Review of Ghislaine Lydon’s “On Trans-Saharan Trails” by Amanda Rogers

8 July 2010

Ghislaine Lydon. On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks, and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa. Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2009. xxviii + 468 pp.
$95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-88724-3.

Reviewed by Amanda Rogers (Emory University)

Reconsidering the Sahara: An Argument for the Contact Zone Approach

Ghislaine Lydon’s “On Trans-Saharan Trails” not only fills a gap in knowledge of premodern Saharan economic history, but also bridges the cultural and historical terrains of the region in a manner relevant to a variety of disciplines. Chapter 1 introduces the central argument, presents the methodological premises, and deconstructs predominant myths plaguing the study of Saharan history. Lydon posits that Arabic literacy and Muslim religious institutional frameworks enabled the success of trans-Saharan trade despite the lack of shared currency and unified state systems, allowing for the cultivation of trust-based relationships between Muslims and Jews in a “paper economy of faith” that facilitated commercial transfers across wide distances (p. 3). The text focuses on nineteenth-century Wad Nun, a regional network of traders whose caravans circulated throughout the areas of northern and western Africa, today encompassing Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, and Morocco.

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