BILNAS Lectures are normally held at the British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AH. Members living in the United Kingdom will receive invitations to all of these events. Non-members are also welcome to attend. We will keep BILNAS members informed of any changes to this policy.
If you wish to contact the Institute about our events programme, please email the General Secretary: [email protected]
List of Online Lectures and Webinars – available now to download or stream
Title: ‘In Search of the Sources of the Sources: Exploring Fatimid Libraries of North Africa’ by Dr Kumail Rajani
Date Delivered: Tuesday 29 November 2022
Description: Soon after the Fatimids established their hegemony over North Africa, a new genre of literature was produced under the rubric of ʿulūm Āl al-Bayt (sciences of the progeny of the Prophet). Works on history, theology, law, polemics, esoteric sciences, allegorical interpretation of the Qurʾan, biographical literature among several other were produced. It is evident that Fatimid scholars had to have recourse to earlier collections of Medina, Egypt, Yemen, Baghdad and Qum as they cite them consistently in their writings and incorporates them into their works.
These early collections, most of which no longer exist, equipped the scholars with the raw material from which they formulated and systematised various aspects of Ismaʿili beliefs and practices. It is detailing these lost sources and highlighting their role in enabling us to make sense of early Shiʿite literary activities that this talk will be primarily concerned.
Speaker: Dr Kumail Rajani is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. He is the recipient of the Post Doctoral Writing Fellowship from the British Institute for Libyan and Northern African Studies (BILNAS). Though primarily focused on the origins and development of hadith corpora, his research includes Islamic law, legal theory, and Shiʿi studies more broadly. He recently published an article entitled “Between Qum and Qayrawān: Unearthing early Shii ḥadīth sources” (BSOAS 84/3, 2021). He also edited The Sound Traditions: Studies in Ismaili Texts and Thought (Brill, 2021) and co-edited Shiʿite Legal Theory: Sources and Commentaries (forthcoming, 2022). He is currently working on converting his PhD (Making Sense of Ismaili Traditions: The Modes and Meanings of the Transmission of Ḥadīth in the Works of al-Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān (d. 363/974), Exeter) into a monograph, among other pursuits. Rajani spent a number of years in Shiʿite seminary (Ḥawza) of Qum studying and teaching classical Islamic texts of ḥadīth, fiqh and Islamic legal theory.
Title: ‘Anglo-Libyan Relations in the 20th Century’ by Rupert Wieloch
Date Delivered: Tuesday 29 March 2022
Description: This talk discusses how Britain’s policy of non-interference in Libya was tested by the Italo-Ottoman war that began in 1911 and the Sanussi invasion of Egypt in 1915. Tracing the key moments in the Anglo-Libyan relationship – from the peace dialogue between Idris as-Sanussi and Milo Talbot that paved the way for the future Defence and Security treaty, to the July 1999 rapprochement when diplomatic relations were reopened after a 15-year gap – it is argued that Britain still has an important role to play in Libya’s future peace and stability.
Speaker: Rupert Wieloch is an independent author who writes about British history and international relations. In 2011, he was a member of the Middle East Peace Process working group on arms control, when he became involved in the UN authorised operation to protect civilians in Libya. He has now written a book about the long-standing Anglo-Libyan friendship that traces its roots to the 17th century.
Title: ‘Shālla as a Site of Royal Presence: Constructing the Sultanic Image in Fourteenth-Century Morocco’ by Péter T Nagy
Date Delivered: Tuesday 22 February 2022
Description: The funerary complex located at the picturesque site of Shālla, Rabat, is generally known as the main burial ground of the Marīnid dynasty between 1284 and 1354, and thus construed as one of the main monuments from the period. This lecture traces the buildings’ development, presenting the results of an archaeological investigation, while also examining the patrons’ political motives.
It emerges that, by modifying and expanding the complex, the sultans were equally conscious of elevating their own image, on which the site’s operation and perception, as recorded by contemporary authors, shed ample light. The overarching argument highlights how the Marīnid sultans’ presence, whether physical or metaphorical, at Shālla contributed to its popularity at the time.
