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Comparative Deserts Conference

Thu, May 20th, 2021
9:30 am
- 3:30 pm

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Deserts have long acted as spaces of political tension and asymmetrical power, functioning as testing grounds for nuclear weapons, zones of indefinite detention and death, spaces of ecological disaster, and sites of geopolitical threat. The desert today continues to evoke problematic imaginaries of narcotraffickers, “illegal” immigrants, smugglers, and Islamist militias, images that have prompted justifications for policing, securitization, gridding, exploiting, and even (re)fertilizing projects in this supposedly dead space. Most recently, the flow of sub-Saharan African immigrants out of “desert space” into European territories has led many Western commentators to interpret current migrant patterns as a type of ‘encroachment’ of the Sahara, a socio-political desertification that has placed this vast land at the center of Europe socially, politically, and culturally. Yet such dialogues collectively eclipse deeper connections and exchanges that have taken root between desert inhabitants for millennia and have ignored the interplay of imperialist agendas, venture capitalist initiatives, and necropolitics (Mbembe) in the desert that have long shaped the cultural and socio-political contours of this landscape as a real and imagined space. This two-day conference, which runs on May 20-21, 2021, aims to open “the desert” up for robust comparative discussions about desert spaces across the world and across different media and modes of representation.

This virtual conference is funded by a grant from the Global Initiative Fund.  Link to full program.

Link to full list of zoom links

9:30-9:55 a.m. E.S.T. Introductory Remarks Brahim El Guabli, Assistant Professor of Arabic Studies, Williams College.  Zoom Link

10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. E.S.T. COLONIAL AND DE-COLONIAL SAHARA    Zoom Link

Chair: Michele Monserrati, Visiting Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Comparative Literature

  • The Saharan Passage: Slavery, Sugar, and Sa`di Morocco’s Invasion of the Songhai Empire (1591), Samia Errazzouki, University of California, Davis
  • A Disdain for Deserts: The Sahara Sea Project and Climatic Modification in North Africa, 85-1864, Tyson Luneau, University of Albany
  • The Tuareg Nomad Warrior: Representations of Male Bodies in the Sahara Desert in Imperial European Imaginations, Tachfine Baida, Sciences Po Bordeaux
  • Sahara as Revolutionary Subject: Tracing a Constellation of Liberation Movements across Northwest Africa in 1972, Mark Drury, Princeton University

10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. E.S.T. DESERTS IN PRISON LITERATURE    Zoom Link

Chair: Francisco Robles, Assistant Professor of English, Faculty Affiliate, Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame

  • Meant For Erasing: Drawings from the Vichy Camps of Gurs and Djelfa, Aomar Boum, University of California, Los Angeles;
  • Connecting No-Places: The Dust of Desert Prisons, Anne-Marie McManus, Forum Transregionale Studien;
  • From Sea to Waterless Sea: Archipelagic Thought and Reorientation in When the Emperor Was Divine Summer Weaver, Brigham Young University;
  • The Deir ez-Zor Desert as a Site for Trauma Transmission Among Syrian Armenians Hasmik Tovmasyan, University of Calgary


Chair: Jill Jarvis, Assistant Professor of French, Yale University

  • Extraction as Desertification in Exterranean Morocco, David Fieni, SUNY Oneonta;
  • Desert memory in Mokeddem’s Fiction: The Necessary Nomadism of Words, Amina Zarzi, University of Birmingham:
  • Mouloud Mammeri’s « Ténéré atavique », the Desert as an Experience of Transgressing Geographical and Ontological Borders Ninon Vessie, Emory University;
  • Le Plateau du Tademaït’s Epistemic Phenomena Kevin Hickey, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences


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