Review of Andrea E. Duffy's Nomad’s Land: Pastoralism and French Environmental Policy in the Nineteenth-Century Mediterranean World (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019).
In a Mediterranean narrative about the demise of pastoralism, the interplay of nineteenth-century forestry and nomadic communities finds expression through French and Ottoman characters, spinning theories and politicking while quelling resistance at home and in colonial territory. Their administrative and imperial activities – as documented in private property reforms, land use policies, and the institutionalization of environmental practices based on German forest science – promoted expropriation of territory and oppression of pastoralists as Andrea E. Duffy demonstrates in her environmental history, Nomad’s Land. In this investigation of three locales (Provence in France, southwestern Anatolia in what is known today as Turkey, and northern Algeria), the twofold process of environmental policy formation and sedentarization of peripatetic peoples, including Algerian subjects eking out livelihoods under consecutive imperial regimes, becomes not simply an exercise of colonial power but rather “a negotiation, whose effects on French forestry were equally profound.” The way in which Duffy frames this twofold process – of forestry policy development and the waning of pastoralism – as a dynamic among deliberating stakeholders begs the questions: who was involved in this so-called “negotiation,” and did colonized subjects – whose voices are strangely absent in the book – apprehend imperial efforts at ecological control as dialogic?
I wonder if someone like Omar Samar, the novelist, journalist, and editor of the late nineteenth-century biweekly El Hack and later of La Bataille algérienne (Algerian Battle), conceived of such dynamics as reciprocal in their profundity too. Algerians, with the exception of one pied-noir character, appear nameless and mute in the book: this work presents them only in collective formations – communities and tribes, often with their herds and flocks, sometimes revolting against colonial rule, often suffering inequity – and proffers instead a single, token statement from an unknown “Bedouin poet” and a few fourteenth-century insights from Ibn Battuta and Ibn Khaldun as essentially the only, if not the only, voices from North Africa. And thus emerges Duffy’s Mediterranean, where the French think and rule, the Ottoman-cum-Turkish administrations adapt French ideas and like adolescents “mature,” and the nameless Algerians contend with the dispossession of their land and confiscation of their sheep. The fact that this study does not feature more material from colonial Algeria, such as the periodicals mentioned above, may evince either a methodological choice to restrict attention to imperial perspectives or an unsurmountable challenge regarding access and availability of relevant historical sources. (Though, Duffy does not seem to make a statement regarding a wish to give attention to coeval Algerian perspectives and references as she does to their French and Ottoman counterparts.)
For at least a span of centuries, mobile and sedentary ways of human habitation had complemented each other in a striking way around the Mediterranean. Following the conclusion of the Little Ice Age, the modern era ushered in French-led practices in order to regulate Mediterranean coastland environments, whose landscape features and cycles francophone discourse imbued with meanings related to declensionist narratives structured by Enlightenment, anthropocentric thinking. Such narratives depicted forested landscapes as suffering degradation due to human mismanagement and exploitation of ecosystems, narratives which “served to guide and legitimize colonial policies … and the overall subjugation of indigenous inhabitants.” The interaction between the migrating multispecies communities (known as pastoralists or transhumants, whose lexical history – as Duffy elegantly illuminates – advanced an irreconcilable ontological dichotomy between citizens and colonial subjects of France) and the forestry policies indelibly shifted the composition and nature of both institutions.
The symbiosis between nomadic and sedentary lifestyles characterized what Duffy terms “traditional Mediterranean society” in “one of the few global contexts in which mobile pastoralism and agriculture [had] flourished side by side, for so long.” Complementary practices of sedentarism and pastoralism once privileged communal access to pastures as Duffy clarifies, but mobile groups became increasingly regulated and sedentarized as French notions of scientific forestry and conservation gained traction. Reminiscing about a “tortuous (and torturous)” journey across “an ancient route” in Anatolia during a college study-abroad program, Duffy and her peers encounter pastoralists lounging in the shade: “the ragtag group we met seemed to represent, as Fernand Braudel once suggested, ‘the relic of a tradition that is slowly disappearing.’” In categorizing this form of transhumance as a fossilized lifestyle, the book frames nomadism as anachronistic in the irrevocably becoming-modern movement of history from the get-go.
Nomad’s Land aims to “cut across traditional disciplinary, political, and ideological frontiers.” To that end, the “Mediterranean lens,” Duffy argues, “is particularly useful for environmental subjects because it oversteps the political divisions among states, replacing them with broad limit-zones highlighting geographical and ecological features,” thereby illuminating “the rhythms and the irregularities of the Mediterranean world.” These stated objectives in the introduction suggest that the author is in tune with what Sverker Sörlin and Paul Warde posited as early as 2007, which is that, “What is left over for environmental history, as its claim to authority, is the non-human.” But instead Nomad’s Land left me wondering: why does this work claim to be a Mediterranean environmental history when it on the one hand tunes out Algerian archival perspectives and on the other hand downplays the stated “ecological features,” a term which one might presume connotes the relationships and networks between species, non-humans and humans alike, and other forces? I was left asking: how did the quality of interspecies seasonal relationships shift vis-à-vis the new environmental practices, seeking to promote afforestation according to European science? In addition to the ethical obligation to strive to give voice to all implicated human players in the Mediterranean space, these are the sorts of questions, according to Emily O’Gorman and Andrea Gaynor, that must be raised in such a study: “categories of thinking and organization around anthropocentric areas like "forestry" or "water management" are unlikely to capture the relevant range of participants and, thus, are woefully inadequate for present needs.” This formulation of a more-than-human historical approach calls on the historian to abandon an anthropocentric tendency and to exteriorize and probe the interstices between a constellation of human and non-human actors in the discipline of history. Central to this methodology is making visible inequities rooted not only in social categories used to segregate and subjugate people, which Duffy does, but also in and across taxonomies that organize hierarchies of non-humans and humans. This “situatedness” brings to light the inadequacy of narrow temporalities and historicities and advocates instead for attendance of concomitant and manifold formations of time and ways of narrating, or channeling, the past – indeed, of cutting across frontiers.
