Cultures of Commerce and Law across the Sahara

AHA Session 125
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Armitage Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Ghislaine Lydon, University of California, Los Angeles
Ghislaine Lydon, University of California, Los Angeles

Session Abstract

This panel seeks to explore commercial, intellectual, and legal relationships across the Sahara in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It investigates the differences between interpretation of Islamic law by policy-makers and scholars and actual practices through an examination of policy debates and commercial practices in the Sahara and its “shores”. As Ghislaine Lydon, John Hunwick, David Robinson, Ralph Austen, and Ann McDougall among others, have demonstrated, the Sahara has long been a crossroads of commercial and intellectual exchange. Events and developments in the region have impacted those within the Sahara and on both “shores”.  Islam, especially the Mālikī school of law practiced in the region, provided a uniting reference point that crossed language, cultural, and ethnic cleavages.  Yet, while Islam provided a common framework, Islamic law and practice were open to interpretation. This is demonstrated by Jennifer Lofkrantz who explores an intellectual disagreement within the founding family of the Sokoto Caliphate which affected policy and the treatment of captives. Often, Muslim traders, intellectuals, and policy-makers were related and their activities and opinions informed and were informed by the other. This can be seen clearly in the proposals of Bruce Hall and Ann McDougall.  Adding to the discourse on proper commercial practice was the issue of slavery as explored by Yacine Daddi Addoun. He demonstrates the role of slaves as commercial actors as well the debate on their proper role in trading networks. This session will appeal to those interested in both African and Islamic history.

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