Speaker: Péter Nagy studied Arabic, Islamic art, and archaeology, and completed his DPhil at the University of Oxford (2021). His main interests include the architectural history of the Maghrib, on which he has published several articles; his doctoral thesis investigates the site of Shālla (Rabat) and its royal funerary complex. In addition, he also works on the European reception of Islamic architecture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Title: ‘Garamantian Pottery: Change and Exchange in an Inter-Regional Perspective’ by Maria Carmela Gatto
Date Delivered: Tuesday 25 January 2022
Description: This talk focuses on a lesser known aspect of Garamantian material culture: handmade pottery of local manufacture. It will consider the ceramic evidence from both the Wadi al-Ajal, the heartland of the Garamantes, where the University of Leicester extensively worked, and the Wadi Tanzzuft, where the Sapienza University of Rome worked in the same years as Leicester. The analysis assesses technological traits of the Garamantian pottery across a broad time span including the first millennia BC and AD. Chronological and spatial variations within Garamantian pottery, as well as comparisons with previous and contemporary ceramic productions from the same region and elsewhere across the Greater Sahara, are discussed in the attempt of tracking the timing and directionality of technological change and exchange and its social meaning.
Speaker: Maria Carmela Gatto is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. She is the PI of the BORDERSCAPE Project: “Egyptian state formation and the changing socio-spatial landscape of the First Nile Cataract region in the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE”, funded by the Polish National Research Centre, and the co-director of the Aswan-Kom Ombo Archaeological Project in Egypt. For many years she has contributed to the investigation of Garamantian culture in the Libyan Sahara, first as a member of the Italian Mission of the Sapienza University of Rome in southwestern Fezzan and then as an ERC Research Associate for the Trans-SAHARA Project at the University of Leicester, directed by David Mattingly.
Title: The Society Annual Lecture: ‘Always on the Edge? The Spaces of North African History’ by Prof. James McDougall
Date Delivered: Tuesday 14 December, 2021
Description: Mauretania Tingitana was the furthest southwest periphery of the Roman Mediterranean; jazirat al-maghrib was a ‘peninsula’ connecting Egypt to al-Andalus; the Sahara was ‘the second face of the Mediterranean’, with North Africa as a corridor between the seas of water and sand through which successive ‘waves’ of colonisers simply passed. For much of its past, especially as outsiders have seen it, North Africa’s place in the world and in world history has been marginal by definition. Alternatively, seen as an ‘edge’, a ‘junction’, a ‘crossroads’ or a ‘hinge’ – between the Arab world and Africa, Africa and Europe, ‘Europe’ and ‘Islam’ – the Maghrib has been seen as a central articulating point, geopolitically and intellectually situated on the fault-lines of civilisations from the Habsburgs and the Ottomans through to Frontex and Daesh. Thinking through and beyond these tropes, how might a spatial history of North Africa look, and how might it help us see the region as the centre-point of its own past?
Speaker: Professor James McDougall is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Trinity College Oxford.
His research addresses several related thematic and geographical fields, mainly in the period since c. 1700: the modern and contemporary Mediterranean; Middle Eastern, African and Islamic history, especially Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, but also the history of European imperialism in the Arab world, modern Arab intellectual and political history, and the global history of Islam since c.1700; the French colonial empire in Africa; the Sahara; nationalism and revolutionary movements in Asia and Africa; comparative imperial history; historiography and critical theory.
His research interests are in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, African, and modern Islamic history, especially modern and contemporary North Africa; and modern France and the French colonial empire (18th-20th cents.). His first work focused on the intersection of Islamic modernism and nationalist politics in colonial Algeria, and he continues to work on colonial and contemporary North African, and especially Algerian, history and politics.
Prof McDougall also has a broader interest in the social, political, and intellectual history of the Arab world, and especially in Arabic/Islamic conceptions of history.
Title: ‘Micro-regional Urbanism in Roman North Africa’ by Dr Paul Scheding
Date Delivered: Tuesday 9 November, 2021
Description: During the second century CE, North Africa experienced a significant economic growth. As a result, the African communities erected all kinds of monumental buildings in their cities and settlements. The local elites, who were responsible for enhancing cityscapes with monuments, were also deeply involved in agricultural production in the respective territories, although there was a considerable degree of variation in the conditions of land use, organization of production, and administration across North Africa. The question is: what was the impact of the “local ecosystems” on public benefactions and elite patronage? Furthermore, did architecture and urbanism reflect the needs of the local elites? What were the main factors that influenced the conception of architecture and urbanism in a particular region? The focus of this talk is on the large number of small cities in the hinterland of Roman Carthage and their relationship to different estates. Using the example of Carthage’s pertica and the “boom” of the late second century CE, the paper will discuss how agricultural organization and socio-economic development influenced cityscapes in this micro-region.