In lieu of a commitment to the prism of relationality, Nomad’s Land embarks on a rather conventional, linear pursuit – relying especially on archival investigation of print media like legal codes, property documents, administrative records of forestry practices, registers from the wool trade, and wildfire reports, in French and to a lesser extent Turkish; aside from the token references mentioned above, there doesn’t seem to be any source, archival or otherwise, in Arabic, perhaps a methodological choice or a result of inaccessibility. The prosaic, measured style of the text, structured in two parts (early nineteenth and later nineteenth century), eases navigation of the book as it shuttles between the three locales: from francophone Orientalist literature to the imperial bureaucratic apparatus in colonial Algeria, from legislation to manage wildfires to the “tragedy of the commons” and introduction of private property regimes in Ottoman law. At each and every turn, Duffy is attentive to the social realities of policy, adumbrating how and why it was enforced (or not) and assessing its impact on nomadic communities, who often disregarded such edicts. Her inquiry into the divergent conceptions and lived cultures of wildfires and the tactics deployed by French settler-colonialists to register calamities in a way designed to deepen Berber-Arab and other regional, communal divides is particularly enriching (and correlates with trends in Algeria today); furthermore, she conveys how French and Ottoman imperial practices of collective punishment and forced resettlement intersected with efforts to reconfigure ecological control, which reveals the injustices of empire and how the exercise of power over ecosystems, human mobility, and land usage rights exacts a crippling toll on marginalized, nomadic peoples as well as on resettled refugees, coerced into prescribed agriculturalist livelihoods.
Intending to build on the work of Diana Davis and the French orientalist Fernand Braudel, Duffy expends notable effort to hold her Mediterranean together; the main chapter themes are handled in area studies subsections, and the conclusions usually return to a synthesis of the case studies, which in my view evince an insecurity about the tenuous categorization of this work as a “Mediterranean” one. Despite her attention to three locales, she does not quite triangulate the dots; we are left to wonder about the practically neglected Algerian-Ottoman axis of exchange. Furthermore, after claiming that the first Algerian “independent forest code in 1903 … [had an impact] on nomadic pastoralists [that] was resoundingly negative,” the author provides no indication of how people in Algiers or Oran or Kabylia viewed this code. (As Algeria was under colonial rule at the time, it is unclear why the author characterizes this code as “independent.”) The 1903 code is only validated and assessed from the vantage point of French settlers, pied-noirs, and bizarrely the American forester Theodore Woolsey, who was “so impressed with the code that he took the trouble to translate it into English so that it could be appreciated by a wider audience.” These types of questions – how did people in Kabylia view the code, for instance? – are not addressed in the book, which positions France at the vertex of an angle of domination and influence: ideas emanate like distinct rays exclusively from an imperial center. In the end, Nomad’s Land stands as an ambitious contribution, not to Mediterranean studies, but to French history; despite the steady commitment to underlining the injustices of empire and of conquest that color the book, Duffy disappears colonial subjectivities, and the non-humans throughout, in what is ultimately a history of the victors.
 See Rabah Aissaoui, “‘For Progress and Civilization’: History, Memory and Alterity in Nineteenth-Century Colonial Algeria,” French History 31, no. 4 (2017): 470–494.
 Duffy, 173.
. Ibid., 180.
. Ibid., 172.
. Ibid., xvii.
. Ibid., 26.
. Duffy, xvi.
. Ibid., xi.
. Ibid., xiii.
. As Dipesh Chakrabarty writes, “In the awakening of this sense of anachronism lies the beginning of modern historical consciousness. Indeed, anachronism is regarded as the hallmark of such a consciousness. Historical evidence (the archive) is produced by our capacity to see something that is contemporaneous with us – ranging from practices, humans, institutions, and stone-inscriptions to documents – as a relic of another time or place.” Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 238.
. Ibid., xv.
. Sverker Sörlin and Paul Warde, “The Problem of the Problem of Environmental History: A Re-Reading of the Field,” Environmental History 12 (2007): 116.
. Emily O’Gorman and Andrea Gaynor, “More-Than-Human Histories,” Environmental History 25 (2020): 724.
. Ibid., 722.
. Duffy writes, “For many observers the Algerian environment was a classic consequence of what Garrett Hardin would later term the "tragedy of the commons;" it reflected centuries of communal use and abuse. Advocates of this perspective argue that Algerian land could be saved only by converting it to private property, with European caretakers,” 120–121.
. Hamza Hamouchene sheds light on how Algerian political elites today, as part of their effort to quell the unprecedented national revolution and to consolidate control, resort to similar tactics to stoke a climate of intercommunal and interregional animosity, especially with regards to the devastating wildfires of summer 2021. In addition, he insightfully discusses how green energy infrastructure colonialism by Morocco is affecting pastoralists in the Western Sahara. Bendib, Khalil and Hamza Hamouchene, “Forest Fires & Ineffective Vaccination Campaign Exacerbate Crises in Algeria,” Status/الوضع | Arab Studies Institute, September 27, 2021.
 Duffy, 171–172.