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An Archaeology of Power: The Use of Fortifications in Desert Spaces since Roman Times

Thursday 28 February 2019, 5.00PM

Speaker(s): Berny Sèbe (Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, University of Birmingham)

Desert spaces have often been a blind spot of colonial endeavours, metaphorically, practically and historiographically. Yet, for all the apparent lack of attractiveness of these expanses of ‘wind, sand and stars’, as St-Exupéry defined them, empires from Alexander the Great to the twentieth century have frequently sought to expand into arid regions. In doing so, conquering powers had to devise a set of strategies of conquest and administration in order to control nomadic populations (elusive by definition), and to assert their power symbolically and in practice. Faced with different notions of authority, most of which were based on mobility rather than the fixed nature of Westphalian states, invading administrations frequently used fortifications as a way of upholding their control of arid spaces. In so doing, they often recycled and adapted approaches inherited from the Roman concept of limes. This paper explores the genealogy of desert fortifications, considering the case-studies of the North African Sahara and the Central Asian Steppe. (More information about the project on

A Medievalism and Imperial Modernity research strand event. Co-organized with the York Asia Research Network.

Location: BS/008, Berrick Saul Building

Admission: All welcome