The famed ursine terror of the Roman Empire, the world's largest lion, and an obscure antelope nonetheless well-known to the ancient Egyptians once haunted the mountains and plains of the Maghrib. Exterminated by big-game hunters' deadly fascination, by the imperial reordering of the Mediterranean, and even by zoological curiosity, these three vanished species nevertheless continue to haunt the imagination. Extinctions are rarely as clear-cut as the paradigmatic example of the dodo suggests, and the slow fading from view of these majestic beasts provides a cautionary tale of rapaciousness and complacency.
As French empire builders confronted manifold Saharan contestations of colonialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they intended to remake the land and people of the desert through images and policies both congruent with and dissimilar to earlier representations of the land of thirst and fear. At the same time, however, denizens of the Sahara countered with a more intimate, immediate, and, at times, secret knowledge of their natural environment. The natural environment in which empire unfolded, the desert itself, loomed as a battleground where colonial pretensions to knowledge and Saharan rejections of them played out, with long-lasting consequences for the ecological world of the desert.
An Empire of Facts presents a fascinating account of the formation of French conceptions of Islam in France's largest and most important colony. Drawing on sources in Arabic and French, this book places the personal interactions of knowledge production at the heart France’s relations with Muslim North Africa.