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  • Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900 by Julia Clancy-Smith
  • James Mokhiber
Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900. By julia clancy-smith. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. 445 pp. $34.95 (paper); $57.95 (hard-cover); $34.95 (ebook).

In this deeply engaging and provocative work, Julia Clancy-Smith examines the significance of accelerating nineteenth-century population movements from the European Mediterranean rim and islands to the formerly forbidding southern shore—an area of increasing contact and exchange that she defines as the “central Mediterranean corridor.”

Rather than focus on the better-known and larger flows of migrants within this zone—those moving into expanding colonial Algeria following the French invasion in 1830—Clancy-Smith instead tracks Mediterranean migrants as they make their way to neighboring Tunisia over the roughly half century leading up to the imposition of the French protectorate in 1881.

Here she explores her longstanding concerns for social, gender, labor, and cultural history as she seeks to reconstruct the complex and transforming urban society of nineteenth-century Tunis and its environs into what she calls a “multisided historical ethnography.” Clancy-Smith details how the ruling Husaynid dynasty and those in its orbit sought to negotiate the challenges posed by the changing city and new population mobilities, against the backdrop of shifting French, British, Ottoman, and Italian power. In Clancy-Smith’s telling, diversely peopled Tunis comes to stand as a revealing “borderland” of great local historical specificity that simultaneously experiences and helps produce trans-Mediterranean changes of enduring significance. [End Page 425]

As she makes clear, a key goal of the “borderlands” approach in Mediterraneans is to interrogate too-broad categories of analysis and to problematize binary oppositions, including some sustained by generations of historiography. The chronological distinction between discrete “precolonial” and “colonial” eras in Tunisian history undergoes the clearest reconsideration in this regard, though other seemingly fundamental terms and dyads end up blurred, including “Europe(an)/North Africa(n),” “Christian/Muslim,” “premodern/modern,” and even, one may infer, “colonizer/colonized.”

Expanding upon themes contained in Clancy-Smith’s acclaimed early research into nineteenth-century smuggling and resistance on the porous Algerian and Tunisian frontier, Mediterraneans again makes the case for considering North Africa’s history in a wider frame. Indeed, the book demonstrates Clancy-Smith’s fluency in multiple scholarly literatures of interest to JWH readers, and the way she chooses her debates carefully and explicitly throughout the book will be instructive for students and scholars alike.

The ambitious scope and nature of the project plays out in the structure of the book, which seeks to establish “a latticework of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal linkages that capture the realities of multiple displacements” (p. 16). A talented stylist, Clancy-Smith organizes her chapters around the recurring idea of an “ethnographic voyage” through specific sites, brought to life through vivid prosopographies and illustrative archival fragments.

The first two chapters, whose order initially might seem inverted, set the stage for the wider argument. The first, titled “Arrival: Tunis the ‘Well-Protected,’” begins by mapping the geographical and social spaces of the port town of La Goulette, including quarantine and customs houses, through which new arrivals might pass on the way to Tunis itself. Her spatial analysis continues in the Tunis medina, where Clancy-Smith sets out the socioreligious arrangement of neighborhoods, the gendering of public spaces, the “sartorial politics” of the street, and the changing, layered language environment. It introduces the cosmopolitan Husaynid dynasty, itself imported from the Ottoman east and long sustained by mamluks taken from throughout the empire, as well as the sites from which they projected their power. The chapter links the Husaynids with long-term “European” expatriate residents—a group Clancy-Smith identifies collectively as “creoles” (in the Atlanticist sense)—who often were the recipients of beylical patronage, due to their technical skills, business interests, or position in the consular corps.

The second chapter, “Detours: Migrations in a Wider World,” steps [End Page 426] back to examine the forces propelling changes in nineteenth-century migration patterns, and asks how North Africa came to be transformed from “dangerous Barbary...


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