Madina Thiam

Award Information

2018 IDRF Program

HistoryUniversity of California / Los Angeles

Writing, Walking, Webbing the World: Travels, Thought, and Global Echoes from the Modern Western Sahel

I explore the global intellectual and socio-political impact of human movement in and out of a small area of land within the Western Sahel region of Africa, in present-day Mali, from the late-18th through the mid-20th centuries. I center my narrative around the trajectories and portraits of three types of individuals from the region. First, I follow West African Muslims enslaved in the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade, focusing on the late 18th through mid-19th centuries. Second, I track the trajectories of pilgrims who traveled eastwards across the Sahara desert from West Africa towards the Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina, and eventually settled in the East African Sudan, in the mid-19th through 20th centuries. Lastly, I examine traders who built and relied on economic, political, and religious networks spreading across Northwest Africa in the 20th century. In this time period, the Western Sahel gained a remarkable intellectual and socio-political influence on a global scale. This global influence was rooted in the circulation of humans, ideas, and goods in and out of the region, rather than achieved through political domination or socioeconomic oppression over other areas. Establishing the scope and depth of this influence helps better understand the connections between places seldom studied in conjunction, such as Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and Kingston, Jamaica. As such, tracking the footsteps, words, and trajectories of ordinary African women and men from that region highlights the interconnectedness, and better explains the spread, of four phenomena which have shaped the modern world: the expansion of spiritual and political Islam; global racial capitalism; European imperialism; and the formation of West African diasporas across the Atlantic ocean, Sahara desert, Mediterranean, and Red Sea. Research for this project lies on family and state archives; oral histories; and personal narratives. It will take place in Mali, Senegal, Sudan, France, and Jamaica, and be conducted in Bamanankan, Frenc