"whips lash us before our women's eyes,
rendering us useless, degraded,
not even a matchstick among us to light a wick"
- Rajab al-Minifi, a survival poet of the Italian colonial
concentration camps in Libya
The above quote is one of the many powerful voices from University of New
England (UNE) Professor Ali Abdullatif Ahmida's new book, Forgotten Voices:
Power and Agency in Colonial and Postcolonial Libya.
Ahmida, a native of Libya, says that since he came to the United States as a
teacher and political scientist/historian, he has "worked to tell the individual
stories of my family and the forgotten human history of the Libyan people, as
illustrated by Libyan folk poetry" in the Italian fascist concentration camps in
Libya beginning in 1929.
But Ahmida's new book, published by the Routlege Taylor & Francis Group, has a
number of broader objectives.
In Forgotten Voices, Ahmida employs archival research, oral interviews, and
comparative analysis to rethink the history of colonial and nationalist
categories and analyses of modern Libya.
He explores the ambiguities, failures, and silences manufactured by current
colonial and nationalist scholarship, and he presents the voices of the Libyan
people as they have confronted the contradictions of modernity, the
nation-state, and alienation in the contemporary nation.
Forgotten Voices analyzes the context of power and human agency to capture the
complex social history of Libyan peasants, tribesmen, women, slaves, and victims
of fascist concentration camps in their diverse strategies for survival.
"The book recognizes that while the context of power affects people, human
agency matters," Ahmida says. "Only by analyzing both can social history be
Ahmida says his final objective in the book is to defend civil society- Libyan
society - by recovering its diverse and dynamic social history as world history
and not as an exceptional, unique case.
In reviewing the book Peter Gran, professor of history at Temple University,
wrote that "Ali Ahmida is in the forefront of the new social history in this
field, integrating the early modern history with the modern history and the
state-centered narratives with the subaltern ones. Given the importance of the
subject of Libyan history and, at the same time, its quite unexplained neglect,
the present work will fill a major gap."
Ahmida was born is central Libya and raised in the southern region of Fezzan.
Both his parents and grandparents experienced Italy's colonial rule of Libya
firsthand. In the early 1980s, Ahmida came to the U.S. for graduate school. Most
of his research the past 20 years has focused on mapping the colonial and
nationalist political models and analyzing the social history of the Maghrib
(especially Libya) during the second half of the nineteenth and first half of
the twentieth centuries.
His new book continues and revised work undertaken in his first book, The Making
of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonialization and Resistance, 1830-1932
(State University of New York Press, 1994) and the collection he edited on
mapping North African scholarhips, Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the
Maghrib: History, Culture and Politics (Palgrave Press, 2000).
Ahmida is professor and chair of the UNE Department of Political Science. In
2004, Ahmida was invited to testify before the United Nations Security Council
on conflict resolution in Africa.
(Press release issued Oct. 6, 2005)