Speaker: Dr Paul Scheding is assistant professor at the Department of Classical Archaeology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. He has undertaken extensive field research and fieldwork in Tunisia for more than ten years, particularly at Simitthus (Chemtou) and Meninx (Djerba). He is currently carrying out an excavation project at Terracina, south of Rome, to investigate the local monuments’ Hellenistic features. An expert of ancient urbanism, micro-urbanism, and architecture, he has published a range of papers on these topics and a monograph on “Urbaner Ballungsraum im römischen Nordafrika” (Reichert Verlag, 2019).
Title: ‘The Ottoman-Italian War of 1911-12: Conflict and Consequences’ by Prof Benjamin C. Fortna (University of Arizona).
Date Delivered: Tuesday 26 October 2021
Description: Reflecting on the Ottoman-Italian War in North Africa of 1911-12 in light of its consequences for the Ottoman Empire and the wider Islamic world. Although the Ottomans had to abandon the fight against the Italians due to the Balkan Wars, the “Trablusgarb War” had consequences that reached well beyond the relatively short duration of the conflict.
Speaker: Benjamin C. Fortna is Professor and Director of the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona and formerly Professor of the History of the Middle East, SOAS, University of London. His research focuses on the history of the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic. His publications include The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2016), Childhood in the Late Ottoman Empire and After, ed. (Brill, 2016), Learning to Read in the Late Ottoman Empire and the Early Turkish Republic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and Imperial Classroom: Islam, Education and the State in the Late Ottoman Empire (Oxford University Press, 2002).
Jointly hosted with the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA)
Title: ‘Late Ottoman Period Libya in the Age of Reforms (1835-1912)’ by Dr Odile Moreau (Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier III)
Date Delivered: Thursday 30 September, 2021
Description: Shedding light on the interrelationships between the provinces that today constitute ‘Libya’ and the Ottoman Empire, as they developed during the late Ottoman period, in the Age of Reforms, after the promotion of the Tanzîmât, from 1835 to 1912. Particular attention is paid to the reframing and the evolution of Ottoman – ‘Libyan’ relationships and interactions at the time of the ‘Question d’Orient’ (The Eastern Question).
Speaker: Dr. Odile Moreau is a lecturer at Paul-Valéry University, Montpellier III. A Turkish speaker, she has devoted much of her career to the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. She has notably published The Ottoman Empire in the Age of Reforms, 1826-1914 (Paris-Istanbul, IFEA-Maisonneuve & Larose, collection: Past ottoman, Present turk, 2007, translated into Turkish).
Jointly hosted with the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA)
Title: ‘The Little Ice Age in the Southeast Mediterranean and Southern Southwest Asia’ by Prof Chris O. Hunt
Date Delivered: Tuesday 8 June, 2021
Description: Climatic changes during the Little Ice Age in Northern Libya, Tunisia, Southern Jordan and the Persian Gulf led to severe drought across the region with approximately halving of rainfall, especially during the 17th Century AD, although rainfall stayed low until the 19th Century. The droughts seem to have been sufficient to cause the collapse of ancient floodwater-farming systems in Tripolitania and the resulting food shortages led to cannibalism in Benghazi and some other Libyan cities. Malnourished refugees hid in caves in the Cyrenaican countryside, leading to a distinctive archaeology. Rare catastrophic rainfall was associated with the general drought, causing enormous but short-lived floods across the region.
Speaker: Chris O. Hunt FGS FRGS FSA is Professor of Biological & Environmental Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University. He is a Geoarchaeologist and Archaeopalynologist who has specialised in human-environment relationships over a 40-year career, during which he has done research in many countries around the Mediterranean, in the tropics and temperate zone.
He first worked in Libya as part of the UNESCO Libyan Valleys Survey, and has worked with Graeme Barker and Tim Reynolds on the Haua Fteah and its landscape in NE Libya since 2006 and at Shanidar Cave in Iraq since 2014. He was a Committee member of the Society for Libyan Studies (2009-2011). He was an editor of Journal of Micropalaeontology and Journal of Archaeological Science before starting Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports with Andy Howard in 2015.
In a peripatetic academic career, Chris first taught at Sheffield University, then had spells at CCAT in Cambridge, Royal Holloway, University of Huddersfield and Queens University Belfast before his current post as Head of Geography at Liverpool John Moores University. He has been visiting lecturer at the universities of Bucharest, Addis Ababa and Malta.
Chris has published five monographs and 239 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, including 20 articles in the Libyan Studies journal. A recent jointly-authored monograph is on ancient Maltese environments and human impacts (Temple Landscapes: Fragility, change and resilience of Holocene environments in the Maltese Islands. Cambridge, McDonald Institute Monographs. 569pp. https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.59611).
