Desert Borderland: The Making of Modern Egypt and Libya

Lecture | March 15 | 12:30-2 p.m. | 340 Stephens Hall

 Matthew H. Ellis, Sarah Lawrence College

 Center for Middle Eastern Studies

How should we think about the emergence of territorial nationalism in the modern Middle East? Historians have typically emphasized cartography and border demarcation as necessary determinants of nation and state formation in the modern era. In this talk—based on his forthcoming book, Desert Borderland: The Making of Modern Egypt and Libya (Stanford UP, March 2018)—Matthew H. Ellis adopts a different approach to national territoriality, arguing that Egypt and Libya emerged steadily as modern territorial nation-states in the decades before World War I despite the fact that they lacked official maps defining their borders. By reconstructing the multiple layers and meanings of territoriality in this desert borderland, Ellis argues that national territoriality was not simply imposed on Egypt’s western—or Ottoman Libya’s eastern—domains by centralizing state power, but rather emerged only through a complex and multilayered process of negotiation with a range of local actors (Bedouins, oasis-dwellers, adherents of the Sanusiyya Islamic brotherhood) motivated by their own conceptions of space, sovereignty, and political belonging.

Matthew H. Ellis currently holds the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation Chair in Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, NY, where he teaches a range of courses on modern Middle Eastern history and politics. He specializes in the social, intellectual, and cultural history of the modern Middle East, with a particular research focus on the relationship between nationalism and territoriality in Egypt and the late Ottoman Empire. His first book—Desert Borderland: The Making of Modern Egypt and Libya (Stanford UP, March 2018)—examines the impact of various state-making projects on local experiences of place and belonging in the desert region linking Egypt and Libya during the late-19th and early-20th centuries., 510-642-8208