The phosphate archipelago: Imperial mining and global agriculture in French North Africa

Simon Jackson Ph.D. 1
  • 1 History Office 330, Arts Building, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT
Simon Jackson
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  • Simon Jackson (Ph.D. NYU) is Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Birmingham, where he directs the Centre for Modern and Contemporary History. With the support of a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship, he is currently completing a book on the global political economy of French rule in Syria and Lebanon after World War One, and editing another, with Alanna O’Malley, on the interrelationship of the League of Nations and the United Nations. His new project examines North African phosphates at local, colonial and global scales across the twentieth century. He has taught at the European University Institute in Florence, where he was a Max Weber Post-Doctoral Fellow, and at Sciences-Po in Paris.
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This article analyzes the network of phosphate producing sites in French colonial North Africa in the twentieth century. By tracing phosphate flows across the region between mining sites, and by placing the North African network into imperial and global perspective, the article develops the concept of a phosphate archipelago, capable of recognizing the shared specificities of the phosphate mines as extractive spaces and of describing their insertion into adjacent local and regional dynamics. Drawing on political-economic writings after World War One, the article focuses mainly on phosphates’ role in the colonial politics of economic autarky, but also touches on labour migration, the role of phosphates as an actor, and the trajectory of the phosphate archipelago in North Africa across the watershed of independence in the 1950s and down to the present day, when it plays a key role in the politics of global nutrition and food security.

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The Economic History Yearbook is a forum for scientific discussion about economic development, the logic of the market, as well as the social and cultural contexts of economic activity from the 16th century to the present. Geographically, it focuses on Europe and especially on Germany, emphasizing comparative perspectives.