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Resurrecting the Granary of Rome

Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in North Africa

Diana K. Davis

Publication Year: 2007

Tales of deforestation and desertification in North Africa have been told from the Roman period to the present. Such stories of environmental decline in the Maghreb are still recounted by experts and are widely accepted without question today. International organizations such as the United Nations frequently invoke these inaccurate stories to justify environmental conservation and development projects in the arid and semiarid lands in North Africa and around the Mediterranean basin. Recent research in arid lands ecology and new paleoecological evidence, however, do not support many claims of deforestation, overgrazing, and desertification in this region.

Diana K. Davis’s pioneering analysis reveals the critical influence of French scientists and administrators who established much of the purported scientific basis of these stories during the colonial period in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, illustrating the key role of environmental narratives in imperial expansion. The processes set in place by the use of this narrative not only systematically disadvantaged the majority of North Africans but also led to profound changes in the landscape, some of which produced the land degradation that continues to plague the Maghreb today.

Resurrecting the Granary of Rome exposes many of the political, economic, and ideological goals of the French colonial project in these arid lands and the resulting definition of desertification that continues to inform global environmental and development projects. The first book on the environmental history of the Maghreb, this volume reframes much conventional thinking about the North African environment. Davis’s book is essential reading for those interested in global environmental history.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Content and List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xv

This book explores the environmental history of the Maghreb and argues that it is really only a story—a story first told early in the period of French occupation to facilitate colonial rule. The need for this work became apparent to me during my initial period of research in Morocco from 1995 to 1996, ...

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1: Imperial Stories and Empirical Evidence

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pp. 1-15

THE ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY of North Africa is a sad tale of deforestation and desertification that has spanned much of the past two millennia. This history of environmental decline has been recounted so often by so many that it is widely accepted without question today. Yet recent paleoecological evidence and ...

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2: Nature, Empire, and Narrative Origins, 1830‒48

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pp. 16-44

NORTH AFRICA WAS WELL KNOWN to many in France, and in Europe more generally, long before the conquest of Algiers in July 1830. Travelers’ accounts, missionary stories, consul reports, scholarly readings of the Greek and Roman classics, and commercial contacts had all provided various forms of information about ...

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3: Idealism, Capitalism, and the Development of the Narrative, 1848‒70

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pp. 45-88

WHEN ALGERIA WAS OFFICIALLY MADE A PART of France in 1848, the French government definitively committed to colonization. The focus of debates surrounding Algeria changed from arguments for or against colonization to how best to administer and govern the territory. Over the next two decades, leading up to ...

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4: The Triumph of the Narrative, 1870‒1918

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pp. 89-130

THE FALL OF NAPOLÉON III’S SECOND EMPIRE thrilled the settlers and the civilian administration in Algeria. The Third Republic that was born in France in 1870 was very supportive of the settlers and their goals. The new French government helped to crush the Algerian Insurrection of 1871–72 and allowed the subsequent ...

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5: Narrative, Science, Policy, and Practice, 1919 to Independence

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pp. 131-164

BY 1912, THE FRENCH had completed their conquest of the Maghreb with the acquisition of Morocco. As they had done in their occupation of Tunisia in 1881, they carried the colonial declensionist environmental narrative with them to the new protectorate. Unlike Algeria, both new territories were governed as protectorates ...

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6: Decolonization, the Colonial Narrative, and Environmental Policy Today

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pp. 165-176

THE SPURIOUS COLONIAL STORY of North Africa’s long environmental decline at the hands of the “natives” informed and motivated much of the French venture in the Maghreb for over a hundred years. This declensionist narrative incorrectly blamed the North Africans, and especially pastoralists, for deforesting and desertifying ...

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A Note on the Geography and Ecology of the Maghreb

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pp. 177-186

THE MAGHREB IS UNIQUE among North African regions because of its extended areas of elevation and its northerly latitude.1 Due in part to these attributes, the Maghreb receives more precipitation than the other countries in North Africa, Libya and Egypt, and consequently enjoys a larger proportion of arable land. ...

Notes

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pp. 187-262

Bibliography

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pp. 263-288

Index

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pp. 289-296


E-ISBN-13: 9780821443644
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821417522

Publication Year: 2007