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Ghislaine Lydon


Contact Information

Email    lydon@history.ucla.edu
Office  7248 Bunche Hall
Phone  310-825-4214
Recently I completed a study of the history of trans-Saharan trade in nineteenth-century Western Africa.

This work examines the organization of long-distance trade from the point of view of the logistics and the strategies that caravaners employed to outfit and launch regional and trans-Saharan caravans in a large region encompassing present-day Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and the Western Sahara.

Currently, I am working on two research projects. The first is a book tentatively entitled "Contracting Trust: Paper, Literacy and the Law in the History of Muslim Africa." It examines the impact of literacy and writing paper in the organization of early modern and modern Muslim and non-Muslim economies. This is a broad study that begins with a history of the production and use of paper in world history, and goes on to consider how legal institutions and commercial literacy shaped ‘paper economies.’ Depending on the religious frameworks and legal cultures supporting these institutions, they experienced different economic development outcomes. The second project, tentatively entitled "The Evolution of Women's Rights in Muslim West Africa,” is a study of legal culture and patterns of judicial rulings in Senegal and Mauritania, with some comparative research in other parts of Muslim Africa. Working with French colonial archives, including those of the Tribunal Musulman in Saint-Louis (Senegal), and local Mauritanian legal sources, I am studying how Muslim African women carved out spaces of power by using both colonial and local institutions of the law in the nineteenth century, and following these developments to uncover how and why certain groups of women experienced an erosion of their rights in the course of the early twentieth century.


Ph.D. (History) Michigan State University & BA (African Studies) McGill University.


Winner of the Martin A. Klein Prize in African History at the 125th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Boston for On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Selected Publications


On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

The maps in this book were beautifully crafted by Don Pirius of Cartographic Services.

This book explores the history of trans-Saharan trade in western Africa in the nineteenth century. It treats the Sahara as a bridge that connected peoples across the continent. This is the first study of its kind to document the history and organization of trans-Saharan trade in western Africa using original source material. It examines the internal dynamics of a trade network system based on a case-study of the Wad Nun traders who specialized in outfitting camel caravans in the nineteenth century. Through an examination of contracts, correspondence, fatwas, and interviews with retired caravaners, Lydon shows how traders used their literacy skills in Arabic and how they had recourse to experts of Islamic law to regulate their long-distance transactions. The book also considers the methods employed by women participating in caravan trade. By embracing a continental approach, this study bridges the divide between West African and North African studies. The work will be of interest to students of African, Middle Eastern, and world history and to scholars of long-distance trade, Muslim societies, and legal cultures.

Co-Edited Volume:
With Graziano Kratli, The Trans-Saharan Book Trade: Arabic Literacy, Manuscript Culture, and Intellectual History in Islamic Africa (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

Research Articles

"Die Saharischen Schulen in der Geschichte Mauretaniens" (Saharan Schools in the History of Mauritania), Kathrin Moller, trans. INAMO: Informationsprojekt Naher und Mittlerer Osten, 2010 (61), 34-38.

" "A Paper Economy of Faith without Faith in Paper: A Reflection on Islamic Institutional History." Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 71 (2009), 647-59.

"Contracting Caravans: Partnership and Profit in Nineteenth-Century Trans-Saharan Trade." Journal of Global History , vol. 3, no. 1 (2008).

Droit islamique et droits de la femme d’après les registres du Tribunal des Musulmans de Ndar (St. Louis du Sénégal), 1850s-1920s. Canadian Journal of African Studies , vol. 41, no. 2 (2007.

Islamic Legal Culture and Slave Ownership Contests in Nineteenth-Century Sahara. International Journal of African Historical Studies vol. 40, no. 3 (2007).

Slavery, Exchange and Islamic Law: A Glimpse from the Archives of Mali and Mauritania.” African Economic History , vol. 33 (2005), 115-146.

Writing Trans-Saharan History: Methods, Sources and Interpretations across the African Divide Journal of North African Studies , Vol. 10, No. 3-4 (2005), 293-324.

“The Unraveling of a Neglected Source: Women in Francophone West Africa in the 1930s, Cahiers d’Études Africaines . Vol. 147, XXXVII (1997), 555-584.

Chapters in Books 

“A Thirst For Knowledge: Saharan Bibliophiles, Arabic Literacy and the Paper Trade,” in Kratli and Lydon (Eds.), The Trans-Saharan Book Trade: Arabic Literacy, Manuscript Culture, and Intellectual History in Islamic Africa (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

"“Obtaining Freedom at the Muslims’ Court of Ndar: Colonial Kadijustiz and Women’s Divorce Litigation in Senegal.” Shamil Jeppie, Richard Roberts and Ebrahim Moosa, Eds., Muslim Family Law in Sub-Saharan Africa: Colonial Legacies and Post-Colonial Challenges (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010), 135-164.

“The Organization of Trans-Saharan Caravan Trade in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Western Africa.” Ali Ahmida, Ed., Bridges Across the Sahara: Social, Economic Cultural impact of the Trans-Sahara Trade During the 19th and 20th Centuries (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009), 25-60.

Inkwells of the Sahara: Reflections on the Production of Islamic Knowledge in Bilad Shinqit.” In The Transmission of Learning in Islamic Africa , Scott Reese, Ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 39-71.

"“Women in Francophone West Africa in the 1930s: Unraveling a Neglected Report,” In Democracy and Development in Mali , R. James Bingen, David Robinson, John Staatz, Eds. (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000), 61-86.

“Women, Children and the Popular Front’s Missions of Inquiry in French West Africa.” In French Colonial Empire and the Popular Front , Tony Chafer & Amanda Sackur Eds. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 170-187.

“Les Péripéties d’une Institution Financière: La Banque du Sénégal 1844-1901.” In AOF: Réalités et Héritage. Sociétes Ouest-Africaines et Ordre Colonial 1895-1890 , Saliou Mbaye, Ibrahim Thioub & Charles Becker, Eds. (Dakar: Archives Nationales du Sénégal, 1997), 475-491.