[P6392] Deserts as Archives Part 1

Created by Brahim El Guabli
Tuesday, 11/30/21 11:30 am


Deserts in our collective imagination evoke annihilation and death. Libyan novelist Ibrahim al-Koni captured this in stating that the “desert is not a place” because its very existence defies the ordinary notion of place. Engaging with ideas of both annihilation and “placelessness” of the desert, this two-session panel will examine the archival dimensions of deserts across the world, with a special focus on the Sahara. Although human life in deserts may be harsher compared to other spaces, the desertic space is home to infinite layers of existence that undergird its archivist potential. From the Libyco-Berber script engravings in the al-ṣaḥrā’ al-kubrā and the discovery of the 5000-year-old pottery in the Chinese desert to the shifting migrant trails in Sonora and the Sahara, desert archives are stable and malleable, ephemeral and ethereal. The stability of rocks and ruins is contrasted by the aerial movement of nuclear particles and the erasable traces of migratory paths on the sand. Thus, unlike any other archive, desert archive is both expandable and self-erasing. It encompasses (ir)retrievable experiences of past and present enforced labor, state brutality, border fencing, and exile. The papers in these interdisciplinary sessions endeavor to theorize and conceptualize deserts’ archival potential, beyond accepted notions of archives and archiving practices.

The five papers in the first panel address: 1) the desert archive through indigenous epistemologies and temporalities, 2) the desert archive as an afterlife of French nuclear tests, 3) desert archives as a locus for historical contestation and rewriting of French colonial history in the Maghreb, 4) and the desert as an archive for routes of human mobility and exposure to violence, and finally 5) the shifting encampments of racialized migrant workers in the Mauritanian desert and their reflection of power structures in the country. The five papers in the second panel will examine: 1) the Sahara as a contemporary archive for the linguistic landscape of cities like Tamanrasset, Agadez, and Kidal, 2) the 1930s writings of Odette du Puigaudeau and Marion Sénone as a historical source about lesbian explorers of the desert, 3) written and oral reconstructions of trajectories of slaves and freed slaves in a Saharan governorate in Tunisia, 4) the pressures of literary markets and their impact on the archival orature of the Sahara, and finally 5) desert fiction as an archive of trans-Saharan cultural and historical memory.


Anthro; Arch; Archit & Urb Plng; Art/Art Hist; Anthro; Arch; Archit & Urb Plng; Art/Art Hist; Anthro; Arch; Archit & Urb Plng; Art/Art Hist; Anthro; Arch; Archit & Urb Plng; Art/Art Hist; Anthro; Arch; Archit & Urb Plng; Art/Art Hist



Brahim El Guabli

(Williams College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer;

Itzea Goikolea-Amiano

(SOAS-University of London)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

July Blalack

(SOAS, University of London)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Paraska Tolan-Szkilnik

(University of Pennsylvania)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Leslie Gross-Wyrtzen

(Yale University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Marta Scaglioni

(University of Milano-Bicocca)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;