-Jihad aimed at proving the possibility of the (Gadhafist) revolution in rewriting the history of Libya: Read the rest of this entry »

Amingo, ex. Nuer war child in Gambella, jan. 2008

New Sudan: Peace and Unity

Southern Sudan is the 193rd State recognised by the UN on the 14th of July 2011. Happy Birthday Southern Sudan: I wish you peace and unity. With a special thought to my friend Amingo I met in Gambella, the Ethiopian border town back in 2008. Here’s an excerpt of my 2008 Gambella Stories, a history of violence, multiculturalism, failed dreams of modernisation in a remote place:*

Amingo is a Sudanese Nuer. He was a war child and one of the refugees who arrived in the 1980’s when the Sudanese civil war opposing the Northern Sudanese government to the Southern Sudanese guerilla resumed. The leadership of the Guerrilla was based in a refugee camp near Gambella city, and almost ruled on the region. It is a long story. Read the rest of this entry »

What is the meaning of an Ethnographic Museum in a post-colonial world in which boundaries between the Self and the Other are in a constant evolution? If the Self and the Other are a reflective myth, the Museum is a privileged machinery to construct the representation of Alterity, of Otherness.

Savignac, "Allez au Musée de l'Homme", Affiche, 1981, DR

The Museum orders, screenplays and formalises the re-presentation of the World. Therefore, the Museum appears a effective place to study the history of the representations of Others as in the case of the transformation of the old Paris’ Musée de l’Homme into the new unfortunate Musée du Quai Branly. [On the Quai Branly’s vicissitudes, refer to Kimmelman’s brilliant article: “Heart of Darkness in the City of Light“, New York Times, July 2 2006]

This book review [in French] of Benoît de l’Estoile’s, the Taste of Others [Le goût des Autres*] provides a chance to discuss the role of Anthropology and the Museum in the reprensentation of Alterity. Commenting on the book’s argument also provides an insight that reconsiders the role of anthropologists and intellectuals in the social and political debates on multiculturalism.

Anticipating on the conclusions and on further articles (to come here, stay tuned), I think that this book offered a good example of a certain school of Museum Studies that hardly consider museums as a research subject but as an object: the study of discourses about the museum overdetermines the topic of Otherness. Museum considered as a discourse is a powerful means to understand non said representations and give sense to nonsensical cultural discourses.

* Note: Le goût des autres / The Taste of Others: this is a literal translation as to keep on playing with the reference to Agnès Jaoui’s 2000 film on the experience of multiculturalism in France. As a complementary reading on the same topic, here’s a reference to Sally Price’s excellent Paris Primitive: Jacques’s Chirac Museum at the Quai Branly, Chicago, 2007… [here’s a book review in French].

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My article  on Sudanese museums and  politics of identity in the transitional period 2005-2011 published in Egypte-Monde Arabe 5-6 (2009) on Heritage-Politics in Egypt and Sudan is now available on line on revues.org along with the rest of the book.

This article is part of the chapter 3: Politicisation and instrumentalization of Heritage in Sudan. This topic was investigated for the first time. The chapter comprises resourceful contributions of Iris Seri-Hersh (Iremam, Aix-en-Provence) on the recurrent use of the narratives of the Mahdiya in Sudanese politics, Ida Dykorn Heierland (Bergen University) on the political and economic use of archeological heritage in Naqa, Coralie Gradel (SFDAS, Khartoum) on the involvement of Lille III University in Sudanese archaeological research since the 1950’s and Constanza de Simone (UNESCO, Cairo) on the projected museum in Wadi Halfa.

Existing and planned museums in Sudan. ©Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, 2009

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Negative picture of Nuer boys relaxing (Evans-Prtichard, ca. 1930)

How to disentangle the conflictive logics of cultural and ethnic diversity? How to understand the complexity of cultural diversity? These questions lead my research (and projects) in Sudan and Ethiopian borderlands. I have studied diversity through the angle of heritage-making policies. Heritage is  a byproduct of modernity.  Studying heritage-making, i.e. understanding the value and the role actors as well as local population assert to heritage while  institutionalising it, enables the researcher to apprehend  narratives of culture, identity and diversity developed by local insiders and outsiders. Thus, one can understand how the diverse and ofter opposed groups perceive each other and how their mutual reflective perception defines the limits of identity.  However, drawing on this reflection,  identities appear to be caught in dynamic and moveable nexus rather than tight clusters.

Influenced by Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal research on failures of modernity in extreme borderlands and Fredrik Barth‘s work on boundaries of ethnicity, I carried out fieldwork research in Gambella region, on the  border with Ethiopia and Sudan in January-February 2008. Below is presented one of the first outcomes of this research as proposed to the AEGIS-ECAS conference in Leipzig, 2009 in the panel Writing the Oral: the building of history and the notions of ‘past’ and ‘present’ convened by Manuela Palmeirim and Manuel João Ramos.

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Forthcoming…

July 18, 2009

What’s on the shelf right now?

Cairo july 2009
Cairo july 2009

I got busy lately and disapeared from the outside world. I canceled all my spring conferences but in my underground office, it’s sprouting!
I’m finishing my PhD dissertation (still): I wrote the parts on the Unesco/Egypt/Sudan Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia. I took a move from the official catechism of International (generous) cooperation… it’s all about politics, business and diplomacy… at the very end, it’s about culture. It rocks! More will be published here, soon.

I’m following Farouk Hosni‘s Campaign for the Unesco’s head job. It’s more interesting than a Ramadan musalsal (telenovela, feuilleton). This campaign is much about talking (normalisation, no normalisation with Israel, etc.),  much about diplomacy, so few on Unesco, on culture, science and education… I’m planning to publish something before the election round in September 2009.

I’m also finishing the editing process of next issue of the Cedej Journal Egypte/Monde Arabe on heritage-making policies in Egypt and Sudan. To be released after Ramadan in October (insha’Allah), we are planning to publish simultaneously a paper and a digital edition!  Keep updated!

I’m looking for a job: my plans to get a research position in Sudan are postponed. I don’t give up with working on heritage, identity and violence. I’m already dreaming  of a postdoc somewhere else. I will have to explain all this here, soon.

What else?

You can still email me (leturcq[at]ehess.fr): I love to reply emails! Or send me a postcard from your holidays… I wish a nice summer to all! Don’t forget to visit museums, sites and ask for more exhibitions all over the world !!*