Title: ‘Resilient Past Water Management in the Near East and North Africa’ by Dr Louise Rayne
Date Delivered: Tuesday 11 May 2021.
Description: Dr Louise Rayne explores the past development of water management in the context of future sustainability. She will discuss oasis case studies from Morocco, Libya and Iraq. Oases are environments created as a result of long-term, human-environment interactions but are vulnerable to human adaptability to changes (environmental, social, political). Although traditional methods of irrigation have been seen as sustainable, archaeological evidence for this is needed. Dr Rayne is following an interdisciplinary methodology using satellite imagery, archived data and fieldwork to map the traces of past water management features. She is collaborating with scholars Dr Lamin Abdulaati, Dr Muftah AlHaddad (Libya) and Dr Jaafar Jotheri (Iraq) on case studies funded by the Society for Libyan Studies (SLS) and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI).
Speaker: Dr Louise Rayne is a Research Fellow at the School of History, Classics & Archaeology at Newcastle University. She gained her PhD in Geography and Archaeology from Durham University, in 2015. Before starting her NUAcT fellowship she worked for the Endangered Archaeology project at the University of Leicester (2015-2020) using satellite imagery to monitor archaeological sites in the Middle East and North Africa. While doing this work, she realised that the remains of ancient irrigation are fast being destroyed by modern agriculture and that they urgently need recording before their potential for informing future resilience is lost. Therefore, for her fellowship she is now researching the development of water management in oases in the Sahara and investigating how this could inform future sustainability.
Title: From Ohio to Cyrenaica: Libyan Archaeological Heritage Matters – A General Account of Recent Archaeological Activities of a Libyan Archaeologist by Dr Ahmad Emrage
Date Delivered: Tuesday 6 April, 2021
Description: This talk outlines the academic and field archaeological activities that Libyan archaeologist Dr Ahmad Emrage of Benghazi University has conducted since September 2019 until the present time. This includes a summary of his experience as a Fulbright visitor professor to the USA, where he taught two semesters on Libyan archaeological heritage to students of Oberlin College in Ohio. This lecture also incorporates a general account of the archaeological works, including excavations, surveys and awareness programmes that Dr Emrage supervised and participated in, at different locations in Cyrenaica, in cooperation with national, British and American institutions from October 2020 until now.
Speaker: Dr Ahmad S M Emrage is an Assistant Professor at the University of Benghazi’s Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts. He holds a BA and an MA in Archaeology from University of Benghazi. In 2014, he completed a PhD at the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester.
In addition to his work with the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East & North Africa (EAMENA) project, Emrage has been a team member of another CPF project ‘Training in Action.’ In August 2019, Ahmad was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach two courses about Libyan cultural heritage at Oberlin College, Ohio.
Ahmad has extensive experience in field archaeological survey and excavation. He has participated in and directed a number of excavations in Libya, such as the training excavations of the University of Benghazi in Tocra, the final seasons of Cambridge University’s excavations in the prehistoric cave of Haua Fteah and the training excavations of the University of Muhammad bin Ali Al-Sanousi at Cyrene. He is interested in landscape archaeology and rural Roman sites in Libya.
In recent years, Ahmad has been focusing on the protection of Libyan cultural heritage through teaching, and inviting colleagues from the Department of Antiquities to teach archaeology students on how to document, evaluate, monitor and protect archaeological sites and artifacts through the use of modern techniques.
Title: ‘The Djbel Bani Archaeology Project (Morocco): Current Research and Future Prospects’ by Youssef Bokbot & Sam Nixon
Date Delivered: Friday 19 March 2021.
Description: This presentation provides a summary account of current work being undertaken within the Djbel Bani Archaeology Project, a collaborative project in the Moroccan pre-Sahara led by a Moroccan-British team.
The project features multiple strands of research, including investigating the evolution and nature of early pre-Saharan oases, networks of trade and metallurgical production, and regional and trans-regional migration.
A key focus of the project research presented here is work at the urban ruins and metalworking complex of Tamdult, recorded within Arabic sources from the 9th century AD as a fortified town in proximity to a silver mine. A further key strand of the project presented is an overview of the varied prehistoric and protohistoric archaeology within the regional landscape, including a range of funerary monuments and other large-scale monumental remains. Also presented is the project’s developing work collaborating on a range of cultural heritage initiatives linked to the archaeology being investigated.
The research presented here has been funded and supported by the Max Van Berchem Foundation, the Society of Libyan Studies, the British Institute in Eastern Africa, the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, and the Governor’s Office, Tata Region.
