Call for Papers: Symposium: “Jazīrat al-Maghrib”: North Africa as an Island

Carolyn Barnett's picture
Call for Papers
December 12, 2015
New Jersey, United States
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Anthropology, Geography, Islamic History / Studies, Middle East History / Studies

Graduate Student Symposium: “Jazīrat al-Maghrib”: North Africa as an Island

Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

2 April 2016


Keynote Speaker: Julia Clancy-Smith, University of Arizona


Jazīrat al-Maghrib: North Africa as an Island is a one-day inderdisciplinary symposium organized by Princeton University's North African Studies Group to bring together graduate students and scholars in North African Studies to explore the ‘island’ as an analytical category in our field. The symposium’s impetus derives from the peculiar geographic features of this small strip of fertile land located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara, described since the ninth century as ‘jazīrat al-maghrib’ (Island of the West). Despite the term’s ancient roots, jazīrat al-maghrib still has traction in modern narratives of North Africa. Fernand Braudel labeled the Sahara Desert “the second face” of the Mediterranean, implying that the region is suspended between two seas. Brent Shaw and Philip Naylor have also made use of the ‘island’ approach to North African history, both before and after the Muslim conquests. While ubiquitous in these discussions, the term is rarely defined, conceptualized, or afforded any critical attention. Simultaneously, island studies - particularly Mediterranean island studies - is gaining traction in interdisciplinary, regional studies. Recent works in the field have attempted to complicate notions of ‘isolation’ and ‘insularity’ in how they describe the reality and complexity of islands. To this end, scholars have argued that islands are consistently defined by forces that promote both isolation and connectedness.


Our symposium seeks to explore these tensions as they relate to North Africa – conceptualizing, scrutinizing, and problematizing the island as a possible analytical lens. We will engage with these questions through the idea of jazīrat al-maghrib hoping to extend our dialogue in a meaningful way towards trans-historical, trans-geographical, and trans-cultural studies.


We invite interested graduate students and junior scholars to submit abstracts focusing on, but not limited to, the following areas:


  • How do we define the ‘island’ as an analytical category in North African studies? What are the benefits and detriments of doing so? And what is at stake?

  • How is North Africa similar or different to other regions?  Can the region's ‘islandness’ help us to conduct interesting or unusual comparative analyses?

  • What are the historical, cultural, geographic or social origins of jazīrat al-maghrib?

  • How has North Africa's ‘islandness’ shaped broad political and social processes?  How has it shaped its inhabitants' conceptions of themselves vis-a-vis others?

  • Does engaging with the ‘island’ help us to transcend terms like ‘transcultural’, ‘transformative’ and ‘tolerant’?

  • How does thinking of North Africa as a distinct region affect how we understand its social, political, or economic role in the world and how other regions/countries relate to it?

  • How does the ‘island’ approach change our perspective on North Africa as a cross-road between East and West, Europe and Africa? How does this new frame affect understandings of mobility, exchange, and cultural activity and passivity?


The symposium will be divided into two parts. A morning Paper Panel will consist of three twenty-minute papers to be presented and then analyzed by a discussant, fellow panelists, and conference attendees. In the afternoon, a Works-in-Progress Workshop will bring together graduate students and junior scholar to discuss eight pre-circulated research memoranda along with the conference organizers and scholars in attendance. The symposium is intended to provide a platform for future collaborative projects with the possibility of inclusion in a published volume.


Throughout all of our panels we hope to engage with theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary debates. Therefore, we encourage submissions from a range of disciplines including, but not limited to: anthropology, sociology, history, political science, international relations, art history, women’s studies, classical and ancient studies, and other area studies.


Interested parties should submit abstracts (300-500 words) for either the Paper Panel or Works-in-Progress Workshop. Indicate “Paper Panel” or “Workshop” along with your submission. Finally, please provide your institutional affiliation and mailing address, as well as telephone number. Indicate whether a/v equipment will be needed. Deadline for abstract submission: December 12, 2015.


The paper presentations should be in English and twenty minutes in length (i.e., 10 double-spaced pages). Research memoranda should provide a 1000-1500 word summary of ongoing and/or proposed research. Accepted participants must submit these materials by March 2, 2016.


Submissions and questions should be directed towards the Princeton North African Studies Group:


Who are the Princeton North African Studies Group?


Inaugurated in September, 2014, the Princeton North African Studies Groups (PNAS) is an interdisciplinary reading group composed of Princeton University graduate students whose share a research interest in North Africa. PNAS was founded to bring together graduate students otherwise separated by departmental boundaries to discuss new scholarship and perennial issues in North African studies. Past and present PNAS members have come from a variety of disciplines: Near Eastern Studies, History, Politics, Anthropology, Art History, Comparative Literature, and History of Science. Through bi-weekly meetings, PNAS has helped to strengthen and expand its members’ approach to their own research, and to create camaraderie among future scholars of the field.


Current members include:


Peter Kitlas, President,, G2, Near Eastern Studies

Edna Bonhomme, Vice President,, G4, History

Matthew Schumann, Treasurer, Founder,, G3, Near Eastern Studies

Killian Clarke, Secretary,, G3, Politics

Joel Rozen,, G7, Anthropology

Brahim El Guabli,, G3, Comparative Literature

Carolyn Barnett,, G1, Politics

Aaron J. Stamper,, G1, History

Julian Weideman,, G1, History