Constructing the Maghrib: Demonstrating the Maghrib’s Africanity

Date & Time: Friday, November 5, 2021, 10 a.m.
Location: Coor Hall 4403 & Online

Black background with an image of the African continent on it.

Shortly after the spread of Islam across North Africa, Muslim geographers and historians began referring to sub-Saharan Africa as the “Bilad as-Sudan”, while defining themselves as “Bidan.” Muslim intellectuals developed this racial dichotomy to justify the enslavement of Africans they deemed "Black." As late as the eighteenth century, some North African scholars were still reluctant to accept the Islamic status of Muslim West Africans, some of whom had been Muslim since the eleventh century. Indeed, the trans-Saharan slave trade and racial slavery persisted in North Africa beyond the European conquest. The various European imperialists only exacerbated the old racial divide during the colonial period, as they subscribed to similar racist ideologies, despite their abolitionist rhetoric. 

During the colonial period, many North Africans made common cause with the rest of the continent in the struggle for independence, and decolonized North African states became full members of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. More importantly, North African countries participate in the African Cup of Nations every two years, and they compete with the rest of Africa for the honor of representing the continent in the World Cup every four years. FIFA aside, much of the Western media still portray the Maghrib (and North Africa more generally) as not being part of Africa, and this view is not without its supporters on both sides of the Sahara. This geographic provincialism has a deep history; the Arabic word "maghrib" means “west” and derives from the perspectives of the early caliphates, whose scholars viewed North Africa mainly from Mecca, Damascus and Baghdad. By the end of the Abbasid Caliphate in the mid-thirteenth century, Muslim map makers still had no idea that the Maghrib was only a small part of an enormous continent. The ancient Greek and Roman Empires had been similarly ignorant, and Europeans did not begin to develop a real understanding of the African continent until the sixteenth century. 

The aim of our workshop is to rethink geopolitical analyses that flow from a history of slavery and racism, to bridge the gap between traditional geographic, cultural and chronological categories that have obscured our understanding of the region.  Our project will also address issues of mapping archival silences onto slavery, race and gender across the Sahara, and envisions the possibilities of a digital archive of the trans-Saharan slave trade. This digital archive will help produce statistical data and establish ethnic designations of enslaved populations in North Africa. 

Interactive website and data:

  1. We will create a storyline from maps on trans-Saharan trade networks.
  2. We will use multiple types of content such as slavery and Hajj.
  3. The third deliverable offers images of the human geography of the region.

Digital Maghrib will explore the map collections and public domain documents on the Maghrib kept in the US.  Examples:



Welcome and introductions, 10 to 10:45 a.m.:

  1. SHPRS Director, Richard Amesbury
  2. CMS Director, Chouki El Hamel; Ed Oetting; and Skyler Bean

Panel 1, 11 a.m. to noon:

  1. Adib El Habib Bencherif
  2. Eric Ross 
  3. Zoubir Yahia
  4. Touria Khannous

Panel 2, 1 to 2 p.m.:

  1. Abdellatif Bencherifa
  2. Tim Cleaveland
  3. Yacine Daddi Addoun
  4. Julia Clancy-Smith

CMS members will participate in the Q&A.