Speakers: Dr Sam Nixon
Curator and Head of the Africa Section at the British Museum
Sam Nixon is a Curator and Head of the Africa Section, in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the British Museum, London, UK. He is also a Research Associate at the University of East Anglia. Previously he held research positions at the University of East Anglia and UCL, including as an ERC Postdoctoral Researcher and as a Wenner-Gren Fellow. His research focuses on the medieval and early modern period in West Africa and the Sahara, including a distinct focus on trade and exchange networks. In addition to his collaboration on the Djbel Bani Archaeological Project, his prior archaeological research has included work on projects in Mali and the Republic of Benin.
Professor Youssef Bokbot
Department of Prehistory at the National Institute for Archaeological Sciences and Heritage
Youssef Bokbot is a Professor in the Department of Prehistory at the National Institute for Archaeological Sciences and Heritage, Morocco (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine: INSAP). His research focuses on the prehistory and protohistory of the Maghreb and the Sahara, with research interests including funerary, settlement, and landscape archaeology. He has initiated, led and collaborated on a number of archaeological research projects in a wide range of regions throughout Morocco. In addition to his work on the Djbel Bani Archaeological Project, his current research projects include a collaboration on The Middle Draa Project together with British archaeologists.
Title: ‘National Belonging and Everyday Nationhood in the Age of Globalization: An Account of Global Flows in 21st Century Libya’, by Alice Alunni
Date Delivered: Tuesday 09 February 2021.
Description: This talk presents a study that explores the relation between national belonging, everyday nationhood and globalization in Libya. By combining Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper’s relational and processual approach to the study of nationalism with Arjun Appadurai’s framework of ‘global cultural flows’, it aims to understand the role of globalization in shaping everyday practices of nationhood and the individual’s sense of belonging to a nation in relation to nationalism as a political ideology and everyday phenomenon.
The main focus of the study is on the change unleashed by the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) revolution from the 1990s onwards, and how this and the flows of Libyan people in and out the country affected the way the political elite, civil society and diaspora imagined the nation in the twenty-first century, before and in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution
Speaker: Alice Alunni is an independent researcher and development consultant. Alice holds a Ph.D. in Government and International Affairs from Durham University and an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She advises governments, NGOs, private sector and research institutes on peace and security in the MENA and Gulf regions, and particularly in Libya. Her expertise includes peacebuilding, political transitions, civil society and diaspora with a focus on participatory approaches to research and programming.
Title: ‘Lepcis Magna, the City of White Stone: Shaping and Perceiving Ancient Urban Spaces’ by Niccolò Mugnai
Date Delivered: Tuesday 19 January 2021.
Description: Lepcis Magna (Leptis Magna) is well known for the magnificence of its ancient monuments. While past studies engaged at length with the Severan building projects, recent research is now focusing on the earlier phases. This presentation looks at the visibility of Lepcis’ public edifices and how people in antiquity approached, lived, and experienced them, as the cityscape evolved from Augustus to the Antonines. Attention is paid to the role of private and public patronage, highlighting how social status was showcased through the buildings’ layout and their architectural, sculptural, and epigraphic apparatuses.
Speaker: Niccolò Mugnai is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford, and a Research Member of Common Room at Wolfson College (2020-23). Prior to this appointment, he held a Rome Fellowship and a Residential Research Fellowship at the British School at Rome (2017-19) and an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship at the University of Leicester (2016), where he undertook his doctoral studies (2011-16). His principal research interests encompass the archaeology and history of North Africa, Greco-Roman architecture, architectural ornament and urbanism, Mediterranean civilizations and material culture. Niccolò is Assistant Director of the Society for Libyan Studies.
Title: ‘Desert Landmarks? Rethinking State and Society in the Ancient Sahara’ by David Mattingly
Date Delivered: Thursday 3 December 2020.
Description: This lecture, delivered as part of the Society’s first virtual annual address, celebrates the completion of publication of the four volumes of the Trans-Saharan Archaeology series, published jointly by the Society for Libyan Studies and Cambridge University Press.
Speaker: David Mattingly is an archaeologist and historian of the Roman world. He is currently Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Leicester. Following his BA in History at the University of Manchester, David completed a PhD under the supervision of Professor Barri Jones. He was a British Academy Post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford (1986-1989), then Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, before coming to Leicester in December 1991 as a Lecturer. Promoted to Reader (1995) and Professor (1998), Prof Mattingly held a British Academy Research Readership award from 1999-2001, was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2003 and Member of the Academia Europaea in 2013. He was Director of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Law (2009-2012) and held a major research grant from the European Research Council (2011-2017) for the Trans-Sahara Project.