Land of Thirst, Land of Fear: A History of Water in the Sahara from Empire to Oil


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project sketches out a topography of the knowledge, lived experiences, thwarted ambitions, and interrupted lives embedded in a desert as much misapprehended as mysterious. Relying on sources in Arabic and French in four countries, it draws on environmental and narrative history methods to trace the genesis of competing representations and contested policies surrounding water in the Sahara. From attempts at defining the desert that differed dramatically in Arabic and French to conflicts over the petrochemical or nuclear uses of the Sahara, water emerged at the center of images, plans, and implemented policies. A history of water provides a lens that focuses disparate experiences and interpretations, bringing into view conflicting imperatives of imperial and Saharan denizens.